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New owner Glen Taylor: less liberal Star Tribune ahead

Glen Taylor
REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Editor’s note: On Tuesday, MinnPost’s Britt Robson sat down with new Star Tribune owner Glen Taylor to talk about the purchase. Robson has interviewed Taylor many times over the years about the Minnesota Timberwolves, Taylor’s NBA team, often getting remarkably candid responses. This piece is no different; Taylor, a former state senator, says the Star Tribune, which fellow Republicans criticize as liberal, will “have better balance,” aided by veteran staffers retiring though the shift has been ongoing and would’ve happened even if he hadn’t bought the paper.

A new owner acknowledging political changes at the state’s largest daily will likely send tremors through Minnesota’s political and journalistic establishment (including the Strib’s newsroom), and for that reason we have not edited Taylor’s remarks, however lengthy.

One change we did make is splitting the interview into two parts. The second will run Thursday, and cover the backstory of how Taylor’s solo purchase came to be.

MinnPost: I know I always bring this up when we talk, but you once said that your primary training to be owner of the Timberwolves came not from your other businesses but from your time in politics as a state senator at the Legislature. Is the Star Tribune purchase and the media business similar in that sense, that it is a high-profile field?

GT: Yes, this is definitely high profile. So when I looked at buying the paper and I wrote down the good and the bad, one of the bad things was the same thing I know about politics: You have to take a stand sometimes. And the media takes a stand. Sometimes the story being reported — though true, and though accurate — is not very favorable to a group of people or a company or something like that. So all of a sudden, I find myself in that position.

Let’s just use the example of some corporation and it does something that is unfavorable. And a story gets written about it. Well, I’m sure the corporation would say, “Well, Glen Taylor, keep the gol-darned story out of the paper.”

And my answer — and it gets back to what you were just saying, in a way — is that you never can keep something quiet in politics.

But I look at this at some point in time and I know that Glen is the owner, not the publisher, he’s not on the board. Probably he is going to make a phone call at some point to somebody who is relevant in this state. And Glen is going to have to tell them, “The story is out there. It is going to be done. If we don’t do it somebody else will. But I am going to make sure that the story is done accurately.”

I mean, I do have that responsibility in the ownership that it is accurate. And somebody else from out of state might not care so much if it is accurate; they might care that it is a little more sensational. 

MP: But what you are saying, and I agree with you, is that you will probably be in a position at some point where you are going to have to injure your friends.

GT: But it is going to happen to them anyway. Somebody will do the story.

MP: Okay. Another topic. You are a bedrock Republican.

GT: No. 

MP: Less so now?

GT [quietly]: I am a Republican. I don’t know about bedrock.

MP: Well maybe I am dating myself with that description. By the old standards, you used to be a fundamental, old-school Republican. 

GT: I have always said that I am a moderate Republican. I think I was then, when I was in the Legislature, and I think I am today.

MP: Fair enough. But even moderate Republicans will occasionally kvetch about the ‘liberal media.’

GT: Yep.

MP: The Star Tribune is regarded as a liberal newspaper, rightly or wrongly, and probably less so now than ten years ago. Will that change under you in any way shape or form?

GT: I think the answer is yes. But I think the answer is yes whether I buy it or don’t buy it. Everything changes, and some people are going to say, “Well it is, because you bought it, that it changed.”

I would say back to them, “No. You are going to have new hires. You are going to have new people. There are going to be changes in seniority. You have got to be responsible to your readership.” And I think it has already been changing, and I have been a longtime reader of the paper.

Will it change because of the ownership of Glen Taylor? Yeah. To say it won’t wouldn’t be accurate. But it isn’t like Glen Taylor is going to come in there on day one and say, “I’m going to fire people” and do all sorts of things. I am going to say — and I have already told them this — that first of all it has got to be fair and it has got to be accurate.

I think it is important in the paper — and this is where I don’t know for sure, I think the paper is responsible for reporting both sides. I don’t think you can say if you are the news — and I think the news does this too much — that “this happened, but we are only going to show you the picture from this side. There is another picture from this side but we choose not to tell you about that.”

I think that’s an inaccurate picture. And it is my expectation that we be accurate.

I think that you divide that down. The news part has to be accurate, fair, consistent, and show this and that. [Taylor holds his hands up to indicate “both sides.”] I don’t know that they always do that. I don’t know that any media does. But I would challenge them to do the best job.

Now, there is another part called the editorial. I was asked this question, and it was probably like “Are you going to read every editorial?” and this kind of stuff. And I said, “No, I don’t expect that I am going to agree with every editorial that comes out of the paper. But I want good thought put into it, I want accuracy put into it, and I want a position stated. It doesn’t have to be my position. But it has to be logical and put together well.”

