Even the Strib circulation folks hate Al Franken?

As regular readers know, the Star Tribune editorial page caused a bit of a stir when it decided to endorse Republican Norm Coleman for Senate.

A day or so later, I blogged about the Strib’s ongoing print circulation drop, wondering if the reconfigured editorial page might cost the paper more long-time liberal readers than it would pick up among “bipartisans” or Republicans.

Almost immediately, I got Norbert Nielubowski’s note:


Reading your post today about the Star Trib’s drop in circulation numbers I’ll be curious to see if their endorsement of Norm Coleman has an effect of further eroding their subscriptions. I know of at least one — mine.

The curious thing was the follow-up — I cancelled yesterday (Sunday) morning telling the customer service person that it was specifically because of the Coleman endorsement.

This morning I got a call at 8 a.m. (I’m a musician and calling before 9 was their first mistake) offering to drop the price of my subscription. I told her it wasn’t a money issue and that it was completely about their endorsement of Coleman.

She starts telling me that the Strib endorses more than 80 percent Democrats. I told her that made this endorsement even more unpalatable. Then she says:

“You LIKE Al Franken???”

At that point I hung up….

I called Nielubowski just to make sure this wasn’t a put-on, and was able to confirm his identity.

He mentioned that he called the Strib back after the incident, and said a manager was properly apologetic — it’s entirely likely this was a rogue (or Republican) salesperson.

Nielubowski says he’s still not going back to the Strib.

Now, endorsement-related cancellations happen every election cycle. How typical is Norbert?

Despite some diligent efforts, I couldn’t wheedle a cancellation figure out of the Strib. (If anyone has quality data, let me know.)

Still, I asked him if he wasn’t being hypocritical; he probably tut-tutted “angry” conservatives who disdained the “Red Star” in its halcyon liberal days, and here he was, huffing and puffing and acting intolerant just because he read something he didn’t agree with.

After all, the Strib still has plenty of fine journalists who have nothing to do with the editorial page — if everyone did as he, wouldn’t that do more harm than good to essential newsgathering?

Nielubowski said he’d asked himself the same questions. A St. Paul resident, he said he taken the Minneapolis paper all these years precisely because it was an antidote to the more conservative Pioneer Press. He felt that competitive advantage had been squandered; he’d tolerated the stemwinding antic of Katherine Kersten, but the Norm endorsement made that a one-two punch — especially painful since the St. Paul resident believes the ex-mayor drained city reserves to keep taxes down, leaving it more vulnerable in recent years.

He admitted he had a personal axe to grind; the paper had gotten rid of its classical music critic. To him, the incidents had become a trial of breadcrumbs leading away from the local daily. He said he’d already split his subscription savings between another local journalism organization and Franken’s campaign.

I’m not in Nielubowski’s camp. I understand not wanting to fork over $200 a year — or less — to further your philosophical antagonists. But I’m a big-pic guy, and — day job aside — I really do believe that losing the major dailies, or speeding their demise, is something civic-minded people would quickly regret.

Doing the Daily Glean every morning, there’s still a hell of a lot more good than bad, and no, just reading the Strib on the web won’t keep that going.

Still, Nielubowski wondered if the Strib hadn’t picked Coleman (or, I noted, the editorial board that picked Coleman) for business reasons, to lure new readers without hopefully angering as many old ones. If that was true, then to him, the response seemed clear: fight the financial imperative with a financial response.

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Comments (12)

  1. Submitted by Justin Heideman on 10/30/2008 - 01:53 pm.

    I canceled my subscription too. The Coleman endorsement was the thing that pushed me over the edge. I haven’t been called back about re-subscribing yet, but I suspect they’re coming.

  2. Submitted by Greg Prince on 10/30/2008 - 02:09 pm.

    I have to sympathize with him. As it is the Strib is giving us 7 days for the cost of weekends only, but I have been wondering if it isn’t cheaper still to just pick up a copy of the Sunday off a news stand somewhere. Bottom line is the quality of the paper – the writing, the opinion, the coverage – has gone downhill lately and its retainedis more for the Sunday comics and ads than anything else.

    The endorsement of Coleman should raise eyebrows. So does the continued employment of the puerile Katherine Kersten and the Strib’s largely AWOL coverage of the embarrassing Michele Bachmann. And this isn’t just hardcore DFL sentiment. My wife is independent and we’ve never been straight line party voters. The perception is they’re falling down on the job.

    I think we all realize the traditional print media still has an important place in the world and nobody wants to see its untimely demise, but the current state of affairs offers an almost textbook example in how to not compete against the new media. On a day to day basis the Strib really doesn’t offer much value, and that’s sad, very very sad.

  3. Submitted by Grace Kelly on 10/30/2008 - 02:12 pm.

    All of the St Paul folks (just look at last Norm Coleman senate election votes from St Paul) are shocked at the Norm Coleman endorsement and would love to know the real reasons why the Star Tribune did this endorsement. Thank you for the article.

  4. Submitted by David Gardner on 10/30/2008 - 02:56 pm.

    I’m of the mindset that the decline of the print circulation numbers is nothing personal. It is purely a business decision. In my own case, I was a print subscriber of the Pioneer Press for many years. I still subscribe to the Friday, Sat, and Sunday papers. And that is mostly because my wife likes to look at the Sunday ads, but you can’t get just the Sunday anymore. But to pay for a daily paper to be delivered to my door on a daily basis was a waste of money. One, I simply didn’t have time to read it. Two, I do just fine surfing the web where I can read many more sources for my news. I am more of a national news consumer, so I can easily read national news sources more to my liking. I daily look at CNN, Huffington Post, BBC News Online and other national sources. And I often look at the Star Tribune Online, TwinCities.com, MinnPost and other local news sources. It’s so much easier and a lot less messy.
    You know, large corporations often use the “it’s nothing personal, it’s just business” excuse on us. I think we are entitled to use it on them as well if the shoe fits. I think, in this case, it does.

