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Star Tribune creates military beat

On Tuesday, Star Tribune state Capitol correspondent Mark Brunswick began his new job as the paper’s military affairs correspondent. The brand-new, three-quarters-time beat has a broad portfolio, from the warmaking side (local troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, military contractors) to veteran’s affairs, including post-combat health issues.

“The U.S. is at war on two fronts, and there are huge groups of veterans coming home,” Brunswick notes; while the paper has covered these issues, a dedicated beat reporter who develops specific contacts “will improve our profile to understand what’s going on.”

Although Brunswick has covered the hand-to-hand in St. Paul, he’s no stranger to military issues. He has been in Iraq twice, the last time in 2006 — when the Strib was still owned by McClatchy and still had money to send reporters overseas. He still has his Kevlar vest from embeds in Bosnia and Kosovo.

Brunswick was asked to take the beat, but accepted enthusiastically: “It was a real struggle to leave the Capitol — I liked my colleagues, and it’s the best environment to cover news, something is happening every day,” he acknowledges. “But I’m actually very happy about this. I’ve covered the National Guard at the Capitol, but never as extensively.”

He’s hopeful the post-bankruptcy Strib will send him abroad, and it’s definitely a good sign that the financially challenged paper is expanding its portfolio. (Now, if they’d only re-create the labor beat; there are more workers than veterans.)

It wouldn’t be quite right to say that the paper is staffing up; Brunswick’s reassignment is part of a several-months-long shuffle that, in the end, leaves reporter headcount flat. But that’s a hell of an achievement at a time when even non-bankrupt papers keep swinging the ax. Of course, the new owners (who take over later this month) could quickly re-start the bloodletting.

Capitol-watchers, fear not — Brunswick’s position there is being filled. The Strib will maintain a four-person reporting crew.

This past session, the team was Brunswick, Pat Lopez, Pat Doyle and Mike Kaszuba. (Hennepin County correspondent Kevin Duchschere was on semi-permanent loan during the election and recount, and various beat reporters cycle in when their issues get hot.) Rachel Stassen-Berger has since replaced Lopez, who was promoted after politics editor Doug Tice moved to the editorial page. An experienced reporter, possibly from outside the Strib, will take over for Brunswick.

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