More in sadness than in anger


Friday, October 5. Only three stories start on the Strib front page today.

All three (a Duluth jury’s verdict against a Brainerd woman for for sharing music on the internet; the Henn. Co. District Court ruling that Sen. Larry Craig doesn’t get to take back his guilty plea; and more MnDOT funding woes) are legitimate page one contenders to the eye of an old ink-stained wretch, but said wretch notes that all are local stories. It’s a theme.

Not that long ago, the typical page one story count was about six. That gave you room for some mix of serious and light, local, national and foreign. And there was still room for a couple or three promos across the top of the page for stories in the feature, sports and business sections.

I should note that today’s front page (and all the other pages of the paper) is a significantly smaller than it used to be (same for most papers). This saves a lot of money, but isn’t helping with the paper’s higher calling of making democracy and a free society work better by contributing to an informed citizenry.

The three stories today (a total of nine paragraphs before the jump lines) actually only take up about a quarter of the cover (I’m eyeballing, not measuring and I’m including two inconsequential pictures that go with the stories.)

The biggest thing on the cover is a posed picture of three members of the Minnesota Wild being introduced at the arena on the occasion of the home opener. Your humble and obedient ink-stained wretch is actually a sports fan, but one who still believes that those occasions when a sports item dominates the front page should be reserved for things like the home team clinching the pennant. (The Wild did win the home opener, 1-0, over Chicago, but it didn’t clinch a playoff berth.) Even at my sports fanniest, I never minded reading the sports news on the sports pages. But I’m an old fart, but I don’t see the problem. Sports fans can find the sports section.

The various blurbs around the cover combined (depending on how you count them, there are 12) soak up space about equal to the three news stories combined. The Strib’s current taboo on serious national or international news is even reflected here. None of the 12 blurbs mentions a serious non-local story unless you count “Famous fashion designer faces multiple sex charges.” The designer is named Anand Jon. Your h&o i-s wretch isn’t willing to count this as a serious national or international news story.

There’s also a Medtronic advertisement stripped across the bottom of the Strib front-page. Advertising on page one was forbidden until very recently. People like me are supposed to be upset about this, as with the smaller page size. But I’m more sad than angry. If running an ad on the front-page would finance the improvement of what’s in the news columns, I’d be for it.

New York Times: front page articles on Friday, October 5

House’s Iraq Bill Applies U.S. Laws to Contractors

Debate Erupts on Techniques Used by C.I.A.

Guilty Plea Stands, but Craig Won’t Quit Senate

Army Enlists Anthropology in War Zones

Olympic Champion Acknowledges Use of Steroids

Giuliani Pulled No Punches on the Radio

If you are wondering what other stories might have been available for Page One, here is the front page story list of today’s New York Times. The only item on both lists is the Craig story. Presumably the Strib would not have offered it on the cover if the exact same story had occurred, but in a Detroit bathroom. The logic of this eludes me.

The Star Tribune’s current ownership and management have decided that the way to save the franchise is to go hyper-local. I don’t think it’s gonna work. Many of the Strib’s best and most loyal customers (bless them) want their paper to provide a smart, expansive overview of the most important local, national and world news. They’re driving too many of those folks away and I don’t see the evidence that they can replace with a large group of new readers who want to read hyper-local. Maybe I’m wrong.

I’ll end with my only personal anecdote about Par Ridder, the recently departed publisher of both Twin Cities metro dailies. And I won’t even mention the tawdry tale of why he is not currently working in the newspaper business.

In 2005, the last big Star Tribune redesign was implemented. Its most substantive feature was the addition of a twice-a-week world news section, which was a daring statement that countered the trend among similar papers, including the St. Paul Pioneer Press, to hyperlocalize. I was assigned to write a piece about the state of the industry on the day before the redesign was unveiled. I called Ridder, then the publisher of the PiPress and already the Twin Cities personification of hyperlocalization (which is how I justify including this anecdote in this piece).

I asked him to comment on what he thought of the Strib’s decision to start a world news page. He replied (I’m quoting from memory so I won’t use quote marks): Y’know one of my first jobs in the business was selling ads for the Washington Post. They had a world news section. One day one of my customers found that his ad appeared in the world section. He asked for his money back.

It’s stopped raining now. Get out and carpe diem.