Hope for the "modern American newsroom"?

My year-end media piece for Minnesota Monitor:

A confession: A year ago last week, on December 26, 2006, I knew very little about the inner workings of a metropolitan newspaper, much less the intricacies of Newspaper Guild contracts, newsroom politics or voluntary buyouts. But when Avista Capital Partners, a nobody of a company in terms of its news-industry know-how, bought the Star Tribune the day after Christmas, a year's worth of stories opened up to me. And thanks to good sources, great advisors and a reliable, much-dialed telephone, I covered it all.

I was the first to write about a then-little-known clause in the Star Tribune's contract that eventually enabled dozens of reporters and editors to flee the paper with sizable paychecks, and I broke news that big names like Eric Black, Jim Boyd and Dane Smith were taking buyouts. I covered the rubberband-tight tensions brought on by the sale: a veteran staffer's daily meditation viewed as espionage, protesters in black armbands outside Strib HQ, an award-winning sportswriter's (ultimately unsuccessful) bid to save his job and the galling zaniness surrounding, well, just about everything Par Ridder did.

But my favorite story of the year was none of these, but closely related.

On this last day of 2007, looking forward to a year when the Twin Cities hosts the Republican convention, Democrats are hoping to capture more congressional seats, and Minnesota's unique personalities -- from Keith Ellison and Michele Bachmann to Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar -- are aiming to make an impact in our nation's capital, I'm interested in what happened to the Washington, D.C., bureau of the Star Tribune this year -- and, no thanks to the Twin Cities daily, discuss what will hopefully be a happy ending to this tale.

In March, Rep. Betty McCollum's office sent out a memo that, in part, bid a grateful farewell to longtime Star Tribune D.C. reporters Rob Hotakainen and Kevin Diaz, who were staying with McClatchy, the company that had just sold the paper to Avista. Avista lowballed the pair on salaries; at the time, Diaz said the offer would effectively mean giving "back every performance pay raise I've received since I came to Washington in 2000."

Strib management was incensed that McCollum's memo gave "the misimpression that the Star Tribune will now be covering Congress only with an intern," as Kate Parry, readers' representative at the time, put it. She argued that University of Minnesota grad Brady Averill would be assisted by McClatchy news wires and Minneapolis-based editors.

In fact, Averill was the paper's only D.C.-based employee for 78 days in 2007. A week after her internship ended in May, management announced it'd be rehiring Diaz.

Today, Diaz is the Star Tribune's only full-timer, aided by an intern. The Pioneer Press doesn't have anyone in D.C.

According to Tom Hamburger, a Pulitzer finalist for his work with the Star Tribune and now a Los Angeles Times writer, the Washington bureau had five employees when he started there in 1989 -- four full-timers and an intern.

So where's the good news?

Right here. Minnesota Monitor's parent organization, the nonprofit Center for Independent Media (CIM), is opening what could be considered Minnesota's biggest D.C.-based news bureau. The Washington Independent, now in press-release mode but launching in mid-January, will have a staff of 10 to 12 reporters and editors covering Washington with an eye for the states with CIM daily news sites (Colorado, Iowa, Michigan and Minnesota).

The site has hired a bevy of staffers who have worked for the Washington Post, Talking Points Memo, The Charlie Rose Show, Associated Press, and The Nation, to name a few. But it's a two-way deal:

Minnesota gets original news from Washington reported by writers who know us and our state. They'll cover policies that affect us, track our elected officials and provide on-the-ground resources for Minnesota Monitor fellows reporting on national issues. And when, say, they'd like to know how a bill before Congress will affect working people in Minnesota, we'll be there to help find those voices.

But The Independent will also pick up the best daily news from Minnesota, giving our writers a direct pipeline to decision-makers in Washington. In times when regional papers are stripping (or shutting) down national desks, we'll have one -- and, more unique, The Independent will have something nearly unheard of: satellite bureaus in four states.

Better yet, the plan is to lay out a clear career path for young journalists in our state programs: Eventually, The Washington Independent will have at least one Minnesotan covering our news.

The mantra at the Star Tribune of late has been "local, local" -- it's mandated that editorials will only focus on local issues, it's reassigned reporters with years of expertise in a range of beats to cover the suburbs, and it's zoned editions, to provide specific communities with ultra-local news.

For the 16 months since our inception, Minnesota Monitor has lived "local, local," and in 2008, we'll continue that intense focus, aided by a much-needed new website design and some new faces. But with an office full of new Washington colleagues, we hope to broaden our coverage -- to fill in the gaps left by a changing mainstream news business.