  5. Submitted by Jeff Urbanek on 10/30/2008 - 04:53 pm.

    While I was disappointed with the endorsement, I think the thing that disappoints me most is the continual hiding behind words. Journalism is increasingly turning into a shell game. We don’t know who said what anymore, and what their agenda might be (i.e. unnamed or confidential sources). Add to that the (admittedly long-standing) practice of the unsigned editorial. Are we readers really that stupid that we need to be told what to think? I wouldn’t have any problem if the writers would identify themselves — then we could take their positions with a grain of salt.

  6. Submitted by Tom Anderson on 10/30/2008 - 09:37 pm.

    Wow! The Strib even put the Lori S. appeal for Wellstone cannonization of Mr. Franken on the front of that section (I take it her vote for Al was overridden) to humor all of you folks and you’re still bailing. The folks that don’t like Kersten, how’d you like to be the poor folks on the other side reading Nick Coleman? Why is it that no one questioned your endorsements when they were 90 plus percent Democrat? Republican does not automatically equal wrong. (Gasp! Away with thee Satan!)

  7. Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 10/31/2008 - 08:37 am.

    As a conservative, I rejoice that the liberals are pulling their subscriptions from the Star.

    The reader’s enthusiasm for “big AL” is more telling of their lack of discernment than the Star’s wisdom.

  8. Submitted by Gary Lee on 10/31/2008 - 10:36 am.

    The Strib is a very funny place these days, but one thing it is not is a local paper. The circulation person to whom Mr. Nielubowski spoke is not an employee of the Strib. The entire circulation department was contracted out years ago, along with many others. The reporting staff is not what it once was, with over 80% having been cut over the past few years. While the president of the Pioneer Press may be getting more cites for speculating about contracting out the actual reporting, the Strib has also been moving toward a ‘virtual organization’, as they are now called, for some time. So what we have here is not a valiant local paper moving to the right, but a McPaper with a local name stuck on the top. The endorsement of Mr. Coleman by the Strib is about as meaningful as the endorsement of Mr. Coleman by Esquire Magazine.

  9. Submitted by Randi Reitan on 10/31/2008 - 11:26 am.

    Gary Lee’s comments made me realize why I miss the Star Tribune of yesterday so much. In Minnesota, we want a “valiant local paper” and we have seen it slip away from us. I miss the old Star Tribune more than ever these days. I miss the many names who have left that place in the last months and years.

    The Katherine Kersten piece slamming Al Franken just days before the election, followed by the endorsement of Norm was really too much for me. If you go to the Star Tribune website today …. you will see that Kersten’s piece of hate is still on the most viewed list. With the newpapers on the internet now, words live on forever in a whole new way. So when a respected newspaper allows their staff to write the way Kersten writes, it is even more egregious and just plain evil. We have followed Al Franken’s campaign closely and attended so many events we feel we know him well. We feel Kersten’s words deeply in our hearts and they don’t mesh at all with the Franken we know. We are sad and angry the Star Tribune allowed Kersten’s words to see the light of day and then follow up with their own body slam.

  10. Submitted by Jason Walker on 10/31/2008 - 11:30 am.

    Gary, I don’t think 80 percent of the paper’s reporting staff has been cut (I’m not saying it won’t happen someday, but it hasn’t yet).
    What kills me about the recent Strib editorializing is a complete and utter lack of guts. They have made no endorsements that took any guts whatsoever. Endorsing Al Franken or Dean Barkley would have taken guts. Endorsing, apparently, ANYBODY in the Paulsen-Madia race would have taken guts. Endorsing Steve Sarvi over John “No earmarks” Kline would have taken guts.
    To me, no matter who a paper endorses, it’s refreshing when it shows courage. I grew up in a small town in Kansas, where Bush’s approval rating is probably still in the 75-percent range, and my tiny town’s paper endorsed John Kerry in 2004. Now that took guts. The Strib, meanwhile, seems content so straddle the fence – offending no one too much and thereby watering themselves into irrelevance.

  11. Submitted by Ted Snyder on 10/31/2008 - 11:44 am.

    Well, the Strib is doing for the right wingers what they should have done for themselves: namely, start their own paper reflecting their values. I never understood the strong reactions of consevatives to a private corporation making liberal endorsement choices when the big wide world of initiative and capitalist risk lay out there for a conservative counter part to the old Strib. But here we are: the editorial board of their rescue with lame endorsements, like Sen. Coleman, Rep. Kline, and their torturously worded endorsement of Democrat Tinklenberg (warning him to be sure and be a Blue Dog Democrat).

  12. Submitted by Jane Birk on 11/03/2008 - 07:24 pm.

    This may not be the place for this remark, but: It is somewhat exasperating that many conservatives seem to think the only possible objection to Katherine Kersten’s column is disagreement with her opinions. My own objection is that her work is sloppy. Whatever the GOP talking points are, that’s what she writes. Nothing is fresh, nothing is original, nothing is well reported. It’s just spoon-feeding pablum to those who already agree with her. The best measure of this: I doubt she has ever changed one single mind with her column. I enjoy having my own beliefs challenged because it helps me define them. I wish Kersten did so in her column, but she never has.

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