A panel at the Walker on Sunday asked, “Is local news dying?” On the panel were New York Times deputy national editor Jamie Stockwell; Rebecca Colden, former publisher of the Warroad Pioneer, a Minnesota weekly in northern Minnesota that closed in May after 121 years; Richard Fausset, an Atlanta-based New York Times national correspondent who chronicled the end of the Warroad Pioneer; and Suki Dardarian, senior managing editor and vice president at the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
Much of the discussion focused on the Pioneer, just one of more than 2,000 newspapers that have closed down or merged in the past 15 years, leaving 200 U.S. counties without newspapers. Visibly moved, Colden recalled vowing that “the paper is not going to die on our watch … and it did.” She didn’t like letting people down. But it’s not as if she didn’t warn them this was coming, as far back as 2017. “Nobody believed it would happen,” Colden said. “The Pioneer had always been there. … They thought there would be a savior.”
The Pioneer’s demise was “a death by familiar cuts,” Fausset wrote in his article. He spent nine days in Warroad at the very end, watching and reporting. “It was heartbreaking,” he said. The women of the Pioneer (the remaining staff of three was all women) had been doing “the hardest work in journalism, the most essential work in journalism – being boosterish about their community and also telling the truth about their community … The next time there’s a problem [in Warroad], there will be no fair arbiter, no place to share the news.” Fausset wryly noted that “anyone who wants to bilk a small community, now is the time, because nobody’s watching.”
A rare success story in newspapers today, the Star Tribune did find a savior – in Glen Taylor, the billionaire local businessman and Minnesota Timberwolves owner who bought the paper in 2014. Dardarian said that Taylor “could not bear the thought of the state not having a paper.”
Currently the Star Tribune is the fifth largest newspaper in the country, but it can’t stand still. It needs more subscribers. “At one point,” Dardarian said – and this was back when advertising revenue was still healthy – “subscriptions paid for the ink. We’re trying to get enough subscriptions to pay for the newsroom.”
Like any paper still alive – including the New York Times – the Star Tribune is reinventing itself, shifting revenue streams, seeking more ways to earn money (events, T-shirts, Homer Hankies) and moving to a digital model. “More people are stepping in to help,” Dardarian said, including nonprofits like the Knight Foundation. She gave a shout-out to MinnPost, one of the first digital news sources in the United States. BTW, Dardarian’s husband, Peter Callaghan, covers state government for MinnPost, which turns 12 this year.
While the Warroad Pioneer had an unhappy ending, the New York Times and the Star Tribune are robust. And the final questioner in the Q&A that closed the panel was a ray of hope. He introduced himself as the editor of his school newspaper, and the audience applauded. We talked to him briefly before the event began. He’s a sophomore at a charter school in Minnetonka. Starting the paper was his idea.
Now through Sunday at the Playwrights’ Center: PlayLabs. The annual festival of new plays in development includes Sofya Levitsky-Weitz’s “Cannabis Passover,” Dan O’Brien’s “New Life” (the conclusion of his trilogy), and Marvin González De León’s “Pan Genesis,” a comedy that examines what it’s like to live in a female-forward, sex-positive society. Now in its 36th year, PlayLabs gives playwrights 30 hours of workshop time with a team of collaborators and two public readings with time for rewrites in between. More than 70% of the plays featured in PlayLabs over the past decade have gone on to production. New this year: “Artists Take Action: The Climate Crisis,” a discussion led by Tim Guinee, founder of Climate Actors. FMI. All free, but RSVP.
Tonight (Tuesday, Oct. 22) at the Walker: “Northern Style: A Conversation with GQ Magazine’s Jim Moore.” The Walker hosts a number of interesting conversations. Next up, and likely more cheery than “Is Local News Dying?”: a talk based on a new coffee-table book, “Hunks and Heroes: Four Decades of Fashion at GQ.” Author Jim Moore is a Minnesota native who served as GQ’s creative director for 40 years. He’ll share fabulous images, stories behind them, and how growing up here helped him become an international man of fashion and style. Allison Kaplan, editor-in-chief of Twin Cities Business, will moderate. 5 p.m. cocktails and book signing, 6 p.m. program. In the Walker Cinema. Free, but RSVP.
Tonight at Magers & Quinn: Markus Zusak. The author of the international bestseller “The Book Thief” is out with his latest, “Bridge of Clay,” a New York Times best-seller that has been praised as “monumental,” “unforgettable,” “gorgeous,” and “so palpable you can all but feel the blood, sweat and tears that went into crafting the story.” This will be Zusak’s only stop in Minnesota. 7 p.m. Free.
Wednesday at Northrop: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. No tickets are currently available for this event – the 2019 Esther Freier lecture, presented by the Department of English at the University of Minnesota. But if you’re on or near the East Bank campus, it’s worth a try to stop by Northrop and try your last-minute luck. Nigerian novelist Adichie is a multiple prize-winning author whose 2009 TED Talk, “The Danger of a Single Story,” is one of the most viewed of all time. 7:30 p.m. on the Carlson Family Stage in the big room. Free.
Wednesday at a bigaplex near you: Bruce Springsteen’s “Western Stars.” See Springsteen’s new concert film before it opens in theaters later this week, with a bonus: a behind-the-scenes look including never-before-seen footage and previously unreleased music. “Western Stars” is the Boss’ first studio album in five years and the first to be backed by a 30-piece orchestra – Springsteen with strings (and horns). Screenings at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. Go here and type your ZIP in the box to find your theater. Ticket prices vary by location. P.S. One critic who didn’t especially care for the album changed his mind after seeing this film.
Thursday at the Textile Center: Artisan Textiles and Indigo with Aboubakar Fofana. Indigo is quite possibly the world’s oldest textile dye, in use since the early Neolithic period. Born in Mali, raised in France, Fofana is a multidisciplinary artist and designer who is internationally known for his indigo-dyed textiles and for reinvigorating and redefining West African indigo dyeing techniques. Fofana will be present at this pop-up show and sale to share a few words about his work. Go for the glorious blues and maybe bring home a pillow cover. 5-7 p.m. Free, but RSVP.
Friday through Sunday at Dreamland Arts: “Motherlanded.” Estimates vary, but starting in the 1990s, somewhere between 80,000 and 90,000 Chinese babies were adopted by American families. Julia Gay was adopted in 1996. In her solo show “motherlanded,” directed by Sun Mee Chomet, Gay uses poetry, memoir, and movement to honor the women in her life – her adoptive mother, her birth mother, the older woman who owned the Chinese restaurant she frequented as a child – and to share pivotal moments, including her return to China and the spot where she was found as a baby. Gay is an actor, dancer, playwright, comedian and teaching artist, a member of Ananya Dance Theatre and a Playwrights’ Center affiliated writer. 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. FMI and tickets ($10-20 sliding scale). Closes Oct. 27.