When I wrote about Diaz's departure in March, I concluded with his less-than-optimistic assessment of an industry facing buyouts and belt-tightening.

"Welcome to the modern American newsroom," he said.

In 2008, maybe those same words can take on a more hopeful tone.


When his relationship failed, this Minneapolis Craigslist poster seems to be retreating into the comforting embrace of dudeliness to deal with it. Via Alexis (via MNspeak):
I have a huge 1 and 1/2 carat "champagne"(yellowish) diamond solitaire ring, 14K gold band that I no longer have any use for. Will trade (or sell for $2000) for a decent plow and/or dump truck. Or hunting rifles / magnum revolvers, or Polaris 4-wheeler. Any reasonable offers welcome. Serious replies only please.


Top Neo-Nazi Group Leaves Minneapolis

While some of its local sympathizers are likely to stick around, the country's largest remaining neo-Nazi group has officially pulled up stakes in Minnesota: the Hitler-inspired National Socialist Movement (NSM) has left its longtime Minneapolis headquarters and relocated to Michigan, according to a press release dated Dec. 29.

NSM head Jeff Schoep moved from Hutchinson to Detroit, bringing the group's business operations with him, says Michael Brooks, a former Detroit resident who now lives in Toledo and covered NSM-sparked riots there for the Free Press two years ago.

Along with the move, NSM announced leadership changes and touted that it is "aggressively strengthening the organization with mandatory leadership requirements including mandatory training seminars and other measures designed to increase the level of efficiency across the board."

The white separatist group has a track record of going into minority and mixed-race communities to rally, as it did in North Toledo, Ohio, in October 2005. When police shielded neo-Nazis from angry residents, the crowd turned violent. Schoep commented that the "Negro beasts proved our point for us." (Its last Minnesota event of note was a January 2007 book-burning.)

But in Detroit, it's Schoep (at right) who's in the minority: around 88 percent of the city's population is non-white, according to the U.S. Census Bureau (by contrast, 18 percent of Minneapolis residents are African American).

Reached by email, Brooks said he didn't think Schoep moved to stir up conflict. "I wouldn't expect Schoep to suddenly turn into a one-man vigilante force, and I don't see this as a 'belly-of-the-beast' move," he wrote. "Schoep has always been a low-key, behind-the-scenes operative who participates in few public rallies."

NSM has attracted the attention of hatewatch groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center for, among other activities, recruiting young people through its Viking Youth Corps. A SPLC report in 2004 stated that Viking Youth "will be taught military skills, national socialist theory and practice, the history of the white race and, in general, how to become 'a more effective warrior.'" At that time, Schoep claimed there was so much interest that "we can barely keep up."

The group has two endeavors that presumably target that demographic: a profitable record label (now promoting Arrow Cross, dubbed "real rock that you will be proud to turn up load [sic]!") and a social networking site for "people of European descent."

Like MySpace meets Mein Kampf, the site states, "Hot topics of interest include defending the rights of white people, preservation of European culture and heritage, reform of illegal immigration policies, workers rights, withdrawal of our military from an illegal Middle Eastern occupation and promotion of white separation."

Harmut Schwarzbach and Manila's "Aroma Smoky Mountain"

When Harmut Schwarzbach found nine-year-old "Annalyn" bouncing on a trashed armchair in a Manila dump, she was malnourished, her body the size of a five-year old's. Schwarzbach's series on children living in charcoal camps in "Aroma Smokey Mountain" won him third prize in UNICEF's Photo of the Year contest. UNICEF writes:
Like most other children in this camp, Annalyn has to search for wood among the garbage every day, bring it to an oven and monitor the charcoal production amidst acrid smoke and unbearable heat. Together with her siblings and parents, she has to bring thousands of liters of water to extinguish the fire and collect the finished charcoal. The family has to hand over most of their yield to the local mafia.
Via Conscientious.

Earlier: Live from the Dump: Broadcasting hope from an unlikely site, about a children-run radio station for and by trash pickers in Jakarta's largest dump.

Quote du Jour: And what about American pop culture?

The great majority of popular culture in the UK is worthless, moronic, meretricious, self-serving, anti-democratic, sclerotic garbage: it's the enemy of thought and change: it should be ignored, marginalised, trashed. There I've said it.
--Stephen Moss, The Guardian


Reducing a Super carbon footprint

The Super Bowl with its pricey ads, half-time entertainment extravaganzas, and booming business in merchandise is a grand celebration of consumerism. But this year, the NFL is admitting as much:

They're working to offset the event's sizable carbon footprint -- a whopping 500 tons of greenhouse gases.

