Saving the Star Tribune … or something like it

I don’t write much about solutions to our local daily newspaper crises, mostly because I haven’t seen a silver bullet … or even sparkly buckshot.

But the Star Tribune’s newsroom Newspaper Guild is slowly moving into the fore; they’ve been researching alternative business models for months, though they’ve been relatively quiet about it so far. (Bankruptcy complicates matters since the creditor-friendly New York judges are always looking for signs a union isn’t bargaining in good faith.)

But now, a sympathetic outsider hopes to ramp up the conversation. Bruce Benidt — a communications pro who last reported for the Strib two decades ago — wants to be the hub for your ideas about how to preserve “deep and broad daily journalism.”

Benidt published his manifesto over the weekend at the Same Rowdy Crowd website (which is worth a bookmark on its own, by the way).

Here’s a bit of what he wrote:

The 300 journalists who gather, analyze and present the news every day at the Star Tribune are inviting the community to help develop a new business and ownership model that will keep daily journalism working for Minnesota. The goal is to find new local ownership and a new business model that can keep the Star Tribune delivering news and entertainment in whatever format consumers choose.

So far, nobody in the country has solved the problem of how a newspaper can stay viable when so much of its content has been available free online. We think Minnesotans can find a solution. Minnesota has long been a center of innovation and entrepreneurial spirit and is a community that values citizen involvement, education and an informed public.

So, together, let’s figure out how to keep a great news resource. We think you may have the answers. … It’s time to be creative and find solutions nobody’s thought of yet.

“I’m trying to be a catalyst for the community,” Benidt told me. “A lot of people are talking about this — yeah, but we need to do something.”

And for new-media absolutists, Benidt has an important message: “This is not just about a newsprint newspaper. This is about good strong daily journalism.”

(It’s also not just about the Star Tribune, since the Pioneer Press faces the same threats.)

Like me, he admits he doesn’t have a solution, but he’s willing to be an organizer, talking up the initiative to colleges, the Citizen’s League, and techie groups such as Minnov8. “We need two or three groups dedicated to solutions. It could be a not-for-profit, the Green Bay Packers kind of public ownership, but it has to be something.”

If you give a damn, why not give Benidt a call (612-861-3943) or an email (bbenidt@aol.com). I know the odds may seem long, but if you really care, why not take a shot?

By the way, another site awaiting full-fledged mobilization is Save the Star Tribune on Facebook. So far, it’s mostly about solidarity and commiserating, but it’s a 1,000-person tool that’s there to be picked up.

Comments (5)

  1. Submitted by William Souder on 03/30/2009 - 03:11 pm.

    The problem for the Guild is going to be that an atlernative business model…if one exists…is unlikely to include a unionized newsroom.

  2. Submitted by Steve Aschburner on 03/30/2009 - 04:06 pm.

    I think WSG (#1) is right. The future of serious journalism going forward isn’t going to hinge on labor vs. management, it’s going to be journalists vs. survival. Civic duty still ought to call at half the wages, right?

  3. Submitted by Mark Gisleson on 03/30/2009 - 04:40 pm.

    OK, newspapers jettisoning the press workers and most of the clerical staff. Are you seriously telling me no one can develop a business model where content creators, tech staff, clerical and administrative employees can’t figure out how to cooperate with one another?

    Nothing about post-dead tree journalism suggests the need for unions, other than one to represent your clerical workers. This notion that everything is union or non-union doesn’t come from unionists, it comes from management types who still see all non-management personnel as resources to be exploited.

  4. Submitted by Ross Williams on 03/30/2009 - 07:56 pm.

    Theres seems to be this willful ignoring of something everyone knows, newspapers are an advertising business. They were the original model for most online businesses. They gave away the news and manufactured an audience that they sold to their advertising customers.

    Newspapers are still creating an audience, it is just worth less and less money every day. Part of that is that online audiences are worth less than print audiences. Part of that is that there is a lot more competition. Online advertising is growing and taking market away from everything else. And online businesses, for whom online advertising is most effective, are taking more and more business.

    Since their audience is worth less and less each year, newspapers need to figure out how to create an audience at a lower cost. Journalism is not a low cost way to produce an audience. Newspapers may survive, but it is doubtful that newspaper journalism will. The transition to some new, cheaper way for newspapers to create an audience has just started, but it is hard to see how it gets reversed.

    Whatever the future of journalism is, saving the STRIB or Pioneer Press is not a part of it. Any new business model created today will fail again in the new future. This process is not over.

    So one question for journalists is whether they can create an audience somewhere else that has enough value to support them. That is the argument for online journalism. That seems doubtful, given the enormous competition for advertising dollars.

    I suspect that journalism is going to end up, like classical music, a profession for an elite few who value it. Of course that means far fewer people doing it. Think the Minneapolis Institute of Art or Walker Art Center or Guthrie Theater. These are institutions supported for their cultural value, rather than as businesses.

    MinnPost is just one of many experiments which seem to be looking in that direction. But I suspect it is going to take a lot of experiments before something new emerges. The more time and energy put into trying to stop this train, the longer it will take. Its left the station.

  5. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 03/31/2009 - 01:40 pm.

    While the Soros Foundation supports a free press all around the world, I don’t think it has thought about purchasing local papers around the U.S. and giving them to THE UNIONS to manage. Has anyone asked the foundation for help?

    One of the financial burdens newspapers didn’t have to face until the last decade or so is caused by ownership by out-of-town corporations that may or may have any kind of connection to (or appreciation of) good journalism. These bottom-line owners have demanded twice the profit while cutting budgets and jobs. I can’t imagine that union ownership would undercut a paper’s success for any reason.

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