for PDF format
of Meeting with
Gary Gilson, Dave Nimmer, Jim Shoop, Lee Canning, Paul Gilje
8301 Creekside Circle, Bloomington, MN 55437
Friday, March 9, 2007
Johnson, chair; Lee Canning (by phone), Chuck Clay, Paul Gilje, Jim
Hetland, Jim Olson (by phone), and Wayne Popham (by phone)
roundable, including Gary Gilson, former journalist, retired
director and current consultant, Minnesota News Council; Dave Nimmer,
former journalist, currently on the journalism faculty, University of
St. Thomas; Jim Shoop, former journalist, retired director of
public relations, Carleton College, Lee Canning, former journalist
and retired publisher, suburban newspapers, and Paul Gilje, former
journalist, retired fund-raiser. Canning and Gilje serve on the core
group for the Civic Caucus.
Context of the meeting--The
Civic Caucus has been exploring the issue of polarization and paralysis in
Minnesota governmental bodies. Today the Civic Caucus is discussing the
question of public affairs information and its relationship to a
introduced the speakers. Between 1960 and 1964, he said, all five had
worked together at the old Minneapolis Star.
Change in publisher at Star Tribune--To
get the meeting going Verne invited the speakers to comment on the
announcement this week that Par Ridder, publisher of the St. Paul
Pioneer Press, has been named publisher of the Star Tribune.
1. Respecting historical allegiances--Canning
feels that the change makes it less likely that the Star Tribune
will violate the historical tendency of each paper to respect the other's
territory. He sees no change in the tendency of the papers to give first
emphasis to entertainment. In response to a question Canning said he
doesn't think the change will result in the Star Tribune trying to
push the Pioneer Press out.
2. Possibly some openness to improvement--Nimmer
said that Ridder has been a supporter of the program at St. Thomas to
bring more low-income youth and youth of color into journalism. Nimmer
said we shouldn't write off the Pioneer Press. It has some top
new veterans in leadership roles. Ridder, he said, might be open to
creative ideas for strengthening public affairs coverage.
3. Disintegration of the
audience--Shoop said "the
canary ate the whale". It's symptomatic of what's happening in general to
the news business. Challenges are so great. The audience has spread in
so many directions, what with cable television and blogs, for example.
He wonders whether anyone is covering the Legislature on a fulltime
basis. St. Paul, he said, has a hard core of loyalist readers and he
thinks that will provide impetus to keep the St. Paul paper going. The
fact that the Star Tribune is now controlled by an investment
company means we can expect the current owners will sell the paper again
as soon as they have instituted economies.
4. Management changes aren't the
big story--Gilson said it
appears to him that managers are interchangeable. The real story is
bigger than the managers. It's the declining audience. He noted how
the mainstream TV channels in the Twin Cities area are trying to tailor
their news coverage to be more inter-active and heavily entertainment
oriented. He is not optimistic that it will be possible for the media to
climb back up to the place where public affairs coverage really means
something. He recalled that a recent editor of the Star Tribune
said he was bored by coverage of government. There are papers that still
do a good job, Gilson said. He singled out the
Because of retirements the Star Tribune shortly will lose 24 or 25
people, with long histories in the area, Gilson said. If they are
replaced, it will be by lower-paid newcomers. The community is losing a
Agreement on decline in quality and quantity of public affairs information--Verne
said that before we go further today we should test the extent of
agreement that public affairs coverage has declined significantly. All
speakers agreed. Jim Hetland asked why specialists (beat reporters) are
disappearing. Canning replied that you will find specialists today in
entertainment and sports. Nimmer recalled that four months ago the
Star Tribune published a major article on the best drinking
establishments for different groups of people. The various audiences
already knew where to go, he said. Can you imagine, Nimmer asked, how
much time and energy and resources were spent in that effort?
Impact on the political process--Verne
asked whether the decline in public affairs coverage is affecting the
1. Absence of reporters looking
over the shoulders of politicians--Shoop
said that the presence of reporters makes elected officials more
responsible. In the absence of reporters, things can slide through. If
the public isn't paying attention, the elected officials feel less of a
sense of responsibility. Shoop said the trend is widespread. One-third
of Newsweek magazine is lifestyle now, he said. Apparently,
people have turned inward and are interested only in themselves.
Nimmer recalled that between 1963 and 1988, no alderman in Minneapolis
was indicted. Four reporters were covering city hall regularly. In the
last decade three aldermen have been indicted and convicted. It's not
just crime, he said. No one has looked at the civil service system in
Minneapolis in the last 15 years.
