Whatever your position on health cost containment, narrowing the education achievement gap, fiscal sustainability, tax equity, and infrastructure development, most agree that they are issues that will shape Minnesota’s long-term future.
So, which issue did the Star Tribune prioritize above others for inclusion in its Minnesota Poll, and subsequent front page placement?
Liquor sales on Sunday.
I’m sure people have strong opinions about the relative merits of having our Sabbath on the rocks, so, okay, it deserves some coverage. At the same time, some perspective is necessary. After all, Minnesota’s future isn’t particularly dependent on the outcome of the debate. We can plan ahead on Saturday, or take a day off, and our quality of life won’t suffer so very much. That issue is only in the poll because it is conducive to comfy snap judgements. It is “approachable.”
A few McIssues in my news is fine. Fun even. But newsrooms are overdoing it. There is so much obsession with these trivial “talkers” — the term radio producers sometimes use to refer to issues that are easy for all listeners to follow — that they crowd out adequate discussion of the issues that may well, if neglected, seriously screw up our future.
Of course, there’s always been trivia and imbalance in the news. But it’s getting worse. We now know practically everything there is to know beer on Sunday, “defense of marriage,” Zygiworld, beer sales at Gopher games, abortion gotcha games, the royal wedding, and other marquee talkers. But as we are tittering about Beatrice’s bonnet, Minnesota’s schools, infrastucture, health system, safety net and middle class are teetering.
The problem with the game of Trivial Pursuit being played out on our front pages can be summed in two words: Opportunity cost. When the Minnesota Poll is engaging Minnesotans about liquor sales on Sunday, it’s NOT engaging us on issues that will greatly impact our future.
For instance, the Minnesota Poll isn’t’ probing about things like: 1) what sacrifices will we accept to reduce medical costs; 2) which of the evidence-based policies for reducing the student achievement gap would citizens endorse, 3) would citizens be willing to give up all their tax loopholes in return for lower rates and a simpler system, and 4) do citizens want corporations to disclose their political contributions? These are but a few samples of the dozens of orphan issues being wholly or partly crowded out of the paper by a gazillion column inches per year of Trivial Pursuit.
I’m not naive about commercial pressures and reader preferences. I’m not arguing for the Star Tribune to read like an academic journal. I’m just suggesting that more often mixing in deeper content would be good for the commonweal, and good for maintaining readership with some of us who may not be quite as shallow as editors suppose.
With the Minnesota Poll, Star Tribune editors especially have a unique opportunity a few times per year to engage us rubes in some of the more impactful issues we collectively face. The right to sauce on Sundays, as deliciously rantable as it is, does not fall into that category.