The Bulldog Lives

“Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” I forget, was that Mark Twain or the bulldog featured in the Pioneer Press’s ads?

The St. Paul Pioneer Press still occasionally does some solid journalism, though less frequency than when it’s newsroom was larger and more senior. Take today’s story about investigations into whether anti-icing fluid used on the I35W bridge is corrosive. As we try to avoid future tragedies, that kind of journalism is imporant. And then there is today’s story about whether Senator Larry Craig did anything criminal by his wide-stanced tap dancing. Excellent food for thought that goes against the conventional wisdom.

This the kind of coverage you just don’t get from drive-by stenography of news conferences. Bravo bulldog. Journalism is alive (though not well) on the right side of the river!

– Loveland

The Big Time

Minnesota has been in the national news much more than usual lately. With the tragic bridge collape and floods, we’ve been featured in stories by CNN, Fox, BBC, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Time magazine, you name it. But let’s face it, you haven’t really hit the big time until you are featured by Red State Update.

– Loveland

Waterclosetgate

I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen a politician handle a news media crisis worse than Senator Larry Craig in the wake of his run-in with undercover police in the bathroom of a Twin Cities airport.

Maybe his foot was in the neighboring stall because of his normal “wide stance,” as he claimed. It strikes me that getting a foot into an adjoining stall would take a stance as wide as Nadia Comaneci on the balance beam, though I’ll admit I’ve not studied toilet stances extensively.

But the way Senator Craig handled the situation after being confronted by the undercover cop was text book bad. The police flash their card at him, and he reportedly flashes his Senate business card back at them with an arrogant “what do you think about that?” He pleads guilty, but then says it was because his lawyer wasn’t there to explain what guilty means. (Oh, and he was distracted by big mean news reporters in his home state.) He says he did nothing wrong, but then apologizes to his constituents for embarrassing them.

The smell emanating from Senator Craig’s press conference had to have rivaled any of the smells emanating from the Honeymoon Stalls at MSP International.

– Loveland

Blue Road to Fine Writing

Want some great reading while we still have these summer-length evenings to flip open a good book? Grab a copy of The Blueroad Reader: Stardust and Fate.

This lovely book was created — comma by woodcut by pica of margin space — by my dear friend John Gaterud, a journalism prof and a wizard of words. John put this book together with his daughter Abbey, who learned publishing in college and in her dad and mom’s house in Southern Minnesota, which is always strewn with books and magazines and broadsheets and folios and scraps of beautiful words. John cares more about the redemptive power of great writing than anyone I’ve ever know, and he is himself a writer you simply cannot stop reading.

Full disclosure — John included in The Blueroad Reader a piece of mine about Hurricane Katrina and the two wonderful people from New Orleans, Don and Ciara Francis, the storm blew into our lives. In fact John, as a great editor does, drew the piece out of me, based on some emails I’d written to friends. With a master’s touch, he weighed and sighted down every word I wrote to help me hit the target I was aiming at.

Blueroad includes essays, stories, poetry, beautiful woodcuts and an almost hallucinatory photograph from Jim Brandenburg on the cover. Freya Manfred, Bill Holm, Robert Bly, Richard Coffey and James Lenfestey are among the familiar names in the gathering of writers John and Abbey have drawn together. And then there are wonderful writers with less-familiar names.

“Maybe because he can trace the family back on two sides to both Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, my father yearned after the expedition trail,” goes the first sentence of Carol Barrett’s “The Hollow of the Mountain” in the reader. That will make you put down your laptop and keep turning these pages.

The book is available online at the website linked above, and at: Micawber’s in St. Paul; Amazon in South Minneapolis; Magers and Quinn in Uptown; Minnesota Center for Book Arts on Washington Av. near the crippled bridge; Common Good Books, G. Keillor Prop. across from W.A. Frost on Cathedral Hill; and Birchbark Books at 2115 W. 21st. St. in Minneapolis. Buy lots, give to friends, support local publishing.

There will be a reading, with alcohol, at Kieran’s Irish Pub, 330 Second Av. S. in downtown Minneapolis, at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, September 11.

– Bruce Benidt

Ban Dihydrogen Monoxide Now!

PR people are depressingly good at manipulating complex public policy issues. A great example of that can be found in this brief Penn and Teller video, in which the magicians make human logic disappear, by talking environmental activists into signing a petition in opposition to water.

The one who talks – Penn? Teller? — maintains that such manipulation of complexity is the strict province of leftist environmental hysterics. But the truth is, people of all political stripes are pretty good at this game.

The left is perhaps more accomplished at dealing with complexity by saying “this issue is complex, so we should trust these experts.” Meanwhile the right maybe has had more success maintaining “this is issue is complex, so we should take no action.” Both approaches have something in common, they ask the audience to make their own logic disappear.

Anyway, it’s a fun little flick that may do something truly magical – get you to question your own methods of processing complex issues.

– Loveland

Good!

Have you, along with me, been relishing the little example of left-right détente that we’ve witnessed on this blog in recent days? Gives me hope.

And it gets me to thinking — so much of what we debate about communication these days has to do with what we don’t like, what disappoints us daily and what’s cartwheeling us toward the general dereliction of all we hold dear. I guess if bad news hikes TV news ratings and newsstand sales, I suppose blogging about the bad gets you more hits.

So here’s a challenge. Can you name something you see in communication now — PR, news media, marketing, what have you — that you like? What’s heartening to you and gives you a sense that, just perhaps, the handbasket might not actually be headed hellward?

I’ll start. I like what the Internet has done and is doing for making consumer information and opinion more accessible and transparent.  If it was ever possible to rely on marketing hype to sell stuff, it’s far less so than it was even 10 years ago. And that’s penciling out to trends of more marketing openness, more backing-up of promises and more selling accountability. Good.

Your turn.

— Hornseth