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Robson, Birkey gone in Minnesota Independent cutbacks

A couple more names are victims of budget-cutting at Minnesota Independent: full-timer Andy Birkey and politics freelancer Britt Robson.

Birkey had covered LGBT issues for the site since its August 2006 inception; he was one of two staffers axed, along with reporter Molly Priesmeyer. Robson became a casualty when MnIndy's parent, the D.C.-based Center for Independent Media (CIM), eliminated the freelance budget entirely.

I'm still waiting for a callback from CIM honchos, to whom editor Steve Perry deferred. (He, Paul Schmelzer, Paul Demko and Chris Steller are the remaining editors and reporters.)

However, Robson — who writes about arts for MinnPost and sports for The Rake — was caustic in his view that MnIndy's Capitol overlords. He says CIM's national staff was less interested in the organization's professed mission — "a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that operates an independent online news network in the public interest" — than boosting the party of Barack Obama.

"I was working with them fairly closely during the Republican convention and privy to interoffice emails," Robson explains. "The type of things non-local editors were into were very party-race stories, particularly stories that embarrassed Republicans and promoted Democrats."

Robson believes the local staff chafed at this purposefulness; they consider themselves progressives, not DFL party hacks. He points to Perry's tenure as City Pages editor, when staffers went after Republicans hard but regularly gnawed the legs off local Democrats such as R.T. Rybak.

A reflexively pro-Dem agenda "is a bias that's reflected more in the national echelons," Robson says. "We both know Steve Perry; he probably has as little use for Democrats as Republicans, that's his reputation."

The tragedy in all this is that MnIndy's traffic grew impressively this summer and fall. As the convention and election exposed the site to more local readers, it was excellently positioned as a vital source for local news, political and otherwise. Now, a more narrowly focused site will have fewer bodies and freelance flexibility.

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Comments (17)

This is terrible. Everyone knows Robson's talents, but Andy Birkey never got the recognition I felt he deserved for MnIndy's excellent convention coverage among other things. That's a big loss.

I agree with Robson. The worst part is that they touted creating a sustainable news site, one that lasted well beyond the election and focused on local news and issues. Not only do I feel disappointed, I feel cheated.

I feel like we were hired to be nothing more than shills for their platform under the guise of a mission focused on creating journalism that was "independent" and for the "common good." If I had been told I was a shill for the Democrats, I never would've written for the site. I guess that's why the CIM told editors and writers that our job was to write about major issues, like the economy and housing, that were important to local readers.

I don't know how the rest of the remaining folks feel. I am only speaking for myself. But given the "Mission Accomplished" timing and what I was told about the site's longevity previously, it certainly doesn't feel like the CIM's goals match up with their mission.

From the CIM site: "Programs emphasize the importance of citizen-driven journalism as a critical founding principle of our nation, the positive role of democratically elected government in securing the common good and social welfare, and the continuing benefits of our founding culture of egalitarian government by the people, for the people."

Being somewhat old school, I still like to have the paper news. I know the inevitability of getting the news online. But I am slowly changing, and it is unfortunate that MnIndy is cutting back at a time where local online news venues will probably start to flourish. Letely, I am down to Sudoku and a couple of comics from the Strib and if it wasn't for my wife, I would never get that infiltrated rag again. I know the economy is bad, but the timing of these cutbacks is truly a setback for online news talent.

Let me add on to what Jeff Shaw says in the first comment. Because I've been around longer, I probably have a higher profile, and, because I don't mind popping off, find my name in the headline. But the takeaway from this item isn't MnIndy's loss of the two or three pieces I wrote for them in an average month; it is the honorable full-time work put in by Birkey and Priesmeyer. And it is the extra burden that falls on the remaining staffers, whose cognitive dissonance from the upper-echelon agenda I described is now heightened by watching a couple of their colleagues thrown over the side.

But, Molly, you *were* told that you were just a shill for the Democrats -- granted, you were told that by folks like Mitch Berg, but you can't say you weren't told that. (Well, actually, you can; the First Amendment allows you to be less than accurate . . . )

Write about local issues, sure -- until the the Obamascension. The grassroots have been harvested, after all.

There was some decent, albeit not great, reporting done by you and Birkey (and probably others among the folks who have become unpersons; I remember some of your bylines) over there -- I was particularly impressed with "Embedded With the Anarchists" during the RNC, for example. (You were a bit too quick to draw conclusions from your own experience, sure, but it was still a pretty good piece.)

Until the Obamascension, you were useful. But the war's won, and it's time to demobilize. What can you now offer Soros for money that he can't get from Olbermann, Mathews, etc. for free?

What Joel said.

First things first: I've been a freelancer long enough that, while I don't believe in Karma, I think what goes around comes around, and so I eschew Schadenfreud. I hope Britt, Andy and Molly land on their feet one way or another.

And I know that CIM's talking points painted an impressive-sounding picture.

But as the Mindy's critics noted from the very beginning, the CIM started out sharing offices (and backers) with "Media Matters", and while the whole organization took great pains to try to separate themselves from their "attack PR" roots, it really didn't fool anyone...

...except some of its staffers, it'd seem.

Not to dance in the cemetary, but I have to ask: when you see a publication that has no ad revenue and is supported entirely by 527s and political pressure groups, what did you think you were getting into? How many business models built entirely on political pressure morph, without some market backing, into sustaining endeavors?

I'd be sincerely interested in hearing Molly, Andy, Britt and, for that matter, Steve Perry's answers to that one.

As much as I've mixed it up with everyone involved, I do wish everyone the best.

