The Star Tribune, journalism and the future

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As the Strib slides into bankruptcy, I’m thinking more gloomy thoughts about the future of journalism. Not that the Strib is going away any time soon. They’ll limp along in Chapter 11, probably not sliding noticeably farther down the hill than they have over the past few years, since the “investors” took over from the newspaper people.

The Star Tribune, like other grand newspapers of the nation, was owned by newspaper families for most of its life. In 1998, Cowles Media sold it to the McClatchey Company for $1.4 billion. Two years ago, McClatchy sold it to Avista Capital Partners, an investment company with no newspaper background. The Avista deal was highly leveraged, and the debt proved unsustainable.

The demise of newspapers across the country can’t all be blamed on financial manipulation and looting. Part of the problem is the demise of print advertising, especially classified ads, which have moved en masse to the internet. I looked for employment ads in the PiPress and Strib last week. No dice. The want ad section told me to look on-line. I wonder how many prospective dishwashers, waitresses, and grocery cashiers have ready internet access?

Lack of interest in news is another part of the problem. When I look at the ten most popular stories listed on the Strib’s web site tonight, national and international news are conspicuous by their absence. There are three sports stories, and no stories about the war in Gaza (or Iraq or Afghanistan or Somalia or …) Two stories about weather-related deaths and none about the governor’s State of the State address, or anything that happened in the legislature, or in the Minneapolis or St. Paul city council.

I am sad to see the decline in journalism, and especially to see the trouble of a newspaper I have read for most of my life. When I was a teenager, growing up on a farm in central Minnesota, the Strib provided a window to the world. Its weekly world events quiz honed my interest in politics and international affairs. As a high school student, I won a rare trip to the Twin Cities (and a pair of good binoculars) through its world affairs contest.

I understand and agree with the Newspaper Guild’s recognition of “the newspaper’s singular voice in news and information in Minnesota,” and with its “willingness … to make sacrifices to keep the democratic institution alive and well for future generations.” Not only the Star Tribune, but the practice of journalism itself is essential to democracy and worth the sacrifices its practitioners make.

Like democracy, journalism does not happen in a vacuum. It is nurtured by the participation of all of us. Its future rests in all of our hands.

What do you think is in the future of journalism? Seriously – consider the questions below and send us your thoughts.

• What kind of reporting do you think we need more of?
• What are the stories that you want to read? Or see? Or listen to?
• Who is doing the kind of journalism that you need?
• How can the kind of journalism that you need be financed?
• What are the advantages and disadvantages of print, electronic (radio, TV), and internet journalism?

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