It’s Star Tribune Bankruptcy Emergence Day, and to celebrate, new board chairman Michael T. P. Sweeney lays it on the line in a letter to readers:
Primarily, the challenge is finding new ways to finance the quality journalism that you have come to expect of us. Ultimately, you get to decide what information you want, how you want to receive it and at what price. The debate about the future of newspapers is really a debate about what you, as readers, are willing to support. It is incumbent upon us to provide the content you value, distributed through the media you prefer.
I’m afraid that if you left it up to many readers, this would mean lots of Brett Favre stories delivered to cell phones for free — though for once, I’m not the most cynical guy in the room. That would be City Pages’ Kevin Hoffman, with an entertaining takedown of Sweeney’s brand of Meeting Bingo.
Still, it’s hard to argue with this particular part of the board chair’s missive.
Had Sweeney been a bit blunter, he’d simply say that in the coming months, you’re likely to see higher prices for “the content you value” — including the paper and new or walled-off digital content such as Access Vikings.
Now, readers can rightly complain they’ve seen less of such content in recent years, so why should they pay more? This is the death spiral affecting modern newspapering, and so far, the responses have not been revolutionary.
Sweeney refers to the role the Strib plays “in the democratic and social processes of our community.” While Favre probably represents the latter, in the former case, the paper deserves credit for what might be called (not unkindly) a retro response during bankruptcy: hiring an investigative editor, a top-notch political reporter (plus a second hire any day now), creating a military beat and reviving the nonprofits beat that has been vacant since Bob Franklin left the newspaper.
At the same time, the guts of the newsroom, its copy editors, were ravaged, along with the paper’s designers and other non-bylined journalists. As noted earlier today, the editorial board rendered more cautious during the Avista years can’t get to endorsements in interesting races.
There are still over 200 of the best journalists in town at the paper, who cover events with a speed, depth and precision that is too often taken for granted. At the same time, I think it’s fair to say there’s a lot of coverage you can get elsewhere, too few apple carts upset, too little societal change fomented.
There’s no doubt in my mind that newspapering’s advertising retrenchment is permanent, and readers must pick up more of the tab. If Sweeney will commit to a more aggressive, less hidebound, less corporate product, my wallet, for one, will follow.