On newspapering and public policy
Posted by: "Steve Brandt" firstname.lastname@example.org brandsc4438
Fri Apr 20, 2007 6:54 am (PST)
I realized on the way to work this morning that this coming fall it will be 40 years since I earned my first byline. Even back in the pre-Watergate days, journalism was something that grabbed me because it offered a chance to dig into some interesting areas of public policy. And when Watergate came along as I was finishing college, it seemed like validation of that choice. (For those of you born post-Watergate, it was like "Survivor" except that the White House was the island and the last person voted off was the President.)
Today, I'm wondering. There seems to be little room for serious exploration of issues that affect our communities. Today, I posted a blog entry on the Minneapolis teacher placement issue on our micro-reporting site at: http://www.buzz.mn/?q=node/1151
What's new is that no story was in today's paper out of last night's discussion meeting, organized by the League of Women Voters, at which 90 people listened attentively for two hours as knowledgeable people explored the pros and cons of seniority in teacher placement. It was a good discussion, and I learned some new things even after giving the issue close attention for the last 3-1/2 years.
I made that decision to go blog-only but really it was forced on me. I asked for 20 inches to summarize what I expected to be a serious discussion of an issue that some say affects the education of Minneapolis kids. I chose that length advisedly, taking as my cue the Vikings stadium advance story that was in Thursday's paper. I was offered 10 to 12 inches, an amount of space that raises the why-bother question when dealing with such a serious issue.
Granted, much of daily journalism involves fitting 20 pounds of content into a 10-pound sack. I get that. But asking a serious issue to fit into a five-pound sack is asking too much of those of us who got into this line of work to do more than fill psace [sic] between ads. I didn't want my name on something that superficial.
I mention all this because I believe that the drift of this newspaper is harmful to the communities it serves. As Tim McGuire put it in a letter to the editor this morning, "the Star Tribune and the Pioneer Press always competed on a high level with dignity, passion and a constant concern for the Twin Cities audience." While McGuire had his own ethical blind spots, he's right in suggesting that there's a rot at the top of this institution. He's thinking of the publisher; I'm thinking of how our print readers are getting short-changed, and increasingly, our best coverage will be on the web.
That's it. I finished my blog at midnight, and I'm taking the day off, going to the country, and clearing my head.
Longtime Minneapolis Star Tribune schools reporter Steve Brandt posted this musing on a parents Yahoogroup last week: