Rejected by the Strib. (Not That I’m Taking it Personally.)

NEW BLOG PHOTO_edited- 2Here’s a commentary piece I wrote for the Strib which didn’t make their cut. Word is they’re a bit overwhelmed with Trump stuff. But I don’t call reading anything there from this perspective. Nor did any of the Strib managers I contacted acknowledge e-mails seeking a conversation about adjusting to Trump-style rhetoric and media manipulation.

Whether mainstream professional journalists want to admit it or talk about it publicly or not, the work they do is at another moment of revolution, if not crisis. How to conduct business in the Age of Donald Trump compounds pressures already placed on traditional journalism organizations by the explosion of free internet alternatives to Reporting as Your Parents Remember It and the squeeze from rapacious investors.

Whatever your feelings about Trump, his attitude toward so many long-standing protocols including those guiding White House-press relations makes him a disrupter of unprecedented magnitude. Judging by how he’s conducted himself through his business career, the presidential campaign and the transition to taking over as POTUS 45, Trump operates — and thus far has succeeded beyond all conventional expectations — by asserting a combative, constantly shifting alternate reality to the world the press has comfortably reported on for generations. That was a world where the press played objective arbiter between two thoroughly familiar political forces, Republicans and Democrats, each largely accepting the basic rules of conduct between them and the media that covered them.

There is no good reason to think that arrangement will ever exist with Trump. More to the point, there is peril, even a threat to established journalism’s basic business model, in wishfully thinking that traditional protocol will suddenly emerge with Trump in the Oval Office. Put bluntly, the question traditional journalism managers should be asking themselves is this: “What do the readers (or listeners or viewers) who trust us expect from us now, in this new environment?”

The news environment of 2017 is as intensely bifurcated as I can ever recall. Where one large mass of news consumers still puts faith in fact-based reporting by daily newspapers, network news and the like, another remarkably large mass, a group instilled with a deep distrust and contempt for mainstream journalism by 25 years of talk radio and hyper-partisan websites, eagerly consumes and trades in preposterous fakery. What’s real and true matters less to them than what tilts the battle in favor of their tribe.

The dilemma for established news organizations is in providing too little of what their most supportive customers want most. Specifically, that would be very aggressive truth-telling on a transparency-averse figure, Trump, who has also demonstrated a startling disinterest in what’s empirical and true.

Trump is pushing the traditional press into uncomfortable territory, requiring a rapid evolution in both style and operational ethics. Over the past year, leading news organizations like the New York Times, Washington Post and Los Angeles Times famously broke with the long-standing taboo against use of the words “lie” and “liar”, in describing various Trump assertions. Having surveyed (or attempted to survey) a dozen or so news executives and media analysts, I can report that the few who cared/dared engage in a conversation on the topic of new strategies for covering Trump were palpably uncomfortable with the Times’ and Post’s break with tradition and offered no new rules for the road as Trump takes office.

There are plenty of journalism outlets, from BuzzFeed, to Glenn Greenwald’s The Intercept, to Mother Jones, to Talking Points Memo to Vox and so on prepared to cover Trump unfettered by polite traditions and protocols left over from the Eisenhower administration. The peril for the more established press is in failing to evolve and compete with those insurgents for the attention and trust of the audience that has supported Old School journalism up to this moment.

American journalism needs its version of Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War”, a tactical guide for waging battle against a committed foe. At minimum it should include resisting the reflexive over-reaction, like a flock of starlings, to Trump’s tweet-of-the-hour and instead concentrate on burrowing obsessively into essential disclosures. Like the new President’s opaque financial associations and obligations, with the Russians the Chinese, or whoever.

The public has a profound right to know. And the people who continue to trust Mom and Dad’s Media expect big legacy journalism shops to adjust to our stark new reality and not just “report” the latest bizarre tweet, but deliver the critical information they want, protocols be damned.

Dear South Dakota: Lighten Up

5_reasons_to_still_get_excited_for_Paul_McCartney__besides_the_obvious__-_StarTribune_comSouth Dakota is feeling under-loved, again. A South Dakota state senator wrote a commentary in today’s Star Tribune complaining about the newspaper’s preview of Paul McCartney’s two Target Center concerts. The forlorn headline says it all: “Gee, did you have to slam South Dakota again?”

It seems the mulleted Beatle began his Midwest tour in Sioux Falls, which prompted the Strib’s music critic to do what music critics do for a living, get snarky. “For once, you may envy the folks who live in Sioux Falls,” wrote the Strib’s Chris Riemenschneider.  This prompted South Dakota State Senator Bernie Hunhoff to do what South Dakota politicians do for a living, get defensive.

