A dissent on the Star Tribune

A friend of mine who is a working journalist and a guy whose opinion I respect writes in response to my post “The Star Tribune digs Hendrik Hertzberg”:

I value the sharp elbows you guys have in keeping the Strib’s nose clean, or trying to, and pointing out when it’s not. And the bit on the clearly plagiarized editorial is great: someone should pay, get demoted, perhaps suspended, for such obvious lifting.
But let me remonstrate with you (again) about your over-the-top withering assessment. First, what are the chances, pure and simple, that “your” daily newspaper, the one you happen to read every day for decades, is the worst in the nation? Slim and slimmer. That type of statement takes so much shine off all the rest of your critique, because it sounds so much like any teenager saying “I have the worst parents in the world.”
There are many newspapers of the metro daily category that are worse than the Strib; uglier, lazier, less entertaining and informative, more boring, less connected to their readers, etc.
The LA Time is the prime example; everyone agrees they suck. AND they are harder left than the Strib (I think: I don’t read them regularly, but that’s their reputation).
Your often trenchant critiques of the Strib’s editorial/opinion pages would be heard so much farther if you granted the strengths of the rest of the paper, thereby allowing you to point out how boring, slanted, vicious, cheap and dishonest the editorials often or usually are, compared with the rest of the Strib.
I’m guessing that, in effect, such an approach would be winsome, winning over many more of the Strib staffers who probably think similarly about the editorials, and would plunge the dart of your retort deeper into the hearts of the editorial editors.
I have been a fan of the Strib since I was a child in study hall…so I’m biased: It’s always been my big-city paper, especially when I lived in Cities for years. For the same reason that it’s very doubtful that you happen to live in the city which has the paper you hate the most, I have to temper my fandom, cause it’s always been the one I read the most and developed affection for.
But as somewhat of an educated newspaper reader, I think the Strib is the best looking newspaper I’ve ever seen. Compared to the Pioneer Press, the Chicago Tribune, the NYTimes, it has great white space that invites the reader’s eyes to go easily to where they should.
It always has personality without getting weird, it has solid sports reporting that gives fans what they want, covers the state not bad, considering (of course, much worse than 15 years ago, but every paper has pulled in its horns). Especially Larry Oakes, out of Duluth, and Chuck Haga capture Minnesotan-ness with good writing and good reporting.
It covers the arts better than most metros, as far as I can tell, especially the music scene. Transcendental photography on a regular basis, especially that of Brian Peterson.
It’s lively, gives one the sense of what life in Minnesota, especially the Cities, is all about. One measure: I can’t see how anyone could live in the state, especially the Cities, and NOT read it. If you did, you constantly would be at a disadvantage, ’cause it reports stuff no one else has, is the definitive voice and bulletin board, etc.
By trashing all that in your broadbrush attacks, I think you just eviscerate your arguments about the editorial page stuff, with which I usually agree with you about. Hasn’t the overall political coverage of the election in Minnesota been pretty fair and balanced? Seems like it has to me.
Your broadbrush also tends to make your readers perhaps think that you think the editorial/opinion section is of the same cloth as the newsroom. I’m pretty sure you don’t. That division is pretty sacrosanct in journalism, as much as I can tell, and I’m sure the news reporters at the Strib take pride in not being connected to the op/ed people, in thinking, goals or product.
For 50 cents six days a week, I think it’s the best buy around for newspapers…I lament how much the Pioneer Press has shrunk its vision and paper; they simply aren’t near the same league anymore, I’m afraid.
The Strib maintains the closest touch and connection with its readers and its general locale, I think, of any major metro daily I have seen…even if it is still a left-leaning, liberal progressive touch, for the most part. And you have to credit them for the moves they have made in recent years to add conservative voices in columnists, local and syndicated.
Now, of course, as the blogosphere has grown, with such excessively worded criticisms as yesterday’s, you run the risk more and more of sounding simply like you are trashing a competitor, which is not cricket.

In my defense, as I suggested in the post to which my friend is responding, I should say that I was judging the Star Tribune, among other things, in light of its extremely poor coverage of the Fifth District congressional race. If the Star Tribune with its resources was incapable of performing passably on that race in its own backyard — if we were able to contribute more working on that story in our spare time than the Star Tribune was with its numerous reporters who covered the race — then I thought my judgment was warranted.
JOHN adds: I’m on Scott’s side on this one. I don’t know whether the Star Tribune is literally the country’s worst newspaper; obviously it’s on our minds because it is our dominant local paper. But Scott’s critique of the Strib during the current election cycle was not directed primarily at the editorial board. On the contrary, the problems that Scott repeatedly documented were with the paper’s news reporters. They quite obviously buried news that they didn’t want to see the light of day because it would hurt the chances of their preferred candidate. There may be a wall between the news and editorial functions at the Strib, but on both sides of that wall sit loyal Democrats who put party above pretty much all else.
Sports, weather and theater coverage is another issue. Sid Hartman is one of the great sports columnists of all time; Pat Reusse is also a knowledgeable sports columnist. The Strib’s weather forecasting is no worse than anyone else’s, and my friend Graydon Royce does an excellent job of covering the local theater scene. But we buy a newspaper primarily for the news, and anyone who has followed our coverage of the recent campaign, especially Scott’s, can connect the dots.


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