The league's Jack Groh tells NPR that the event's footprint doesn't even include flights for teams and fans or the greenhouse gases produced by vendors, hotels and ancillary industries. It only calculates the carbon emissions of its utilities and transportation (a 3,000-vehicle fleet of buses and limos that serve players and bigwigs the week leading up to the Sunday game).

The NFL has four strategies for offsetting its carbon output:

• Using renewable energy to power the stadium and adjacent NFL Experience themepark: wind, geothermal, solar, and some landfill-gas electricity
• Undertaking reforestation projects in Arizona, including some urban reforestation in Phoenix and around 84 acres outside the city
• Solid waste recycling
• Requiring affiliates to use vendors on an approved list of local women- and minority-owned businesses. In addition to the economic impact, the local requirement means the reduced use of petroleum for shipping goods in from out of state.

The Arizona Republic has more.

Earlier: Carbon-neutral choreography


Balm for democracy. Aftershave, too.

Greg.org highlights "1600 for Men," a line of "Exclusive Fine Toiletries" bearing the "most significant mark of the free world -- The Presidential Seal of the United States." It's the real deal: Licensed by the Secret Service, 15% of the products' sales go to charities and families of Secret Service personnel. According to the marketing copy, "1600 for Men® signature scent is crisp, cool and masculine created for 'The Man' of the house."

Pictured: "Power Muscle Soak," 16 oz. size.

The year in media... and Suzane Somers

Yesterday, The Daily Mole ran my meager contribution to its series of reflections by local media writers on the year's best stories. I can't say it's my best writing (highlight: I use the term "golden turd"), but it does feature my best-ever author photo. Taken by Adrienne Wiseman of the Walker Art Center marketing department, it does out me, as the Mole's Steve Perry writes, as "one of the Twin Cities’ leading Suzanne Somers scholars."

Also, sorry for the hiatus. I ended up in the hospital with "hobbit hand" (my term; the doctors call it cellulitis, a potentially quite serious infection that hit my right arm), then made it home for some therapeutic night-sledding, Irish coffee, and Christmas gifts with my family in Wisconsin. Hope you had a great holiday.

Lavender's best theater

My pal Jim Bovino was named best actor of the year by Twin Cities-based Lavender magazine for his lead in Shakespeare's Coriolanus. Congrats, Jim!

See all the winners here.


It's here!

Final reminder, I promise...

The 100% Fair-Trade Art Sale

Saturday, December 15, 11 am–10 pm
Sunday, December 16, 11 am–5 pm

Thorp Building, Suite 2, Northeast Minneapolis

Details. Artwork photos. Event listing.

And thanks for the links, Mediation, mplsart.com, BLYGAD 2.0, and Off Center!

Update: Thanks for everyone who turned out. It was a huge success and a lot of fun.


Mpls Art Job: Soap Factory Program Administrator

The Soap Factory, possibly Minnesota's coolest alternative art space, is hiring a Program Administrator. Here's the basics, but email me [paul_at_eyeteeth_dot_org] if you'd like the full description:
Operating primarily in the summer, The Soap Factory presents innovative and original contemporary art programming in a 12000 sq.ft. Victorian Soap Factory by the Stone Arch Bridge, opposite downtown Minneapolis. Originally established in 1988, The Soap Factory is positioned for major expansion in the next 2 years.

Over the winter months, The Program Administrator is responsible for the management of The Soap Factory Artist Submissions and review.

During The Soap Factory exhibition season, he/she acts as the main liaison between artists, Soap Factory staff and curators, ensuring that complementary needs are met and conflicting needs are resolved. As part of this role, he/she is manages all aspects of print design for The Soap Factory liaising between print designer, artists, curators and Soap Factory staff. He/she is also involved with the shipping, receiving and installation of work throughout the galleries, working closely with The Soap Factory Building Facilitator and artists.

Throughout the year he/she manages The Soap Factory press list and press releases. He/she is responsible for he management of The Soap Factory website.
(Thanks, Witt.)


It looks like the thing it protects.


This Threadless t-shirt gives me an idea for a New Year's resolution.


Fair-Trade Art: New Artist Added

With just a few days to go til this weekend's "100% Fair Trade Art Sale" here in Minneapolis, we've added one more artist: photographer Rio Saito, who's been shooting at area Pentacostal churches and movie theaters for years, will be selling prints.