Actually, Hunhoff’s piece was pretty light-hearted and fun, a welcome change from much of what we often hear in these tiresome “border battles.”  But along with the humor, there was hurt.  Oh yes, there was hurt.

We midwesterners as a group tend to be mighty sensitive when we feel someone has disrespected us. For instance, remember all of the rage a while back about Minnesota’s Red Lake County being named the Ugliest County in America? Judging from the heated reactions, one might have thought the Washington Post and the evil authors of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Amenities Index had launched nuclear weaponry at poor little Minnesota.

But when it comes to sensitivity, South Dakota is in a league of its own.  As a South Dakota expat, and Wry Wing’s South Dakota Correspondent, I would make this observation: Among easily offended Midwesterners, South Dakotans are among the most easily aggrieved. Perhaps it’s because South Dakota is one of the most flown over portions of Flyover Country.  Perhaps it’s because former Governor South Dakota Bill Janklow long ago popularized the art of promoting himself by continually creating new platforms where he could defend South Dakota’s honor.  Whatever the reasons, many South Dakotans still spend their lives looking for ways that outsiders are not sufficiently appreciating South Dakota’s awesomeness.

To be certain, there is awesomeness to be had there. Like most states, parts of South Dakota have great natural beauty. Like most states, there are fun and interesting places to eat, drink and see. Like most states, there are friendly, diligent and kind people.  I loves me some South Dakota.

South_Dakota_low_taxes_-_Google_SearchIn fact, now that retirement is a decade or so away, it wouldn’t be the craziest thing in the world for my South Dakota-born wife and I to take our thousandaire fortune and retire closer to our South Dakota family and friends. After all, lots of old folks retire there to shield their income from taxes, since South Dakota has no income tax.

But actually, that is precisely why I won’t be retiring in South Dakota, and will be staying in Minnesota. As a committed liberal, I realize that the seamy side of scarce taxes is scarce community services.

I don’t want to live in a place with the lowest paid teachers in the nation, and one of the region’s lower rates of health coverage. I don’t want to live in a place populated with so many taxophobes that bitter community civil wars break out every time someone proposes addressing a community need or creating a community amenity. I love South Dakota, but I don’t love the short-sighted taxophobic culture that has come to limit the place.

But back to McCartneygate. First, let me apologize for Mr. Riemenschneider’s snark. I’m sorry he showed disrespect to South Dakota. Though truthfully it didn’t strike me as much of a diss, particularly considering he is a music critic, rest assured that most Minnesotans like and respect South Dakota.  They really do.

Second, I would urge my home state to lighten up a bit. Shrug things off.  Have thicker skins.  Be confident enough in what you have to offer the world that you don’t feel the need to be constantly in grievance mode. Realize that you have enough to offer that you don’t have to engage in a fiscal race-to-the-bottom with the Mississippi’s of the world.  You also don’t have to run desperate Tokyo Rose-like ad campaigns on Minnesota conservative talk radio stations recruiting taxophobic businesses and individuals to relocate there.

South Dakota doesn’t need more civic paranoia. It doesn’t need to recruit more selfish taxophobes. It’s a terrific state populated by wonderful people who love the place deeply. As Sir Paul told South Dakotans a few days ago, “with a love like that, you know you should be glad.” Yeah, yeah, yeah.

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Note:  This post also was published as part of MinnPost’s weekly Blog Cabin feature.

Why Do Big Newspapers Still Allow Ugly, Racist Comments?

Lambert_to_the_SlaughterOne of the things that comes with a writer’s territory is a story that never gets published, for reasons that are not entirely clear. This is one of those. The topic of public comments on newspaper web sites is interesting for a number of reasons, among them the way anonymity may (or may not) encourage truly ugly racial invective, something you’d think a large newspaper with a sense of civic responsibility would seek to avoid whenever possible and at the very least edit out prior to publication, particularly in times of racial tensions, such we’ve seen here in Minneapolis this fall.

Anyway, as I say, this media column didn’t pass muster, so I’m  posting it here. Because I believe it’s a discussion worth having.

IT BEGINS:

Anyone even remotely familiar with the internet is aware of and frequently appalled by how quickly any “discussion” among website commenters, especially a big city newspaper’s site, degenerates into juvenile name-calling and worse. It was definitely worse recently when Star Tribune readers piled in on what was, ironically, an uplifting story by John Reinan about a Muslim family’s successful home-owning experience with the help of Habitat for Humanity.

Rather than embrace an opportunity for some holiday season good-will-among-men, the Strib’s commenters immediately, predictably, descended into all-too familiar hostility and racist epithets. (The Strib has removed that particular comment thread.) The waves of vitriol, mainly against the family featured in the story, led Abdi Mohamed, the homeowner to respond with a letter to the Strib several days later.

