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of Discussion with Roger Buoen, Andy Driscoll, and Bill Salisbury
Civic Caucus, 8301
Creekside Circle, Bloomington, MN 55437
July 31, 2009
Verne Johnson, Chair; David Broden, Janis Clay, Marianne Curry, Paul
Gilje, Jim Hetland, Jan Hively, Tim McDonald, Wayne Popham (by phone) Bob
Context of the meeting—
The Caucus is interested in exploring with key members of the media their
strategy for approaching the coming year’s Governor race. The need for
leadership in Minnesota is acute, with many serious challenges facing the
new office holder. With no other major positions up for election, the
coming campaign will present a rare opportunity for the state to focus
singularly on the Governorship, and on competing visions for the state’s
future. News media will have an important role to play.
Welcome and introductions—
We have three speakers today, representing a range of news outlets: Roger
Buoen (MinnPost), Andy Driscoll (CivicMedia), and Bill Salisbury (Pioneer
been a journalist for 30 years. He spent most of those years as a reporter
and editor at the Minneapolis Star and later the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
He is currently co-managing editor of MinnPost.com. He holds undergraduate
and graduate degrees in journalism as well as a law degree.
is a media writer, producer, and consultant with CivicMedia/Minnesota and
The Driscoll Group. CivicMedia/MN is a statewide non-profit created to
bring discussions of local and regional public affairs to residents and
students, educating them about the workings of public governance and
policymaking. He is producer and host of "Truth to Tell," a weekly
hour-long public affairs talk show. Andy is former executive director of
Sensible Land Use Coalition, and has a Masters in Liberal Studies from the
University of Minnesota.
is a political reporter for the St. Paul Pioneer Press. He has covered
politics and government for more than 30 years. He joined the Rochester
(Minn.) Post-Bulletin in 1972 and became that paper’s state capitol
correspondent in 1975. The St. Paul Pioneer Press hired him as a general
assignment reporter in 1977 and assigned him to its state capitol bureau
the following year. He served as the Pioneer Press’ Washington
correspondent from 1994 through 1999, when he returned the state capitol
Comments and discussion—During
discussion the following points were raised:
1. The media’s approach to the Governor’s race--The
chair opened the discussion by asking the three guests to describe what
their organizations plan to do in preparation for, and during, the
started by noting that MinnPost plays a different role than the Star
Tribune, and other traditional outlets. They see themselves as
supplementary to the dailies. MinnPost has a smaller staff, but great
writers. So they have more commentary, some in-depth investigative work,
and unique insights and information.
“We’d like to do
coverage that frames the debate, doesn’t just react to what’s happening,”
Buoen said. A couple of years ago they did a piece with the state
economist Tom Stinson, examining the questions of state demographic
changes and their affect on the budget. That reporting had a significant
A member asked if
MinnPost’s staff directs the coverage, or if the writers do? “We have five
editors,” Buoen said, “who do some direction of stories with the writers.
But the writers have significant discretion. The traffic on their site is
“soaring” (800,000-1,000,000 page views/month);
MinnPost is probably the largest nonprofit news website in the country not
affiliated with a legacy news organization, he said.
They cover politics
and government only, really, so it is a great resource for people
concerned in these areas. When MinnPost covers the Governor’s race they
will provide both commentary and objective reporting coverage.
b. Pioneer Press--Salisbury
said that at the Pioneer Press they’re happy the Senate recount between
Franken and Coleman is over so they can shift focus now to the coming
election. His job at present is to figure out who the candidates are
(there are by now about 12 on each side), and introduce them to the
public. He aims to find out who they are, what they think, and press them
hard on the issues: What would they do on the budget? On Health Care? The
staff at the PP is small, too. Of those devoted to politics and elections,
they have 4-5.
“We will pick issues,
ask questions, and probe, probe, probe,” he said. They have been prompted
to evolve their media, too: Salisbury just signed up for Facebook, and one
of his colleagues Twittered through Governor Pawlenty’s speech in
California earlier in the week.
c. Civic Media--Driscoll
said that at CivicMedia—and Truth to Tell specifically—they are
able to go a bit more in depth within the format of a one-hour radio show.
He tries to bring multiple perspectives together at the same time around
an issue, with perhaps 4 or 5 guests on one program.
Driscoll said he
covers stories that others don’t—getting to the core of issues, such as
racism in housing policy. “We’ll take the same approach to the Governor’s
race,” he said. “Try to explore the issues and bring data to the desk.”
A member asked
Driscoll if his group plans to bring any special coverage to the campaign.