Happy (?) Human Rights Day

Fifty-nine years ago today, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a radical document predicated on the belief that "recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world." Today, Human Rights Day, kicks off a year of commemoration -- in which the UN will seek to raise awareness of its principles -- leading up to the Declaration's 60th anniversary.

The document's 30 articles take your breath away -- because they're so basic and yet, globally and here in the U.S., still so far from being universal. Here's how it begins (Article 5 is a doozy):

Article 1

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Article 2

Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.

Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.

Article 3

Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.

Article 4

No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.

Article 5

No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Read it all.

Deforestation towel dispenser

Inhabitat finds an ingenious ad campaign by the World Wildlife Federation:
These paper towel dispensers have a cut out the shape of South America through which a stack of green paper towels illustrates the green rain forest canopy of the continent. As the paper towel dispenser is slowly drained of its green paper towels, we see the greenness slowly drained out of South America, symbolizing the nasty environmental impact of disposable paper towels.
Click through to see billboards situated to cast a shadow as the day progresses, indicating the rate of sea-level change due to global warming.


O Little Wall of Bethlehem

The Wise-Men-couldn't-get-to-Bethlehem thing I've been referring to lately isn't all that new. Reader Mobius points out this animated cartoon at Orthodox Anarchist.

Strib Snubs Source in Target "Rounders" Piece

There's irony to be had in the Star Tribune's front-page story Saturday about Target riling bloggers with its undisclosed practice of rewarding teens for promoting its stores on Facebook: By not crediting the local blogger who broke the story, reporter Jackie Crosby showed the same kind of transparency as Target -- that is, very little -- while ticking off at least one local blogger in the process.

The story about Target using "Rounders" -- Facebook users urged to keep quiet about the fact they're earning points to talk up the big-box retailer -- wasn't really news when Ed Kohler got to it. That is, by the time the Minneapolis blogger learned of the practice, the story was already over a month old, so he says he didn't "put much" into his first post.

When he realized "everyone in the Twin Cities missed this story," he did more digging. By the time the Star Tribune got wind of Target's practice, Kohler had a pretty good overview, which he shared with reporter Jackie Crosby when she called. He got the impression Crosby wasn't very web savvy, so he pointed out his sources and suggested she get in touch with 21-year-old University of Georgia senior Rosie Siman, who first revealed that Target advised Facebook members to "keep [their work as Rounders] like a secret," by either emailing her using her Flickr profile or leaving a comment on her blog.

When the Star Tribune published its story, headlined "Bloggers seeing red over Target's little secret," the whole tale was laid out, but with one missing detail. The role of Kohler and his blog The Deets.

On Saturday, he wrote:
Come on, Jackie. You called me about this on Thursday afternoon. We discussed the story, I pointed you to sources where you could find more info, including the email of one of the sources you quote. You told me you’d mention The Deets in the article.

It’s fun to see the story get some more attention, but it comes across as rude to be snubbed like this. Why should I answer the phone when the next time the Star Tribune calls?

It is odd. Given the Strib's vaunted "local-local" approach to journalism, why not cite Kohler? And given the topic -- bloggers irked over Target's obfuscation about online relationships -- why not be upfront about how the story came in? After all, without Kohler's post, Crosby wouldn't have had a story at all.

Crosby hasn't responded yet to my email, but she did leave a comment on Kohler's blog, blaming print journalism's limited newshole: "If I'd had one more paragraph I would have shown readers the path it took to come to my attention."

She continued:
To be fair, I did credit the original source of the flap: The teacher from the University of Georgia. She put it out there. The bloggers, including you, just linked to her work... Reporters talk to people all the time who don’t get quoted every time we write stories. (And, I’m quite sure I didn’t promise that you would be quoted.)

"While I 'just linked,' all she did was 'just rewrote' a story that was already written with a couple fresh quotes," Kohler wrote me in an email. "Nothing wrong with that, but it's nothing different from what I do."

Should the story of Kohler's help -- above and beyond the call of duty, if you ask me -- and Crosby's failure to credit him spread across the blogosphere, the reporter's lede might come true.

Only it'll be Crosby, and not Target, who "is learning the hard way that life in the blogosphere can put you right in the bullseye."

Vox Vader

Didn't realize this, but when Star Wars was being filmed the actor who played Darth Vader, David Prowse, read lines -- in a Scottish British accent muffled by Vader's mask -- that were later replaced by James Earl Jones' overdub. [Prowse was born in Bristol, not Scotland. Thanks for the correction Gary.]