“I don’t think this awful name-calling would have happened had we had American-sounding names,” he wrote. “We have always considered ourselves American, by any measure, and have been good citizens, paying our fair share of taxes and volunteering in our community. But my faith as a Minnesotan is shaken. I have been calling Minnesota my home for the last 17 years, and my kids were born right here in Minneapolis. My take from the readers is that ‘you don’t belong here in America’.” Dozens wrote in in support. But very soon a minor flame war broke out even on that thread over one anonymous commenter’s admonition to Muslims like Mohammed’s wife, to “lose the costume.”

In other words, all-in-all, real edifying, high-caliber stuff.

Comment sections have an undeniable voyeuristic appeal. Commenters say things most of us would never imagine ourselves saying, much less in public. Our reaction varies between snorts of derision, guffaws and utter dismay.

The conventional argument in favor of comment sections is that they offer an unfiltered vox populi. Like it or not, delighted or horrified, this is what your neighbors are thinking. The question though is this: Is there a point where reader comments become too ugly and cruel that a large public entity like a daily newspaper has a civic obligation to turn them off? Does an important community asset like the Star Tribune have a responsibility to re-assess its attitude toward commenters and draw a line at the point where a vicious, repugnant and — key word here — anonymous few hijack the paper’s social media heft to incite others to spasms of racist verbal attack?

In a perfect world someone among the Strib’s top editorial echelon would offer an answer to this question, or more specifically, as I asked, “What is your best argument for keeping the Star Tribune’s comment policy as it is?” Unfortunately, calls and e-mails to editor Rene Sanchez, Sr. Managing editor Suki Dardarian were not returned. Only Asst. Managing Editor Eric Wieffering responded, and then only to confirm that Strib editorial management had no interest in discussing the topic. So much for an informed, civil dialogue.

If the topic ever does interest them we’ll revisit it. Until that time the conversation is this: The Strib might strongly consider adjusting its comment policy and following the lead of either us here at MinnPost or, failing that, Popular Science, (or USA Today, or The Wall Street Journal).

Recognizing the near inevitability that anonymous commenting will quickly degenerate into a battle of flaming trolls and grossly under-informed invective, MinnPost’s policy from the get go requires commenters to, A: Register and post using their full, real name and, B: Submit to moderation. No doubt the policy seriously diminishes the quantity of comments. But the upside is that commenters maintain a dramatically higher level of civility while arguing their ideological points. If they don’t they’re deleted before they are published.

A case may also be made that a full-disclosure, moderated comment forum provides a safer harbor for the articulate if fainter-hearted souls who recoil at the thought of being assaulted in public by some unidentified CAPS-LOCKING!!! troll.

Or, if moderation, which would require a pretty much full-time employee, is a step too far, the Strib may consider the path Popular Science took two years ago and disconnect the comment option entirely. At the time, the venerable tech and DIY magazine essentially threw up its hands at the way anonymous commenters regularly hijacked discussions of god-knows-what, — hyper-sonic jets graphene or climate change — with rants about Barack Obama … the Kenyan Muslim terrorist sympathizer.

Said Suzanne LaBarre for the magazine, “A politically motivated, decades-long war on expertise has eroded the popular consensus on a wide variety of scientifically validated topics. Everything, from evolution to the origins of climate change, is mistakenly up for grabs again. Scientific certainty is just another thing for two people to ‘debate’ on television. And because comments sections tend to be a grotesque reflection of the media culture surrounding them, the cynical work of undermining bedrock scientific doctrine is now being done beneath our own stories, within a website devoted to championing science.”

LaBarre referred to a University of Wisconsin study on the peculiar psychological effect anonymity has on people, on-line commenters in particular. Among the findings, which come as no surprise to anyone who follows this stuff, the loudest and most active of the anonymous commenters were also those in least possession of accurate information about a given topic and yet the most certain — defiantly certain — of their point of view. (Her central point was that the study also showed how ugly, defiantly ignorant comments had the effect of eroding casual readers’ trust in the accuracy of the story itself.)

Writing about Popular Science’s decision, Maria Konnikova in The New Yorker a month later added, “Multiple studies have also illustrated that when people don’t think they are going to be held immediately accountable for their words they are more likely to fall back on mental shortcuts in their thinking and writing, processing information less thoroughly. They become, as a result, more likely to resort to simplistic evaluations of complicated issues, as the psychologist Philip Tetlock has repeatedly found over several decades of research on accountability.”

Konnikova also cites a couple studies suggesting that the most vitriolic of the anonymous crowd are, thank god for small blessings, given less credence by the sum of all readers. But the response to that, from a large broadly-marketed community entity like the Star Tribune, should be a concern for the effect vitriol has the smaller, shall we say, “most impressionable” fraction of their audience.