In journalism, just as every other platform, there is a difference between a progressive and a Democrat. One is an ideology, one is a party. And one is a party hack, the other is a journalist who believes in truth and accountability.

What Mitch said. Except the part where he says "What Joel said," because I shouldn't say that I agree with me. Even though I usually do.

Although I do disagree, a little; I don't think that there was ever any reason to think of the MinnieMon as even moving toward some sort of business model there, other than astroturf.

The Obamscension was made possible by David Axelrod, the Astroturf King, himself. But the purpose of astroturf is to, well, get something; now it's been, well, got. Why keep buying milk when you now own the dairy farm?

As of this minute -- although the day isn't over; who knows? -- there's apparently a total of four-count-'em-four writers there. Not a lot, compared with the heyday of the MinnieMon. How much longer do you think that the Sorosbux will flow? How often do people keep making car or house payments after they've got clear title?

Isn't writing truth the important issue here? I did not see in other media, for instance, the information about two far-religious-right candidates for the Minnesota Supreme and Appeals courts. Andy Birkey's articles had to have been responsible for at least some voters choosing to re-elect the incumbents instead of guys with an obvious (and unconstitutional) religious agenda.

As for being sponsored by liberal groups -- Why not? Who sponsors Rush Limbaugh and all the other right-wing apologists who, unlike the MinnesotaIndependent, seem more concerned to spread propaganda than real information?

I've got no problem with MinnPost or MinniMon being funded by just about anybody -- and that includes George Soros -- as I'm one of those folks who believes that free speech includes the right to buy some.

Including propaganda. I think it was kind of silly to maintain the fiction that it wasn't funded by sorosbux for agitprop purposes, but the veil's been stripped away on that, and it wasn't exactly a burka in the first place. In this case, reliably lefty writers were hired to reliably write lefty stuff . . . until the Ascension, followed by the flushing.

The issue here isn't whether or not it was okay for the Sorosphere to buy words in a row; it was. But if you don't see a problem with that happening under false pretenses, you're kinda missing the point, and should probably check in with Andy Birkey et al.

That said, "who sponsors Rush Limbaugh?" That's, err, not a difficult or closed question -- it's the advertisers who line up to, well, advertise on his show, and the people who buy those advertisers' products.

At least until Pelosi and company reinstate the Fairness Doctrine after the Dear Leader mumbles, "And who will rid me of this turbulent broadcaster?"

"If I had been told I was a shill for the Democrats, I never would've written for the site."

Being a "shill for the Democrats" while being a 501c(3) is a violation of IRS regulations. But as Mitch mentioned, you (CIM) have been told that many many times.

I can just see the recruitment letter:

"Dear Molly: we'd like to hire you to shill for the Democrats. If Obama loses the election, we'll keep funding you; if he wins, though, you're used cheese.

"Can we count you in?

"Best,

"George"

Bernice,

I'm not sure that arguing about "who's worse?" is really going to be especially enlightening.

But still:

"Isn't writing truth the important issue here?"

Sure, except that where non-empirical issues are concerned, one person's "truth" is another person's hysteria, loaded code-words or propaganda.

F'rinstance:

" I did not see in other media, for instance, the information about two far-religious-right candidates...Andy Birkey's articles had to have been responsible for at least some voters choosing to re-elect the incumbents instead of guys with an obvious (and unconstitutional) religious agenda."

Where "unconstitutional religious agenda" = being people of faith with "controversial" beliefs. While Birkey's a capable writer, there's a case to be made that his writing about "the religious right" (read: every Christian that doesn't sacramentalize Abortion) verged on hysterical at times.

"As for being sponsored by liberal groups -- Why not? Who sponsors Rush Limbaugh and all the other right-wing apologists who, unlike the MinnesotaIndependent, seem more concerned to spread propaganda than real information? "

Seriously?

It's all those companies whose commercials run during his show. He's the hottest ad medium in show business. That's why he's making $80M a year.

You didn't know that? Well, blow me down. It's pretty much open knowledge.

Unlike, say, the "Indy", who went through a big show of obfuscating their support (at least, the support upstream of the CIM) for well over a year, until Erik Black let it out as he was leaving the building.

Oh, yeah - and as one of those "right wing apologists", I'll have you know I "spread" real information, and nothing but real information. Not where where you would get the idea "we" don't.

Probably reading too much propaganda.

"Now, a more narrowly focused site will have fewer bodies and freelance flexibility."

Sure. And Lehman will now have a "new business plan" allowing a "focus on assets and liabilities."

"Oh, yeah - and as one of those "right wing apologists", I'll have you know I "spread" real information, and nothing but real information. Not where where you would get the idea "we" don't."

maybe it would work out better for you if you actually used facts and not propaganda terms like "obamascension"?

Why is it exactly that progressives or democrats can't support a candidate that is to their choosing and challenge a candidate that is not to their choosing without some grand conspiracy being cooked up?

Please don't confuse Mitch Berg with a freelancer of anything. The guy runs a second-rate blog called Shot in the Foot or something like that and couldn't make a nickle off his "writing" if he tried. Unless you're interested in what some lowlife was doing in North Dakota 20 years ago.

As for this his laughable claim that "I'll have you know I "spread" real information, and nothing but real information."

Does MinnPost have a comics section?

"Why is it exactly that progressives or democrats can't support a candidate that is to their choosing and challenge a candidate that is not to their choosing without some grand conspiracy being cooked up?"

Well, when you do it under the guise of a 501(c)(3) public charity, it would be the IRS rules concerning political activity. Outside of a 501(c)(3), have at it.