Tag Archives: startribune

Re-Thinking the News – Part 2

16 Dec

The StarTribune in Minneapolis is one of those newspapers in deep trouble.  Actually, it’s a business in deep trouble. Reading David Brauer’s reports on MinnPost about StarTribune layoffs … well, as a guy likes to think the best of people I hope that there’s a lot we don’t know about how things are being managed at our premier local news organization.

Because from the outside, I get this familiar twinge I used to feel when a client, or my own agency, would respond to business challenges by cutting staff, restricting options and depressing employee spirits, rather than investing in the change and innovation needed to turn things around.  Now, while our local news organization is investing in shiny new mobile technology, it otherwise may well  be out of financial options.  Even so, cost cutting your way to growth has never seemed like a winning strategy.  

Meanwhile, my wife and I were talking about the news business the other day (an admirable thing for her to do with me, since I think about this stuff all the time and am thus I suspect am pretty insufferable when talking to those who don’t).  Her take was that while it’s great to be able to get the news you want on the topics you choose, you lose the opportunity to be surprised by what’s in the paper.  

Now one can argue the point … and many do (although the fellow at this link admits to being deliberately provocative). For myself, I’d point out that if the web had only given me Google and  Boing Boing,  my access to interesting and informative stuff would have been expanded dramatically and happily.  As it is, the social web is far more than that.  

But there’s a difference between selecting headlines on a screen — a tiny screen, at times — and scanning full stories in print, chosen by professional journalists and editors, and in that difference, she says, there is something lost that isn’t entirely made up for by random tweets, blog links, emails and the wisdom of crowds.

On the face of it, I agree. Newspapers are built around the idea of setting community agenda, of being “The News.”  Journalism is a profession, and for some, a calling.  It’s at least as much public service than a business.  

And the great news organizations supported for so long by the newspaper business will never thrive again until they get around the problem of this premise. 

Next…Some ideas…

Re-Thinking the News, Part I

15 Dec

I was pretty much  in my own little world this weekend.  Apparently, there was some sort of giant storm that is incapacitating the Northeast, including Massachusetts, where I have a number of close friends.  I hope they’ll forgive  me for not checking in:  I didn’t know.  In fact, I still wouldn’t know but that I happened to catch a bitter tweet on Twitter by a public radio journalist lamenting that fact that our local StarTribune newspaper didn’t think the Northeast storm worth mentioning. 

“Hmph!” I thought … our paper is focused on the local, and why shouldn’t they be — they need to focus on some sort of distinctive model that will make them money, right?  And newspapers don’t set the agenda anymore, do they? Why shouldn’t I get the news from Twitter?

Why shouldn’t I? Drop by tomorrow for Part II…


Blogger’s Note:  I have a long thought to spin out, so I’m breaking it up into a couple posts…let me know if you like the style…and, of course, the posts…


Thank You Note to a Journalist-Blogger: Eric Black

7 Aug

If you can be a fan of a daily newspaper reporter, I’ve been a fan of Eric Black’s for almost 20 years.  At some point, the StarTribune here in the Twin Cities was publishing long feature stories that actually offered in-depth historical context for national and world events:  The first Iraq War, the Israeli-Arab conflict, the Balkans, Bosnia, the fall of the Soviet Union, not to mention various and sundry politicians — you name it.

And it seemed whenever I’d sink my teeth into one of these big juicy history stories — stories that cut through the daily rhetoric to hone in on the something closer to a complicated truth — the byline read “Eric Black”.  So I’d look for the byline, at times swearing at stories where background was scant and context lacking and grumble, “Where the hell’s the Eric Black story on this?”

It’s pretty clear these days that this sort of journalism isn’t making it into my daily paper any more … and neither is Eric Black.  Over the past few years, he’s plied his trade in local blogs.  Most recently, that’s MinnPost, a non-profit venture promoting the idea that professional journalists have a great deal to offer when given the freedom to explore the news and offer an opinion or two.

I write this after spending a half-hour or so learning as much (or more) than you ever wanted to know about the stance of two Minnesota senate candidates on the Iraq war.  It’s a story you’ll never read in a newspaper, built from in-depth research, nearly hour-long interviews with the candidates themselves and fact checking that is both independent and allowed the candidate’s PR staff to offer assist (incidentally peeling back the veil of how reporters work with a PR staff to facilitate a story). Further, if you’re worried that Black has misinterpreted your favorite candidate, he offers audio downloads of the interviews themselves.

In other words, anyone who wants to spend the time with this story gets:

  • a comprehensive view of the candidates’ positions — both now and how they have evolved (or not) over time.
  • the chance to hear the candidates’ responses to sharp, informed questions in their own voices.
  • a deeper understanding of how reporters do their jobs, warts and all — and how a good one takes nothing for granted on what his interviewee claims he said or didn’t say.
  • a deeper understanding of how campaign staffs work and how PR facilitates a reporter’s work.

As I said, you don’t see this kind of depth often out of daily newspapers — no doubt, there’s no time, no staff and no appetite for it.  And maybe this much depth isn’t necessary.  But in a time when it feels like everyone is spinning, nothing is genuine, no one knows the truth, Black the journalist-blogger is offering transparency, rigor, insight … and the whole complicated, messy truth.

So…thank you.

The 1990’s Internet: An Appreciation

30 May

I was listening to Richard Clarke’s chilling talk about how easy it was to hack into the Pentagon’s computer systems back in 1997 (and he says things aren’t much better today)…and about digital picture frames pre-installed with pernicious viruses…and despite the fear and paranoia that thought generated, I also found myself reminiscing about 1997…and earlier…when the Internet was new, and merely putting a website out there was a newsworthy event… I starting thinking about:

Mozilla:  Remember watching the adorable lizard slowly form on the first browsers, line by line, like they were sent to your screen by a Star Trek transporter in very slow motion?

PointcastIt was the bane of the IT department, but this progenitor of ‘push’ technology was notable for how it prepared us for the constant news crawling across CNN, MSNBC, ESPN and their ilk.

Pathfinder: Anyone remember Pathfinder?  It was this massive portal to the news properties of Time Warner — Time, Money, People.  It was one of the first efforts by a major publisher drag themselves onto the web.  It also was clunky and boxy and massive and almost impossible to navigate.  Amazingly, the URL still exists!

Melvin.com.  The first humor website I came across on the web. It was sort of a bewildering hybrid of The Onion and something not really that funny. But whoever wrote it was out there…doing the best they could.  Then it disappeared, never to be seen again.

StarTribune Online… and every other newspaper that has a website:  I remember when my local metropolitan daily, the StarTribune, went online, they announced it with this massive ad campaign that featured billboards with giant smoking three-dimensional spaceships.  I think the idea was that StarTribune.com was the place you would go if you were an alien who crash landed in downtown Minneapolis and needed to know what to do next. 

But you know, just about every newspaper in the country bowed to the inevitable and went online, despite that fact they had no clue how they were going to pay for their shiny new websites or replace the employment ad revenue rapidly fleeing to monster.com and the classified ad revenue rapidly not being spent on craigslist… et cetera. 

And yet, we love reading our news online, and how the stories they write about us and our clients live on on and on…  I guess what I’m saying is that we all owe our daily newspapers a hearty thank you for their selfless sacrifice. 

That’s mine for today…what are your 1990s Internet memories?


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