Over at the Pioneer Press, editor Mike Burbach found time and sufficient interest to return the call and refer me to Jen Westphal, the paper’s Deputy Editor for Digital News and Social Media. She explained that the PiPress, while requiring registration with a valid IP and e-mail address making the commenter known to the paper, still permits anonymity as well post-publication moderation, which is to say someone at the PiPress steps in only when alerted to egregious behavior.

The Star Tribune policy appears to be much the same, although as I say, no one in the paper’s editorial management or its digital services department would discuss it. Clearly though, given the ugly flame wars that break out with depressing regularity, no one is moderating/approving comments prior to publication.

There are also filters a the PiPress, Westphal says, for certain key words — the usual cussing — and the obvious racial/ethnic invective. But otherwise vox populi rules.

“We used to use Facebook commenting,” she says, “which theoretically required them to use their real name, even though there are ways to get around that, too. We used it for about two years, I think. But we found it didn’t help with what you’re talking about. People said things just as bad as when they were anonymous.”

Coincidentally, Facebook was under criticism this past week for prohibiting anonymity. “Vulnerable communities” demanded a special exemption, to avoid being targeted by trolls.

Facebook consented, but reiterated it’s policy. “We require people to use the name their friends and family know them by. the company said. When people use the names they are known by, their actions and words carry more weight because they are more accountable for what they say. We’re firmly committed to this policy, and it is not changing. However, after hearing feedback from our community, we recognise that it’s also important that this policy works for everyone, especially for communities who are marginalised or face discrimination.”

Sad Westphal at the PiPress, “We prefer to keep comments, at least for now, things can always change, and we have talked about it, because we still see them as a valuable forum for public discussion. It’s the best place a normal resident of St. Paul can go to discuss parking meters on Grand Avenue or whatever.

The flare-up over the Reinan story erupted simultaneous with racial tensions spiking in Minneapolis following the terror attacks in Paris and the police shooting of Jamar Clark. Far too much demagoguery was already in the air. Which is why it is fair to ask whether responsible establishments with broad and deep community roots, like a daily newspaper, are reexamining the role they play in churning the cesspool.

Essentially: Why offer a venue for adding fuel to these fires?

None of which is to say that if the Strib pulls the plug on comments, vitriolic anonymous trolls will slink away and observe some kind of monastic silence. There are literally millions of other websites where they can and do collect. Fringy places where they can huddle and out-vitriol each other and whoever stumbles in. But those sites aren’t hosted by an organization of professional journalists, a company speaking to and representing hundreds of thousands of reader/citizens more interested in information than hyperbolic attack.

MN Loses A Treasure: Reporter Jim Ragsdale

Jim_RagsdaleVeteran Twin Cities political reporter Jim Ragsdale was smart, decent, savvy, warm, and oh-so witty. Pancreatic fucking cancer got him today at 64 years old, and I’m going to miss him like mad.

Great musicians get their most heartfelt ovations when they come out to present one of their masterpieces as an encore.  So, the best way I can think of to honor my pal Rags is to feature one of his many masterpieces as an encore:

Minnesota — broke, a little bloated, and now looking for a new love

By Jim Ragsdale

Updated: 05/20/2010 05:58:46 PM CDT

He goes on long trips without explanation. He comes home and criticizes my appearance, even as he pays greater attention to his own image. Where there once was fondness and love, now all I get is, ‘Your taxes are too high! You’re spending too much! You have to cut back!’

I hate to say it after seven wonderful years, but I, Minnesota, can avoid the truth no longer. My governor, Tim Pawlenty, is seeing someone else.

Am I the last to figure this out? My neighbors, particularly, Iowa, said he has been seen there often, giving their presidential voters the affection I once received. Bigshot pundits who are on the make for a new star delight when he trashes me. But I thought that was, you know, just business, and not really serious.

I admit I have problems. My taxes and spending are on the heavy side — although I’m not as bulky as he likes to say. But hey, I’m Minnesota. I think I carry the weight well. And he knew all this going in back in ’03, when all was kisses and hugs. Why is he dumping me now for slimmer, sexier states?

Sorry — my bitterness occasionally gets the best of me. Deep breaths — in, out. Now, let me give you the whole sad story.

Gov. Tim was born and raised in Minnesota. He has lived and studied and worked here his whole life and he seemed to really care about me. We both knew there were things he didn’t like. He’s “red” and I always go “blue” in presidential years. He’s a fiscal conservative and I have a long tradition of high taxes and generous services.

