Monday, November 21, 2005

Is the Twin Cities a "one newspaper town"?

Posted by Craig Westover | 10:44 AM |  

Fraters Libertas has a couple of interesting posts relative to the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

Chad “The Elder” relates this comment from a Wall Street Journal analysis of the possible sale of Knight Ridder --
Knight Ridder has been publishing mostly second-rate newspapers for as long as anyone can remember.
Chad notes the writer did say "mostly second-rate" so perhaps his broad brush swipe doesn't include our local KR entity, the Pioneer Press. Earlier in the week Brian “Saint Paul” Ward posted a letter from a Stillwater "PiPress" reader that might dash that hope --
Thursday November 17, 2005, is the day the St. Paul Pioneer Press officially became a shopper -- The Stillwater Gazette with a Sunday edition.

The dominant graphic on the front page of Section A of my beloved hometown paper was of a flock of turkeys. The above-the-fold headline, the grabber that would get people dropping their quarters into Pioneer Press newspaper stands around the city, was "TIME TO TALK TURKEY." Photo and copy took up just under half the total space of the front page.

Was this a story about the threat of bird flu? No. Was it a business piece about the turkey business in Minnesota or the economic impact of the "holiday" season? No. An animal rights story? No. Was it a news story of any kind? No. It was essentially a house ad for an article in the PiPress "EAT" Section. It's no coincidence that advertising-wise EAT is a very profitable section for the Pioneer Press.
Does that make the Pioneer Press a second-rate newspaper? According to the Frater’s reader, that might not be a bad question to be asking --
Is this really what newspapers have to do to survive -- run promos on the front page? If so, sorry, it's not a newspaper; it's a shopper. Does market now determine news "content"? Is the new motto of journalism "All the News You Want to Know?" Is the purpose of the local section to uncover local "news," or is it to make sure that every high school student, athlete and local "personality" gets 15 minutes of fame and the Pioneer Press a place on family refrigerator?

Change, is necessary for the Pioneer Press even if uncomfortable for readers like me but still it ought to be change for the better. Making the Twin Cities a one-newspaper town -- one "news" paper and one shopper -- is not for the better.
Speaking of one-newspaper towns, a Star Tribune article on Saturday dismissed the likelihood that the Pioneer Press might be purchased by the McClatchy Co., owner of the Star Tribune, to eliminate a competitor.
"I doubt that the Justice Department would allow that," said Maryland-based newspaper consultant John Morton. "That would really be stretching any [antitrust] tolerance."
The article also notes that there has been a lot of unpleasant turmoil Pioneer Press staffers, who have been buffeted by staffing cutbacks, corporate changes and other belt-tightening measures for the past five years. Writes the Strib --
In better times, the Pioneer Press was regarded as "the capital ship of the Ridder family," said Jack Finnegan, who worked as executive editor and, later, associate publisher from 1970 until his retirement in 1989. "Most of the Ridder boys went through St. Paul as part of their training before they moved on to other newspapers in the group," he recalled. . . .

Neither Finnegan nor his former crosstown rival Dave Nimmer, managing editor of the Minneapolis Star from 1974 to 1978, want to see the number of newspapers in the Twin Cities shrink further.

"I see value in a two-newspaper town," said Nimmer, a former journalism professor at the University of St. Thomas. He recalled when the Twin Cities had four newspapers vying for readers. "The competition makes the coverage more aggressive. I also think public officials behave differently when reporters are around with notebooks. They're more careful and work harder."

Former St. Paul Mayor George Latimer said he's worried as well.

"For those of us who really value newspapers and the printed word in general, it's very worrisome to imagine a great old town like St. Paul not having a hometown newspaper," he said.
But if the Stillwater reader and the Wall Street Journal are correct, the Twin Cities is already a one newspaper town -- one newspaper and a shopper with a Sunday edition.

Category: Journalism