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.