“We’ll cover the Minneapolis and St. Paul mayoral elections in ways others
won’t,” he said. “There may not be strong competition to the incumbents,
but we will give coverage to the contenders.”
2. Instant Runoff Voting--What
about IRV? It's being referred to as ‘ranked choice voting’ now, Driscoll
said, as an attempt to more accurately reflect its character. He supports
it, and will watch it very closely as it is implemented in Minneapolis
while covering the outcome of an identical initiative vote in St. Paul in
3. Differences in coverage among media outlets--A
member asked Salisbury if he sees any fundamental distinction between the
Pioneer Press and MinnPost? “MinnPost is doing a good job,” he replied.
“They tend to come from a more biased angle, which they say up front,
while we are old-school reporting facts.”
Buoen noted that the
voice that writers convey on the web tends to be more conversational than
in print media. “We try to draw a distinction between more objective
political stories—‘articles’—and commentary, or ‘posts.’”
that MinnPost’s front page is devoted essentially to “standard
journalism,” with editorial content throughout the site. Seems to be a
good mix, was the consensus.
All of the guests
lamented the slide in quality of news coverage, citing the analysis paid
that morning to what types of beers would be consumed at the Beer Summit
President Obama hosted Thursday at the White House.
Bob White, former
editorial page editor at the Star Tribune, commented that some writers at
MinnPost provide quick updates on the site—on a story, about a candidate.
Sometimes they’re opinionated, but the writers are up front about that.
Will coverage of the Governor’s race be in an editorial or classical
“We are still trying
to figure out the web medium,” Buoen said. They still want the site to be
news-orientated. “It depends on the writer. Some feel very comfortable in
an opinion voice, providing analysis. Others prefer the telling of a
story. “We are flexible with reporters; we just ask that people be upfront
“As long as people
draw a distinction between telling what’s going on and what they hope or
think is going on, you’ll be alright,” White commented.
4. Assuring the quality of candidates and
member asked, How can we guarantee a good candidate comes to the
significant changed last election,” Salisbury said, “with Pawlenty’s
opting out of public financing. Both he and Hatch spent the bulk of their
time raising money. They weren’t accessible to the people. Peter
Hutchinson did force them to answer some hard questions. We will do
stories like that, picking an issue and drilling down.”
“At this point with so
many candidates we have a difficult time drilling-down,” he said.
Because of all the job
losses, a member asked, are the journalists covering this election less
Salisbury said that
there hasn’t been much turnover in the quality of the people who are
involved. There are increasingly new media outlets represented at the
capitol, and they seem to be doing a good job.
One member expressed
concern that she doesn’t see much serious, deep analysis of the state
budget. Some people know how to read a billion dollar budget the news
“We don’t do a good
job with that, partly because audiences are confused by the arcane nature
of budget talk,” Driscoll conceded. “Someone who does finance well is
Chris Farrell with MPR/American Public Media. “He covers essentially the
Salisbury noted that
the Pioneer Press did have reporters this past session who got deep into
the Health and Human Services budget, to the K-12 budget, and into the
Higher Ed budget. These comprise 80 percent of the state’s spending.
“I think the role of
the media in this campaign,” a member said, “is to give voice to the
stakeholders—get them involved.” Who are the stakeholders? “We used to
know,” but it’s less clear today.
Driscoll lamented the
role of media in packaging candidates as so much consumable
products—packaging public service positions as commodities, to be sold
over television in 30-second pitches. Because so much of their revenue
comes from campaign commercials, conflicted TV stations are hesitant to
critically examine candidates, their claims and their promises.
Buoen wasn’t sure he
agreed that media doesn’t provide enough background on candidates. “Google
someone’s name,” he said, “and a lot comes up. The problem may be more
that the public doesn’t do enough work itself.”
“Ideas need to start
with the private public and flow up,” a member emphasized. “We’re missing
that now. Media and government officials talk with think tanks and
academics, but there are other stakeholders out there.”
chair asked the guests if they had any final thoughts to share.
Driscoll commented on
the nominating process, saying that the recruiting power for parties has
been diminished by removing them from financing campaigns and choosing
accountable candidates. “If you select by caucus as we do in this state,
then a smaller and smaller group of insiders do the selecting.” This is
part of his case for ranked-choice voting.
Salisbury said that
when the field of candidates does get narrowed down, reporters will need
to press them to fully answer questions, to the point. “If you have any
suggestions for questions, let us know,” he said.
Buoen commented that
organizations like the Civic Caucus and news organizations need to frame
the discussion during campaigns, or else the candidates do. The Caucus has
been thinking about convening a group of former state leaders to think on
just this question. That conversation will come, as the summer draws to a
And with that, thanks
all around for a good session.