But he was so cute back when he became governor in 2003. He had a charming way of saying he would try to nudge me in his direction, understanding that I was Minnesota, after all, and would never be, say, Texas or Mississippi. And he did just that. He pushed and prodded and battled and got me shaped up pretty good.

He said he loved my forests and lakes and trees and blue skies, and he was very protective and passionate. Green — good heavens the man was green!

That’s why I loved him back then, despite our differences, and why voters put him back in office for a second term, beginning in 2007. We were pretty happy for a while longer, at least as far as I knew. I never failed to deliver the goods on walleye opener — how ’bout that 22-incher at Kabetogama on Saturday? — and I know he appreciated that.

Then, almost overnight, everything changed.

That bigshot John McCain put him on the V.P. shortlist in 2008, getting him around the nation to red-hot audiences. And right after that, Jan. 20, 2009, happened. A new president — a blue president — took office. Gov. Tim began talking more about national politics and about running for president himself.

He began wandering. First to Iowa. Then New Hampshire. The South. Even the West. States that were trimmer and more red-hot than me.

I saw it but I didn’t see it — know what I mean?

Those floozy states were filling his head with ideas about how great he is, how good-looking and smart and presidential. I couldn’t compete with that. I was broke and a little bloated — just trying to keep home and hearth together — and when he came back, I could tell he no longer had that gleam in his eye.

I’d display my woods and waters and he’d be on the cell-phone with someone in South Carolina. We’d run into our usual budget problems and all he do is scold me to reduce eligibility here, cut benefits there, slim down all over. “Stop snacking on Local Government Aid!” he’d say. “They’re just empty calories!

I am so tired of hearing that.I thought of hiring a private investigator. But then I saw the evidence in black and white, from Eastern pundits. They said the only way he can get love from them is to withdraw it from me. It’s right here in the Wall Street Journal — every time he calls me fat and ugly, he wins points with them.

And trust me, the verbal abuse makes it worse, because when I’m stressed, I tend to binge on the K-12 funding formula.

Well, I may be dowdy and past my prime. I will always suffer through seasonal cold and hot flashes. But I’m not ignorant. The last thing I need, in the middle of a severe bout of economic recession, is my governor trashing me.

So I hereby free him to transfer his affections to those red-state red-hots, those governor-grabbing gigolos, those low-tax lovergirls who have turned his head.

As for me, I’ll survive. I’m getting my budget balanced and I’m having some work done on the out-biennium. But like I said, I’m Minnesota. I’ll always have big bones.

There are a lot of fish in the political sea, of the blue and red and even purplish variety, who will be darn proud to be seen with me. I wish him well in his quest for national stardom. And I hereby issue this request for proposals: I’m looking for a new Gov to be my true love.

No one will ever do “politics on wry” quite like Jim Ragsdale.  Rest in peace JImbo.

Loveland

Strib Does Great Adrian Peterson Reporting, Then Buries It In 40th Paragraph

Star_Tribune_Peterson_articleThe Star Tribune’s Mike Kaszuba, Rochelle Olson and Paul McEnroe did outstanding investigative reporting in today’s paper, raising important questions about the operations of Vikings running back Adrian Peterson’s charitable foundation, the All Day Foundation.

The majority of the article focused on other issues in Peterson’s past that had been spotlighted in the news media, but had not been aggregated into one article.   I have followed Peterson’s career fairly closely, and had forgotten about many of those issues, so the the aggregation itself was a service to readers.   Though the Vikings work hard to promote Peterson as a model citizen, the article points out that that characterization has been overstated.

While most of those issues were old news, the portion of the article about Peterson’s charitable foundation broke new ground.  In case you missed it, as many Minnesotans probably did, here it is:

Peterson’s indictment has also thrown a spotlight on his charity, Adrian Peterson’s All Day Foundation, which focuses on at-risk children, particularly girls. The charity shut down its website following the September indictment.

The charity’s 2011 financial report showed $247,064 in total revenue, and listed just three organizations that received money. A fourth outlay, entitled simply “clothing for needy families,” listed “unknown” for the number of recipients.

In 2009, the charity said its largest gift, $70,000, went to Straight From the Heart Ministries in Laurel, Md. But Donna Farley, president and founder of the Maryland organization, said it never received any money from Peterson’s foundation. “There have been no outside [contributions] other than people in my own circle,” said Farley. “Adrian Peterson — definitely not.”

The East Texas Food Bank, based in Tyler, said it received money from Peterson’s foundation in 2009, although the foundation’s tax filing for the year listed just one donation to a food bank — the North Texas Food Bank, based in Dallas.

Colleen Brinkmann, the chief philanthropy officer for the North Texas Food Bank, said that while her agency partnered with Dallas Cowboys players, she could not recall ever getting money from the All Day Foundation.

