In what would be a very cool development in the local online news world, former City Pages editor Steve Perry may become the new editorial director of Minnesota Monitor, the left-leaning local news site.
Since leaving CP early last year, Perry has struck out on his own with The Daily Mole, his tartly observed take on local events (plus some celebrity and online culture slap-and-tickle). The Mole’s limitation is that it’s essentially a one-man shop; Perry has been unable to find financing to hire a news staff. Meanwhile, Minnesota Monitor has earned props for undergirding its lefty slant with real reporting, but hasn’t had an experienced editor leading the site full-time. Perry would add gonad-kicking muckraking to the Monitor’s earnest substance; Monitor fundraiser-in-chief David Bennahum would provide a staff for Perry to again extend his ethos.
All kind of caveats are in order. First, Monitor folks won’t confirm they’ve offered Perry the job; managing editor Paul Schmelzer (who will be staying on) will only say they’re negotiating with a candidate. As of about 4 this afternoon, there was no deal. Second, Perry won’t confirm he’s the one; he didn’t return an inquisitive email I sent him over the weekend. Third, I have some inside knowledge: Schmelzer approached me about applying, I interviewed, and he told me last Friday that they’d picked someone else. So this is speculation, but not the uninformed kind. (And no, I am not trying to ruin the deal or weasel back into contention; I’m out and want Steve in.)
It’s not rationalizing to say Perry would be a great choice. As an editor, he has vision — CP fought its way to the top of the newsgathering heap during his tenure; the paper earned scads of newswriting awards against the biggest daily competition. Second, Steve thoroughly gets the web: he led an aggressive online charge years before his print peers — he discovered Diablo Cody — and City Pages still gets far more traffic than larger papers because of it. Minnesota Monitor needs page views — don’t we all? — and Steve offers the quickest route up that ladder. The Monitor plans to add staff and redesign its site this year, and Perry would add the coup de grace: better stories.
There are, of course, challenges. Steve isn’t a people person; MinnMon’s writers may discover just how negative motivations works, but for most, it will be outweighed by the skills they’ll gain. Steve wouldn’t have a veteran staff he assembled at City Pages — the Monitor has no newsroom, and for now, no full-time staff writers; “fellows” typically work half-time on short-term contracts. To me, the idea of relying on email and IM to manage freelancers juggling other gigs seemed daunting, despite the attractions of working from home. (Of course, MinnPost more or less has the same dynamic and some of the same inconsistencies.) If he wants to, Steve is a tough enough negotiator to bend this to his liking.
Then of course, there’s Steve’s relentlessly cynical worldview, which goes down like bracing ambrosia or rat poison, depending on your proclivities. There are times I get frustrated with a seemingly fixed cast of villains and heroes, but on balance, Perry is right far more than he is wrong — and he’s an original enough thinker to challenge your assumptions even if you disagree with his conclusion. These days, if you have to pick a default position for newsgathering — especially a true alternative to corporate newsgathering — misanthropy isn’t a bad one.
Make the deal, boys. If not for Twin Cities readers, than for your faithful correspondent hanging his you-know-what out there a bit today.