Now I can kind of say that, and where that will take us, and if it changes, I guess we will see. But I don’t plan on going in and firing and that kind of stuff. I just think we’ll have good discussions on this. Do we do that now, are we doing that?

I’ve seen some of the new reporters and I think there is a little bit more of a balance. But I think traditionally, some of the reporters that have been hired and they have been there for a long time, I don’t know how you are ever going to change those people and what they write, but through time itself, some of those people will retire.

And that’s where the decision is made, who are the people you hire to replace those people? And if that person is from the old school and thinks that my job is to make or show one viewpoint, well then whose else do you have on the paper that is giving the other side?

There are a number of ways to balance it. Individuals can say I want to give you both sides, or you can have the pros and cons [each giving their side]. My thought is that you are more likely to find two different reporters, one not seeing it from one side and the other not seeing it from the other side, and both of them reporting.

[It is similar to] when we talk about politics; there are two ways of coming up with a solution. Now, if you recall my way in politics — I never thought that, say, [former Senate Majority Leader] Roger Moe, was a Democrat who was evil and had evil principles. I just saw that Roger represented an environment as he saw it and the group of people who elected him saw it.

We both wanted better education and to take care of the disadvantaged. But now, how you do that [is the issue]. I might have said let the education decisions be made by the school board. I like that philosophy. I just think having those decisions closer to home is better, because people are going to keep track of them and throw members of the school board out. And maybe Roger thought that was too inconsistent having each school board make the decisions and so let’s [set policy] at the state level and we’ll have more consistency.

Now, is there a right and a wrong in there? Well, there are different ways of doing it, but I don’t know if that is right or wrong. But it is my principle and as a Republican I am going to say that I like having people closer to the situation making the decisions. It is just my philosophy that the further away people get the more they think they are supreme and can do better.

So I don’t know if that answers where you were going.

MP: Now what about conflicts of interest, which are going to be inevitable? You are a player in this state, and what you do makes news.

GT: Give me an example of what you mean?

MP: A business decision that you would rather keep private is uncovered by one of your reporters at the Star Tribune and the reporter wants to write about it.

GT: Okay. Ah, I think I have thought about that, and I don’t think that I, just knowing Glen Taylor, is going to tell that reporter to stop. If the leadership at the [Star] Tribune tells that person not to do it because they got the information wrongly or in confidence — like, “How did you learn about that?” “Well, I was at a meeting and Glen Taylor said it.” “Well, were you there as a reporter or as an employee?” — that type of stuff.

My sense is that — see, I’m not going to change with the sports guys at all. They’ve got their job to do and they are going to tell me that we crapped up.

MP: With the Timberwolves you are used to that.

GT [with a polite laugh]: Yeah, I am used to that. I don’t think I would change [opinion or behavior on the example], but that is a good question. I think I should never say never. Because I have a tendency wherever I’m at, don’t just do it if it is hurtful to a person. It is like saying that somebody stole something within the company — boy you better know where you are getting that and why you want [to report] it.

So I think your question is a good one, and I think my answer has to be that I have to let society go on and the bad stuff has to be in there with the good stuff. I knew that before I bought the paper and that is just the way it is going to be. But I have to be a little cautious because I don’t know what kind of situation might [come up].

MP: Well they are tough uncomfortable decisions. Let’s say some branch of Taylor Corporation, or maybe even a supplier, is doing something wrong. And you are already in the process of fixing that, of making that right again. And the Star Tribune finds out about the wrongdoing and wants to report on that. Now if you don’t let the paper do its work, isn’t that a double standard that prevents you from reporting on any other corporation?

GT: I think I know the answer to that. I think if you do something wrong, you do try and keep it from the media — I always do. But once the media finds out, I have learned that you never try and stop it. So I am pretty sure here that I would let it go. Now people might say, “Why, because you are just a good guy?” No. It is because I think I have learned that you can’t really stop the media.

MP: The cover up is always worse than the crime?

GT: That’s right. I am pretty clear at that. I know that I am aware of things that my company and other companies have done wrong that have never gotten to the surface. They were cleaned up and put away and nobody ever got harmed, but when it came out, we would have to explain it.

I don’t think I am going to change that way. I am not going to try and get it out there. But on the other hand, I think I have learned if it is going to come out, that maybe the best you can do is say to the reporter, “You might give me 24 hours notice so that I can prepare a response.”