For some reason, this portion of the Star Tribune story didn’t appear until the 40th paragraph of the story.  It didn’t get the stand alone story such a new revelation deserves.  It didn’t get in the headline.  It didn’t get into the first 39 paragraphs of the story.

So, is that end of it?  Doubtful.  Because while many Star Tribune scanners probably didn’t make it that far into the tome, it’s a safe bet that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) did.

– Loveland

Minnesota Reporters Should Heed BBC Call On Climate Change Reporting

Flat_Earth_SocietyThere is a small minority that makes heartfelt arguments that the Earth is flat. Do they deserve half of the news coverage related to global geography?  Two maps in every story?

Likewise, there is a small minority that argues humans with a certain skin pigmentation are superior to people with different pigmentation. Do they deserve half of the news coverage about race-related issues?

There also is a small minority that claims the moon landing was a hoax. Did they deserve half of the coverage of moon landings?

In all of these cases, giving minority viewpoints roughly half of the news coverage would have created a false impression that scientists are roughly evenly split about the shape of the planet, the inferiority of some skin colors and the feasibility of space travel. This kind of reporting would have been promoting things that nearly all scientists have proven to be false.

Which brings us to climate change.  This week, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) Trust recommended that BBC reporters no longer give equal time to the small minority of scientists who contend that climate change is not happening and/or is not impacted by human activity. A BBC Trust report recommends:

 The Trust wishes to emphasise the importance of attempting to establish where the weight of scientific agreement may be found and make that clear to audiences. The BBC has a duty to reflect the weight of scientific agreement but it should also reflect the existence of critical views appropriately. Audiences should be able to understand from the context and clarity of the BBC’s output what weight to give to critical voices.

So, at a time when 97% of climate scientists have found that climate change is happening and is aggravated by human activities, half of the news coverage should not be dedicated to the viewpoint of the 3% of scientists who disagree.

Despite the increasingly lopsided scientific consensus on climate change, a 2013 report done by Media Matters found that half of print news outlets used a false balance approach to climate change reporting.  On Fox News, 69 percent of guests cast doubt on the science. On CBS news, in reporting about a rigorous United Nations scientific report, climate change deniers were given more than six times their representation in the scientific community.

The BBC Trust is politely telling its reporters to knock it off.  It is telling them to make sure their reporting reflects the reality of broad scientific consensus on climate change.

It’s time for Minnesota’s most thoughtful journalism leaders to follow suit.  Star Tribune? MinnPost?  Minnesota Public Radio?

– Loveland

Revisiting “The Amazing Race:” LRT Versus Car

lrt_pencil_linesI’m not an unquestioning LRT lackey.  Some questions about LRT strike me as very fair.

For instance, could we have a better overall transit system if we invested the same amount of public money – billions of dollars — in buses, vans, taxis and bus rapid transit instead of trains? Given how sprawled our metro area has become, would an expanded web of bus routes be a better way to serve the region’s far flung citizens than a few mega-expensive fixed rail transit lines?

Those are fair questions that I think the ardent trainophiles are too quick to dismiss.  And just because I ask them doesn’t make me a shallow-thinking Joe Soucheray parrot.

But other questions about LRT strike me as completely unfair. For instance, some are now asserting that LRT is clearly inferior to cars on the grounds that LRT travel wastes more time. The Star Tribune fueled some of these claims when it conducted an interesting “Amazing Race” feature that tested the amount of time it took various modes to travel the length of the Green Line route. The Star Tribune’s Amazing Race feature found that:

  • A car took 26 minutes
  • A bike took 31 minutes
  • The LRT took 42 minutes
  • The bus took 59 minutes

Interesting, but is a car ride really saving more time than train ride?

A car may get me from downtown-to-downtown faster than the train. But on days when I have reading or writing that need to be done as soon as possible, which is pretty much every work day, I can’t safely accomplish those things while driving a car.  But I can accomplish those things while riding the train.  LRT travel allows for time-saving multi-tasking that is  not available when I’m driving my car.  On the train, travel time becomes office time.

Of course, time saving is just one factor travelers and leaders have to weigh. The LRT has  advantages associated with the environment, encouraging development density, and reducing parking costs. Cars have enormous advantages in terms of route flexibility, which is a very big deal to people with unpredictable personal and professional lives, and those who live far from our two LRT lines.

But when it comes to saving time, the LRT is the real winner of the Amazing Race, at least for those who live close to the two LRT lines.

– Loveland

Note:  This post also appeared on streets.mn and MinnPost.

