Going to cut something out of a print story? Why not use your blog?

Was chasing the leftblog outrage over Mary Kiffmeyer’s name being “scrubbed” from a weekend Star Tribune story on her bank’s failure, but Minnesota Independent’s Paul Schmelzer beat me to it Monday, and good.

One of the strengths and weaknesses of this column is I know most of the players, and Strib bank detective Chris Serres is someone I admire and trust, in part because he’s not defensive about questions. So I believe him when he tells Schmelzer he cut the mention for space, allowing he might not have exercised his best-ever best news judgment.

I was surprised one of the Strib’s top investigative reporters couldn’t find a way to elevate the involvement of a state legislator — who, by the way, sits on the House Finance Committee! — and former statewide officeholder. (Kiffmeyer, Schmelzer notes, is “president and director of American Eagle Financial Corporation, which owns and controls Riverview Community Bank,” the institution that failed.)

Still, as is often the case, this incident is about (momentary) competence, not conspiracy. Sorry leftbloggers. Though I do wonder why the Strib turned off comments on the surviving story.

Anyway, two non-ideological things struck me about the episode as I wait for Strib management to get back to me:

1. Serres notes startribune.com’s original online version (which in this case, was longer and mentioned Kiffmeyer) gets replaced by the print version, even if the latter is shorter.

That’s sorta insane, isn’t it? Taking worthwhile information off the web is a bit like a football coach taking points off the board.

I understand the need to settle on a “final” version, especially since stories are usually improved over time. But if newspapers are truly to become cross-platform, online stuff should never be cut on the basis of print space.

I’ll admit, I don’t know how difficult this would be to administer. Let’s assume a final print version did add new and better information, but didn’t include great online paragraphs. Would an editor or copyeditor have to weave that back in for a “final online” version? And does the Strib, which purged several copy editors during bankruptcy, have enough folks left to do that? 

In lieu of labor, would it make sense to have both versions or would that lead to reader confusion and factual contradiction? Your thoughts welcome.

2. Serres made it clear he didn’t cut the Kiffmeyer stuff because it was wrong or banal; he merely chose to focus elsewhere. That happens. But this strikes me as a textbook case on “How to use your blogs.”

The Strib has unveiled a new poliblog, “Hot Dish Politics.” Assuming, for reasonable or arbitrary reasons, the Strib sticks to its current web publishing hierarchy, Serres should’ve found a way to transfer his Kiffmeyer paragraphs into a HDP blog post, linking back to the truncated print-cum-online story.

Result: Meaty news bit for Hot Dish; another way to get main story hits; public record unredacted.

Yeah, hindsight in 20/20 and yeah, there might have been logistical hurdles. Serres, a business reporter, might not have access to the politics desk’s blog. His story closed late Friday evening, not exactly the best time to do interdepartmental choreography. And for all I know, he might’ve been butting up against overtime pay just to get Job One done.

Still, the web is great for going beyond traditional story forms, and the Strib has been aggressive lately creating new blogs to take advantage of that. The job now is to make sure reporting already done, and prose already written, doesn’t disappear down the memory hole.

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Comments (9)

  1. Submitted by Paul Gustafson on 10/27/2009 - 11:21 am.

    You raise a valid point. Nonetheless, critiques of major works like Serres in the “Old Media” unintendedly show the difference between a wounded 800-pound beast like the Strib, and MinnPost – both of which I value.

    The point: No news operations outside the Strib and PP have the horses to even mount such journalistic endeavors.

    MinnPost can critique, which is valuable. But can it mount an effort like this? You know the answer: It is “no” at this point. And that is a huge difference.

  2. Submitted by Tommy Johnson on 10/27/2009 - 11:28 am.

    ***Still, as is often the case, this incident is about (momentary) competence, not conspiracy. Sorry leftbloggers.***

    With all due respect, the Strib was formerly owned by Avista Capital Partners ( http://www.avistacap.com/portfolio ), now the Strib is owned by God Knows Who.

    And the PiPress? That’s an organization that had Craig Westover doing endorsement interviews during the 2006 election cycle:

    http://www.mnprogressiveproject.com/diary/3406/aware-enough-or-craig-firmly-embedded-westover-the-pioneer-press-and-incomplete-disclosure

    So, excuse me for assuming the worst from the right wing; it’s for the old-fashioned reason: they’ve EARNED it.