I have always said to my employees, “If you make a mistake, if you want to be a leader, lead them on an honest path.” People know that leaders will make mistakes. If the leader stands up and says, “I have made a mistake. I am taking us down the wrong road. We are going to backtrack a little bit and go down a different road,” the people will accept this because they know they are being led by an honest human being and they like being led by a human being who knows he is not perfect. So I always felt like you should never let your pride get in the way of admitting that you have made a mistake.

So I think I know how I would handle it. If I did it, I did it. I would like time to respond but if I don’t get it, I just have to move faster.

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Comments (38)

If he is a moderate Republican

then I am sure changes will be incremental as he states.

all the more reason to support MinnPost

If the Strib is swinging to the right we need a news source more to the left to get some balance with our morning coffee. Not balance that arises from slanting what's written, but balance in the choice of reporters and topics covered.

I'll increase my contribution the day Taylor buys the paper

Read a Pulitzer winner

Bunk

"“this happened, but we are only going to show you the picture from this side. There is another picture from this side but we choose not to tell you about that.”

Yeah, there's always another side... Bunk. Just when the Strib was getting better, too bad.

The Strib

It's not something I am going to rend my garments or gnash my teeth about. The Star Tribune has been becoming more conservative, more business oriented for a while now. But it's also been slowly melting away both in terms of size and influence.

If he means what he says,

the paper will be better for it.

It's become harder and harder to find what was once considered the gold standard in journalism, objective reporting. That doesn't mean you give equal credence to fringe elements, on any point on the spectra. It does mean that opinion is published where it's clearly labeled. It does mean more in-depth reporting than we currently get in most cases.

This may require a reversal of the current trend toward dimishing levels of editorial supervision, where a story that once might have gone through 6 readings now is lucky to be read by anyone other than the reporter before it hits the internet/press. It may also require more reporters. Both will cost money, so we'll have to see just how far Mr. Taylor is willing to go to present balanced reporting.

Strib

I used to be a longtime subscriber of the Strib until they started cutting back in the '90s. I still like the feel of a large format newspaper and the in depth reporting from a well run organization that values its staff and reputation. Unfortunately the Strib hasn't been a high quality paper for a very long time.

Here's their latest program for getting subscribers. A couple of weeks ago the paper started showing up on my doorstep unannounced. I figured they were doing some free promotion to try and get people back in the fold. (Pardon the pun.) Even free though it wasn't worth my time to read the darn thing and I don't own a bird, so it went straight into the recycle bin.

A week went by and then lo and behold, a bill shows up! When I call them up to find out the story, the customer service rep tells me that there was a card that had been sent in the mail and if you didn't call them right away they would start sending you the paper along with the bill!

I could tell the rep had been dealing with a lot of irate people as she sounded beat down and stuck to her little script in a monotone. Some brilliant (and I use that term sarcastically) marketing exec at the Strib decided it would be a fantastic idea to beef up their subscription numbers with an opt-out system. I don't know if Taylor's purchase has gone through yet, but it smells like they're trying to pump up their subscription numbers by scamming people. Cook the books right before the sale to make the numbers look as good as possible.

This sort of thing could only be pushed through with support from the highest level at the Strib and I'm betting all those people figure they'll be cleaned out (with bonuses) as soon as Taylor takes over. They'll probably move over to some other paper where they'll be lauded as heroes for "shepherding the Strib through a difficult period of shrinking revenue and a high profile sale."

I just about threw up in my mouth.

Meddling

There is a fine line between "making a phone call" to influence the news and meddling in the process. As a long time Strib print subscriber, I trust in the editorial integrity of the process.
I look forward to see what Mr. Taylor accomplishes.

The democratization of local news outlets

In the days before the internet, I was a regular writer of letters to the editor. I was a subscriber to the Pioneer Press but occasionally, depending upon the topic, I would send a letter to the Star Tribune as well.

Even though my letters were from a conservative point of view, the Pioneer Press rarely failed to print them. People in Saint Paul enjoyed the Pioneer Press' editorial page because they always seemed to include several points of view in both their editorials and in the letters from readers. The Strib, not so much.

With the advent of the online version of the local newspapers, the opportunity for readers to comment on news stories has dramatically increased. But even now the local newspapers moderate and reject certain commentary ... a practice that can no longer be blamed on space limitations.

After several years of online commentary, I estimate that my comments have a 100% chance of being published on the Pioneer Press site, but only about a 50% chance of being published on the Star Tribune site.

Perhaps Glenn Taylor's biggest contribution to the Star Tribune will be to improve the democratization of their news comment moderation such that people who happen to have a conservative point of view will get their comments published at a rate that's closer to the rate at the Pioneer Press site. When I see evidence of that happening, I'll know that his objective of readers seeing both sides of the story is being achieved.