The Yard Canard: Presenting Our Featureless New Corporate Playground

Marred_YardA few days ago, I noted an evolution happening with The Yard, the park planned for west of the new Vikings Stadium.  In the 2018 Super Bowl bid put together by corporate leaders, images of The Yard  were changed from depicting the public playground Minnesotans were initially pitched as part of Governor Dayton’s “People’s Stadium” vision into the more lucrative corporate playground the Vikings’ wealthy owners and their corporate partners covet for  Super Bowl soirees.

This weekend, a Star Tribune editorial bemoaned the Super Bowl bid committee’s proposal for The Yard:

“The public first glimpsed the Yard as depicted in Ryan’s initial renderings: a lush public expanse of grass and trees framing the city skyline. Even in winter, with snow on the evergreens and skaters on a pond, the Yard was to be the “money shot” that defined our city and state to viewers worldwide, as well as a bustling activity zone for fans on game days and for neighbors and downtown workers on the other 355 days of the year.

But a newer image adds tents of various sizes and exclusive activities for Vikings ticket holders for at least 10 days a year, plus events sponsored by the (Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority) MSFA on part of the park for as many as 40 additional days. During rare mega-events like the Super Bowl or the Final Four, garish tents could cover nearly the entire park space, largely to accommodate national security requirements.”

First, national security officials are obviously capable of securing a small public park on Super Sunday.  Maybe skaters would have to walk through metal detectors.  Maybe snow fences and security personnel would have to be temporarily used on the perimeter, as is frequently done on the much larger Mall in Washington, DC.  Come on Star Tribune, are you really buying the Vikings’ claim that ice skaters are some kind of utterly unmanageable national security risk?

But it gets worse.   The Star Tribune then explains that the de-parkification of The Yard goes well beyond Super Sunday.

The upshot is that, yes, the Yard still aims to be both active and attractive, but unfortunately with fewer trees and fewer permanent amenities (public art, fountains, cafes, etc.) than originally imagined, and with more open space for flexible programming, most of it public but some private.

While that doesn’t rule out public skating in winter or soccer and outdoor movies in summer, all of the setting-up and tearing-down of tents and platforms will damage grass and other natural features and, more than that, will consume beauty and time that the public had expected to get.

So, let me get this straight.  The Yard will be exactly like a park, except with few trees,  gardens, water features, art or recreational-oriented equipment or structures.  Other than lacking those typical park features, and being regularly shut down and ground to a pulp by corporate parties, The Yard will be exactly like all the best urban parks.

The Star Tribune, which will be relocated very close to the Yard, seemed disappointed to learn of the newly marred Yard.  But ultimately the editorial staff did what it often does when powerful downtown interests are in play.  It pretty much fell in line with the corporate viewpoint.

It’s nearly impossible to accomplish anything big — say, a Vikings stadium in downtown Minneapolis or an adjacent park — without the financial contributions and willing cooperation of various governments, private companies and nonprofit groups, all with competing interests. The result is often a compromise that doesn’t measure up to every expectation.

“Nearly impossible.”  So that’s what we’ve come to.  Public representatives can no longer create a public park that serves public needs, even after making a half a billion dollar public investment in the development of the area?

The next time you go to Lakewood Cemetery, take a copy of this “nearly impossible” editorial and lay it on the ground.   That rumbling you feel is one Charles M. Loring rolling over in his grave.

– Loveland

News Flash: Candidate Announces a Running Mate…zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

KuisleIn recent years, it feels like the quantity of political reporting in daily newspapers has dropped off.  Whether a function of smaller newsrooms, editors who believe the public wants less political coverage, editors who are gun shy about provocative political topics, or something else, there just seems to be less political coverage.

Political reporters do still cover the most predictable, scripted and formal of political events — candidacy filings and announcements, campaign finance filings, party endorsement events, and running mate announcements.   For the most part, the public snores through all of this formulaic coverage of predictable events.

Case in point:  Today’s Star Tribune carried a fairly in-depth article about Hennepin County Commissioner and gubernatorial candidate Jeff Johnson picking Guy I’ve Never Heard Of as his Lieutenant Governor running mate.   In this article, we are earnestly briefed about the selection of someone who almost certainly won’t impact the outcome of the gubernatorial race, and almost certainly wouldn’t have substantive duties if he somehow beat the odds and actually got the job.

What is even better is that we can look forward to this kind of scintillating “candidate chooses running mate” coverage for each of the multitudes of candidates in the gubernatorial race.  Spoiler alert:  Each candidate will be picking someone brilliant who is “balancing their ticket” in some fashion.

Meanwhile, more important and interesting things go uncovered or undercovered.