  3. Submitted by Robert Moffitt on 10/27/2009 - 11:56 am.

    We discussed this yesterday in MNSpeak, as well.

    Kiffmeyer’s involvement sure seemed newsworthy to me.

  4. Submitted by Karl Bremer on 10/27/2009 - 12:07 pm.

    David, I’m afraid you’re (uncharacteristically)letting your friendship get in the way of your journalistic sensibilities here. No way, no how should Kiffmeyer’s name ever have been deleted from that article. Her name not only should have been part of the story, it should have been part of the lead and headline. Most certainly the Kiffmeyer connection shouldn’t have been relegated to some obscure blog.

    Mary Kiffmeyer is not just some run-of-the-mill Republican. She was the Secretary of State, for crying out loud, an office whose chief responsibilities includes ensuring that businesses are properly organized and play by the rules. She’s a sitting state legislator on the Finance and State Government Finance Division committees. Her campaign slogan is “Integrity Counts.” And she belongs to the wing of the Republican Party that would under no circumstances support government bailouts of mismanaged banks.

    Deleting Mary Kiffmeyer’s name from this story would be excusable only by a reporter or editor who had no idea who Kiffmeyer was–and even then someone in the editorial chain-of-command should have overruled it. Anything else smacks of a whitewash.

  5. Submitted by Charlie Quimby on 10/27/2009 - 12:16 pm.

    I’m one of those leftybloggers who noted Kiffmeyer’s absence but did not see a conspiracy in traditional print media’s inability to manage its online edition. Just more of the same.

    I also get that a flailing newspaper considers the god stuff to be more entertaining than the Kiffmeyer connection.

    But it does seem relevant that a prominent elected official was involved with the formation of the bank, had oversight during its operation and continues to head the bank holding company that must clean up its mess.

    Especially when that official believes in separation of church and state, but not separation of god and bank.

  6. Submitted by David Brauer on 10/27/2009 - 12:20 pm.

    Paul –

    I’m confused. What sort of effort can’t we mount?

    Karl –

    I agree with you that excising Kiffmeyer was bad news judgment. I disagree that it was nefariousness, especially some effort to protect a Republican. I also disagree that it needed to lead the piece.

    That said, even with the weekend contretemps, it sure as hell is worth a follow-up story, isn’t it? I’ll ask the eds about pursuing it (which might help convince Paul to change his mind.)

  7. Submitted by Paul Gustafson on 10/27/2009 - 08:23 pm.

    OK. Maybe Serres piece is not a major work. But it is a work that only comes from a news organization that can afford to have specialized reporters working 40 hours a week at a living wage. That’s what I mean.

    The better example is the one you already have lauded: the Pioneer Press take on Denny Hecker.

    That is what MinnPost can’t yet deliver. No shame on MinnPost for that. That’s hard, cold reality.

    Also, being as that you are the media guy at MinnPost, I’m waiting for your take on the Leonard Downie/Columbia J School report on the state of newsrooms. Not a criticism. I’m just interested in what you have to say.

    And, while you are at it, maybe a comment on cable news network viewership numbers.

    We rely on you, dude….

  8. Submitted by David Brauer on 10/27/2009 - 09:23 pm.

    Paul –

    I think our recount work (which won the statewide Premack award) and our series on school desegregation were good examples of stretch. Not exactly Hecker treatment per se, and we DO need a lot more, so it’s a fair criticism, but we’ve shown glimmers.

    I’m still working through what I think about the Downie report; for once, I’m reflecting. There will be a story Wednesday that touches on some of the issues.

    Cable news numbers are national and that sort of thing is less attractive to me. But I’ll admit to being constantly amazed people don’t realize how *low* the numbers are compared to the attention they get.

    I sincerely do appreciate you craving my take, though!

  9. Submitted by Paul Gustafson on 10/29/2009 - 09:18 am.

    Not sure anyone is following this thread, but…

    The other thing about the cable news network viewership numbers that stands out is the opinion-laden networks beat the pants off CNN. Which is depressing.

    Who needs more opinions? We need more depth news.

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