Apparently

One right wing rag isn't enough for our town? Oh well, enjoy another echo chamber I guess. I imagine I'm over my ten articles already anyway, three quarters of which are misdirects from the awful strib mobile site. Conservativism can attempt to purchase the truth as much as it may like, it still won't own it.

The PP is as far

to the right as the Strib is to the left, sir. Balance fell out the window and landed on 4th Street long ago.

Governor

Didn't the Star Tribune endorse Tom Horner for governor this last time around? I realize that this is only one small example (OK, it's large, not small), so wouldn't that indicate that the Strib is not very far left?

http://www.startribune.com/opinion/editorials/105067929.html

But if the STrib endorsed him

then he MUST be a closet lefty.

Both sides

I hope when he says he wants to cover both sides, he means it in a legitimate sense and not, to take just one example, playing up global warming denialists as being equally as valid as the science. That is not balanced, that is playing up fairy tales for political purposes. We have seen far too much of that in right wing media, and even in supposedly "mainstream" or nonpolitical media.

Time will tell, I suppose. If he is genuinely a moderate republican of the old school, interested in solutions, then things will probably be fine.

I am, though, even more grateful for the coverage provided by MinnPost with this change in the offing for Strib.

Utter rubbish

It's not worth really listening to anything he says on the topic. The man has no training or interest in the field of journalism, he's a typical CEO and politician. He'll make nice noises to persuade people right up until he senses that isn't working, then he'll become bellicose and aggressive and attempt to get what he wants through bullying. If perchance that doesn't work he'll play the victim because as a wealthy CEO he is as unaccustomed to not getting his way as any three-year-old. Putting wealthy CEOs in charge of institutions that are supposed to serve the public makes little sense, but it's what you get when the rich are this rich and the rest of us are this poor.

Taylor made manifesto?

After reading-all-about-it, I do reluctantly quote 'Mein Rumsfeld' since this interview reminds me of Taylor's not too definitive answers, yes sir.

"There are known knowns. These are the things we know that we know. There are the known unknowns That is to say, there are things we know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns. These are the things we know we don't know."

Rumor says Donald R conceived this rhyme while counting his toes in the shower?...however,

The real judge of a viable 'paper buyer' is...does he know how to fold a newspaper so it reaches the front porch without knocking over the morning milk bottles?

Now there's an image from the past

Milk delivered to your door and a daily paper with enough heft to knock the bottle over.

The Timberwolves model

Sounds like Taylor is going to be involved just enough to muck up the works, but not enough to stop him from pointing the finger when it goes south.

You beat me to it

He'll try to keep subscriptions just high enough to justify the ad rates, which are the reason for the newspaper's existence.

Yea ...

Now he'll have the Timberwolves to go with the Fold. I knew there would be trouble with Kerstan back on the opinion page. Bring back the 100 Flowers pleeze. More balanced right, no pun intended.

Will we see

Kevin Love on the editorial page?

Advice Columnist

How about Dan Savage and his Savage Love column in the advice section?

Just What We Need

ANOTHER "conservative" newspaper in the Twin Cities.

It'll be interesting to see how the Pioneer Press handles having a clone as competition.

I give us five years before one or the other is gone, or they've merged, or they're both gone.

After all, why do "conservatives" need newspapers when they can just vege out, 24 hours a day, watching the weasel and never have to consider a single idea or thought that doesn't already fit what they grew up being taught must CERTAINLY be true, by those who learned "the truth",...

way back when Dewey beat Truman?

No competition

Right now the PP is strictly a local rag -- doesn't even make it across the river.
The STrib, on the other hand, has a statewide readership, although Taylor may change that.

the only one

The Star Tribune is the only daily newspaper (dead tree version) that we can get delivered to our home seven days a week. We would switch to a different one if it was available, but it isn't. In fact, a lot of people around here call it the "Red" Star Tribune, because it is slanted so far to the left. I am looking forward to Taylor's purchase.

Slanted so far to the left?

Laughable! That ship sailed long ago - just a lousy paper now. Plus where else could you get your psychobabble from Kersten and Lewis?

A small example of a big problem

Detroit truck driver Steve Utash April 3 stops to help a young boy injured after he ran in front of the truck. Utash is now clinging to life after he was beaten viciously. Utash is white, his attackers black as is the injured boy. Frazier Cross Jr., a former KKK member, 10 days later kills three at a Jewish community site in Kansas City. Both are equally heinous crimes. One causes conservatives to say: see. The other liberals to say: see. The StarTribune runs the Kansas City shooting on the front page with a large headline. The reason for that prominent placement clearly is the hate-crime angle, because three shooting victims these days is not front -page news. The Detroit story, which also includes obvious hate-crime elements, runs with a smaller headline on an inside page.