  • When congressional candidate and big box store heir Stuart Mills III airs a TV ad portraying himself a self-made man who treats his workers well, there is no newspaper  probing of those two claims.
  • When Senator Al Franken films an ad implying he has been working overtime to help small businesses get high skilled workers, there is no probing of the veracity of that claim.
  • When shadowy independent expenditure groups’ attack ads are aired, there is too little work put into trying to learn about the financial backing for the ads, and whether the groups’ claims are based in fact.
  • When Candidate A criticizes Policy X while refusing to offer a detailed alternative, there is too little exposing that act of political cowardice and intellectual dishonesty.

These are shadowy areas where savvy, sleuthing political reporters could actually shed light.  But when political operatives figure out that lying and hiding won’t get exposed, guess what, lying and hiding proliferates.  When that happens, our democracy gets weaker.

I hope this isn’t an either/or issue.  Maybe there still is enough capacity in newsrooms and column inches in newspapers to cover both the formulaic stories and the more probing stories.  That would be ideal.  But if there no longer is enough journalistic capacity for both types of coverage, our democracy needs the latter much more than it needs the former.

– Loveland

Norm Who?

Not so long ago, one Norman Bertram Coleman was, well, kind of a big deal.  You may remember him:

  • From 1994-2002, he was a GOP mayor of Minnesota’s second largest city, a DFL stronghold.
  • He was the GOP nominee for Minnesota Governor in 1998.
  • He was MInnesota’s United States Senator from 2003-2009.
  • He came up in national veepstakes conversations.
  • He had perhaps the best name recognition of any Minnesota Republican.
  • He was one of the most talented Minnesota pols of his generation.
  • He was arguably the best political fundraiser in the state.
  • He was the only reasonably prominent Republican who was thinking about running against current DFL Governor Mark Dayton.

But yesterday, when Senator Coleman announced to his followers via Twitter that he has decided not to run for Governor in 2014, his political obituary got the political equivalent of crickets in the Star Tribune —  three column inches on the very back page of the Local section, imbedded in the weather coverage. Continue reading

Star Tribune Survey Delivers Mixed News for Dayton Tax Package

For Governor Dayton’s bold package of tax increases, there was more good news than bad in the Star Tribune’s Minnesota Poll, released yesterday.

Bad News for Dayton

  • Bye Bye Professional Services Tax.  Only 28% of Minnesotans support a sales tax on business services.  With only 36% of DFLers supporting this idea, and an army of special interests mobilized against it, this part of the Governor’s budget is in deep political trouble. Continue reading

The Battle of the Bachmanniacs: Mercenaries versus Missionaries

The Star Tribune’s Kevin Diaz is covering an interesting story about an ugly battle happening inside Congresswoman Michele Bachmann’s 2012 presidential campaign circles.  The coverage details allegations made by an evangelical leader named Peter Waldron who worked as a national field coordinator for the Bachmann-for-President staff.

Mr. Waldron is accusing Bachmann of several things, including complex and serious violations of Federal Election Commission (FEC) spending laws.  But at the visceral core of Waldron’s allegations, he is also blowing the whistle on the fact that Bachmann refused to pay Waldron and his campaign allies, at the same time she was paying a lot of money to a political consultant, Guy Short, and an Iowa Republican party official, Kent Sorenson.  This as much about the IOU as the FEC. Continue reading

Minnesota Republicans And That Old Egyptian River

“It’s not that Republicans have the wrong message…” – Amy Koch, GOP Former Senate Majority Leader

“As I read you some state spending cuts being considered to fix the budget deficit, please tell me which one would be most acceptable to you.

8%:  Reducing health care assistance for lower income people, the elderly and disabled
13%: Reducing aid to cities and counties
15%: Reducing aid to colleges and universities”

Star Tribune Minnesota Poll

“…it is how we are delivering the message…” – Koch

“By a whopping 2-1 margin, Minnesotans blame the Republicans who control both houses of the Legislature for Continue reading

Seriously, “Minnesotans for Marriage?” The Nazi Card?

Imagine for a moment that former Governor Jesse Ventura had compared the campaign of his 2010 U.S. gubernatorial opponent Norm Coleman to Nazi persecution.   Because Coleman is Jewish, and we all know that Jews were targeted for mass genocide by the Nazis, Ventura would have been rightfully derided by the press on the front pages, and rejected by many shocked Minnesotans.  The outrage would have been widespread, because comparing the persecuted to the persecutors is one of the most outrageous things any of us can imagine.

Well, yesterday it was reported on the Star Tribune blog that an official from the anti-freedom-to-marry group “Minnesotans for Marriage” shamefully played his own Nazi card.  Speaking to a group in Brainerd, Reverend Brad Brandon was selling the crowd on a parallel between Hitler’s suppression of religious freedom and the alleged suppression of religious freedom by supporters of the freedom to marry. Continue reading