2. Public affairs never was
heavily read--Canning said
that reporting on government never ranked high on readership. He
recalled that "Dear Abby" used to attract the biggest audience. Not more
than 8 percent of subscribers ever read the editorial page, he said. But
in those days the economics were different and papers could appeal to a
Canning said the papers are much thinner and have eliminated
anything that doesn't appeal to the broad audience. He sees very little
potential for improvement in the traditional media. They will simply do
what the can to stay alive. He remembered remembers that in 1961
circulation of the Minneapolis
Star was 320,000. The Tribune was a separate paper with its
own circulation. Today, the combined newspaper circulation is about
350,000. Meanwhile the population of the metropolitan area has tripled or
quadrupled. Penetration of the market was about 80 percent in the 1960s
and now is down to about 35 percent. The daily newspaper is a very weak
member of the media today, Canning said.
4. Consequences of inadequate
coverage--Gilson said he can
hardly believe that the newspapers didn't report last year during the
Twins stadium debate that a price on the land was still in dispute. Had
those facts been known at the time the bill passed, the problems today
might have been avoided.
5. Look at Twin Cities Daily
Planet--Gilson urged that
we look at a new online paper, the Twin Cities Daily Planet, that
heavily emphasizes neighborhood news, but that could cover regional public
affairs, too. The Daily Planet received a grant to get started.
Jeremy Iggers, formerly with the Star Tribune, is active in the
6. Some bright spots--Gilson
said that Robert Crowich, formerly of National Public Radio, who now works
for ABC News, knows how to explain complicated topics in interesting and
clear ways. Gilson said somehow we need to develop more people with a
pursuit of excellence. Asked about the performance of journalism
schools, Gilson said the best teachers are frustrated by a lack of vision
on the part of students.
7. Permanent decline is
irreversible?--Verne said that
it appears that the decline in the traditional media is irreversible and
that some new strategies need to be developed. Canning replied that the
media are in a state of flux. Relying on one branch will kill you.
Verne said that at a minimum we need to get the media question back on our
menu of problems with the political process.
8. Look to a variety of other
media--Gilson suggested that
City Pages, Law & Politics, the Rake magazine, Twin Cities
Business Monthly, Finance and Commerce, and other specialized
publications have a definite role to play.
9. WCCO and the environment--Lest
we totally despair over the traditional media, Nimmer said the Don Shelby
afternoon show on radio focuses heavily on environmental issues, because
of Shelby's interest, and that program now is drawing more audience that
In terms of new outlets, Nimmer wonders whether a Par Ridder
might be receptive to a suggestion for a nightly cable news show on public
affairs. Verne wondered what kind of incentive Ridder would need to do
10. Interest of younger people--Jim
Hetland noted that young people today don't read newspapers or watch TV
news programs. He'd like to know whether young people aren't interested
in public information, irrespective of its source. Shoop replied that
people are interested in what affects them personally. He sees a lack
of a common concern today. In the years immediately following World War
II there was a broad interest in education and about suburban development,
Shoop said. So you could easily write about those topics and know there
was a common concern. Shoop also wondered if a change in outlook has
occurred among elected officials. Did they formerly have a greater
interest in serving the common good than today?
11. Contributions by responsible
what he considers to be a quality blog written by Eric Black, a veteran
reporter at the Star Tribune. The discussion turned briefly to
whether blogs are essentially personal editorial pages. Are there blogs,
for example, that simply try to lay out the facts of a situation? One
person commented that bloggers often will state things without
attribution. Attribution always has been an essential aspect in
reporting, Shoop said, because reliable news was dependent upon the
authority of the person being quoted.
12. Reliability of new
discussion briefly touched on the question of how information can be
thought to be reliable in today's environment. The example of Wikipedia
was cited. Wikipedia is a contributor-driven, on-line encyclopedia. Some
persons present were skeptical, because they didn't know tests for
reliability of Wikipeda information.
13. Change in community
leadership role of the newspapers--In
years past the owners of the Star Tribune and the Pioneer Press
were actively involved in making their communities better. Ownership
now has no such interest.
behalf of the Civic Caucus, Verne thanked our speakers for meeting with us
The Civic Caucus
is a non-partisan,
tax-exempt educational organization. Core participants
include persons of varying political persuasions, reflecting
years of leadership in politics and business.
A working group meets face-to-face to
provide leadership. They are Verne C. Johnson, chair; Lee
Canning, Charles Clay, Bill Frenzel,
Paul Gilje, Jim Hetland,
John Mooty, Jim Olson, Wayne Popham and John Rollwagen.