I think this is today's example of what Taylor is getting at.

Not such a good example

I think the tendency in readers of both sides to read some overarching political agendain to every editorial decision. Without considering that there may be solid journalistic reasons for the decision.

Using your example, there are good editorial reasons for the difference in coverage. Frazier Cross Jr wasn't just a former KKK member, he was a guy who had been involved in hate crimes and behavior since the late 1970s. The Detroit incident is also tragic, but it also isn't the result of some organized effort. The beating is one of those sad incidents that happens after a crowd gets wound up following a traffic accident.

The events aren't equal and it has nothing to do with the color of anyone's skin or any hidden political agenda, News isn't tit for tat. The fact that so many people see it that way is more a reflection of readers own political biases than anything else.

yes

The John Edwards post is a poor example of the issue he is trying to advance, but a great example of false equivalence.

In one case, a career white supremacist kills several people simply because of their religion. In the other, a group beats up someone because he hit a kid with his car. Plenty in there to legitimately differentiate coverage. The only commonality is that the shooter and the crowd were wrong to do what they did, as were Hitler and your uncle who cheated on his taxes.

timberrrrr

All right!
Now the Strib will be the Timberwolf of newspapers!!!!

AAAA,OOOOOOOOOH!
where da wolves of downtown
AAA OOOOOOOOH!

Thanks, Rick

Thanks, Rick. You seem to be one of the very responders who has anything even close a clue about how news judgments are made.

True, some reporters are less careful than others about not letting their own views affect what they choose to include in a news report and the way they give the facts. But news reports that fail to include what is too-easily called "both sides" are rare, and it is the function of editors to try to make them non-existent. As layers of editing are reduced, so are the numbers of times news reports will be screened to missing facts or lack of responses to allegations (the latter is almost unheard of; if the "other side" doesn't respond to a request, that's almost always stated).

The notion that there's some kind of directive to slant news reports one way or the other would be amusing were the perception not so dangerous. Trust me, there's no cabal at the Strib -- where I worked for four decades -- that directs or reviews news reports to assure that they adhere to some political line. And news people are too individualistic to submit to such direction.

Lost long ago

The Star Tribune stopped being anything of consequence a number of owners ago. No sense longing for what will never return, but an independent press was a real value the nation will very soon not remember.

Hmmm

A crazy thought, but...

Mr. Taylor is far from stupid. Is there any chance that he wishes to keep control of the Star-Tribune in local hands rather than the out of state option?

Think Zyggi (or however you spell his name).

As long as editorial content is strongly decoupled from content and reportage, I don't really care whether the editorial slant is Republican. But I do care that we have decent newspapers in the Twin Cities. They employ a lot of people. And young journos who are the lifeblood of journalism face a wretched situation as hard-copy newspapers go down the drain.

Now let's see - where am I and what am I doing here?

Liberal Myth

The Strib hasn't been a Liberal paper for quite some time, but it began its lurch to the right in earnest when D. J. Tice became the political editor in 2003.

As for Mr. Taylor, I wish him well, but taking the paper further to the right is not a good business model. Conservatives tend to lean more toward (for them) easily accessible media: AM Radio, reading comprehension requires a little more intellectual horse power than the average right winger can muster. I suspect that making money in this venture is not Glenn's goal.

If he runs the "paper"

Like the losing t- wolves, it will be another big joke.

DJ Tice is a solid journalist

I have never heard of anyone on the news side of the paper complaining about his trying to influence the political slant of a story.

And he is a model of lucidity in his opinion pieces. The conservatives are lucky to have some one give their side of the story with some credibility instead of the immediate laughter with which Kersten, Meeks, and Jason Davis pieces have been met in the past.

Mr. Taylor...

"Fair and Accurate..." would be mentioning Bachmann in the same paragraph as Moe.

Strib - Liberal?

In my early years, we had Star, Journal, Times, and Tribune. The Trib was a morning paper and carried the most up-to-date markets, so was a favorite of business people. The Trib was more conservative. The Star was a fiesty liberal paper and wasn't afraid to carry controversial stories. Liberal, yes. The Journal leaned liberal and the Times was mostly conservative. We now have an amalgam of those four and really started moving Right when the Strib hired away an outspoken conservative manager from the P Press sone years ago. But the worst move, in my view is the loss of very good journalists, who populate MinnPost. The loss for the general news reader is that neither the Strib nor the PPress does analysis articles, instead we get glitz and flash. I don't fish much anymore so fish carcass wrappers aren't as important anymore.