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If you don’t go online, others will do it for you

Frustrated that the St. Paul’s Highland Villager has no news website, a St. Paul blogger decides he’ll put them in the online conversation whether they like it or not.
By David Brauer

Bill Lindeke loves being an urban pedestrian — so much so that he’s blogged about it for five years at Twin City Sidewalks. The U geography grad student scours the Internet to find anything related to streetscapes, and like many readers, has become increasingly cheesed at dwindling major-media coverage of his issues.

One salvation: the Highland Villager, a high-quality, free St. Paul-based community paper. Lindeke’s problem: the Villager steadfastly refuses to go online (save for a skeletal site), making it impossible for him to link to their original, brick-by-brick coverage.

So in late May, Lindeke declared if the Villager wouldn’t go online, he’d do it for them:

… the best source of local streets/sidewalks news in Saint Paul is the Highland Villager. This wouldn’t be a problem, except that its not available online. The editor/publisher Michael Mischke (who I’ve never met) clearly doesn’t like the internet for some reason. But there’s a lot of good stuff in this local bi-weekly about developments and street debates.

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So basically, I’m going to have a twice-monthly post about what I discover when reading the Highland Villager. Maybe it’ll encourage you to go get your own copy, available anywhere that’s anywhere in Saint Paul. Or maybe I’m reading the Highland Villager so that you don’t have to? Either way … until this newspaper goes online, information must be set free.

Lindeke summarized six stories from the June 3 Villager, and followed it up with ten more from an issue two weeks later. He flashed a bit more attitude the second time around, declaring “I’m reading the Highland Villager so that you don’t have to.”

So is Mischke moved by Lindeke’s guerrilla tactics?

“No. Mr. Lindeke’s inept effort just makes me shake my head,” Mischke says. “What does trouble me is that Mr. Lindeke fails in several comments to accurately summarize the content of our articles and editorials. And in the case of his comment on my recent editorial about Walgreens, he gets it exactly wrong.”

Lindeke absorbs the jab with aplomb, noting that Mischke can clear up any translation errors by simply uploading the stuff himself. “Or he can pay me,” he quips.

Ironically, Lindeke says he was moved to reprise Village content because he grew frustrated at seeing urban-focused netizens refer to the paper’s stories in a haphazard or distorted way.

“The Villager has actual journalists, and their stories are missing from the conversation,” Lindeke asserts. “They’re the only ones reporting on the Snelling Avenue median issue; I think it’s been in every newspaper for months, but you can’t find anything online. I wanted to get something out there besides people spouting opinion.”

Well, Mike? If you don’t like how people aggregate your work, why not do it yourself?

“Rather than ask me why the Villager is not on the the web, you might ask the publishers of the Pioneer Press and Star Tribune why those newspapers are,” Mischke responds. “I’m fairly certain it’s not because they’re making any money doing so. I’m also fairly certain that their presence on the web has harmed that part of the business that is their bread and butter: their printed product.”

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In essence, Mischke has opted to stay where the profits, not the users, are. (That said, the Villager, an ad-supported freebie, claims 132,000 print readers.)

“In difficult economic times, my well-paid staff and well-paid freelancers are more focused than ever on publishing the very best newspaper we can,” he states. “A newspaper that increasingly publishes stories that other newspapers in town ignore — whether for lack of interest or lack of staff — or decide to cover after their decimated staffs read about it in the Villager first. A newspaper that we’re happy to report is succeeding in not being non-profit in the face of deep advertising discounts offered by struggling competitors all around us.”

Still, Mischke is only so doctrinaire. “Will the Villager ever go online? Probably,” he allows.

But not until the economics are clearly there. “The economics of printing and distribution alone will no doubt dictate it. But as long as people enjoy reading the printed word; as long as small, independent, local advertisers support their small, independent, local newspaper; as long as we continue to do well that which no other local news medium is doing, we’ll continue to prosper in print.”

As the two intransigent combatants glare — or at least smirk — at each other, readers for the moment better off because of Lindeke’s cross-platforming.

Mischke, who acknowledges Lindeke’s distillations don’t violating copyright laws, won’t have to take any coin away from his print efforts. Meanwhile, Lindeke not only lances an informational boil but might get a bit more traffic to his blog. He’s making the Villager part of the Net’s conversation, whether it likes it or not, as long as his passion holds out.