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

The Star Tribune aggressively created new blogs in recent weeks. The trick now is using them fully — especially when reporters have to take out story information that deserves the light of day.
By David Brauer

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.

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

1. Serres notes’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.

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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.