Ooo! It’s a Star Tribune-Minnesota Public Radio spat!

I love, love, love that the Star Tribune is picking fights with Minnesota Public Radio on the eve of Monday’s “Future of the News” forum!

The Strib’s Jennifer Bjorhus does a nice job contextualizing MPR’s news ambitions — which have been endlessly serialized here. But her true accomplishment is getting media moguls to bare their teeth at the public-radio colossus. … as they prepare to sit on the same dais with each other … at MPR’s World Headquarters.

It’s like the stare-down at the weigh-in before a big fight!

New Strib board chair Mike Sweeney, on the eve of whacking 30 designers, copy editors and other newsroom non-reporters, gives the best quote:

Mike Sweeney, the private equity pro who’s now chairman of the Star Tribune, bristles at MPR’s ambition. He said MPR has created “a sense of false crisis” with its regional news conference, and that it’s wrong to question the Star Tribune’s survivability. Including digital readers, the Star Tribune’s audience has never been larger, he said. The newspaper is projected to generate significant operating cash flow next year and is in no danger of collapse, he said.

The paper has undergone deep staff cuts over the past several years, but top editor Nancy Barnes said that newsroom restructuring has resulted in the paper having just 11 fewer reporters than in 2000.

“MPR is making a blatant land grab by calling into question the viability of existing news organizations in Minnesota,” Sweeney said.

He also questioned the use of taxpayer dollars to help pay for MPR’s nonunion newsroom to compete with the Star Tribune’s unionized newsroom.

While I’m sure there are a lot of union members not terribly enamored with Sweeney right now, he does show a certain bare-knuckle charm. My boss Joel Kramer again expresses his frustration at MPR’s non-cooperation, but you’ve read that before, and Joel doesn’t quite have the same outrage voltage.

Head’s up to everyone: I’ll be live-blogging the conference Monday in this space. Normally, I disdain these get-togethers as huge wank-fests, but perhaps some real ideas will break out … and some live cat-fights! Sweeney, Kramer and MPR Chief Operating Officer Jon McTaggart will be on the same panel at 12:30 p.m., so do drop in.

You can also learn about all our free newsletter options.

Comments (25)

  1. Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 11/15/2009 - 08:12 pm.

    You continue to give MPR a free pass and Mr. Sweeney repeats what I’ve previously suggested. That is, MPR is a government subsidized business that employs a large number of non-union workers, yet liberals such as yourself continually look the other way. Why is that? (Other than, for you, the fact that your wife is employed by a law firm that does work for MPR, something which I am willing to discount – for now.)

  2. Submitted by David Brauer on 11/15/2009 - 08:24 pm.

    Ah “Spencer” —

    As you’d know if you read carefully, my wife *doesn’t* represent MPR. (Faegre represents them, for what it’s worth.) Gray Plant represents St. Olaf. MPR & St. Olaf are rooting for a similar outcome, but their exposure is not identical and no income from MPR flows directly OR indirectly my way.

    Nice try though. You’ll have to try to square THAT bit of mistaken evidence with the countervailing fact of my boss complaining about MPR. WHOSE INTERESTS WILL I SELL OUT TO?!

    As for my reporting on MPR, you read most of what was in the Strib here first … including the taxpayer subsidy. Glad to see others, including the Strib, pick it up & amplify.

    Sweeney is more critical of this than I am, BTW. If MPR didn’t exist, I doubt the Strib would be much better off. It’s also worth noting the Strib abandoned greater Minnesota long ago, and the daily newspapers there seem to disagree with Mike and are pretty happy with MPR doing more, even with taxpayer cash.

    Me, I can think of better places to spend (or not spend) it, but you’ll just have to accept that as an honest opinion.

  3. Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 11/15/2009 - 09:08 pm.

    DB – Looks like I struck a nerve. (Should I think you protest too much?) Nice diversionary tactic. However, you completely overlooked the non-union employment issue. I don’t recall one blog of yours demanding MPR unionize. If I am wrong, I welcome the correction.

  4. Submitted by David Brauer on 11/15/2009 - 09:26 pm.

    Spot Guy –

    Sorry, cheesy tactic to misrepresent a guy as bought off and then protest about him defending himself. (Really, you can do better.)

    Setting aside the conspiracy theory, which you shoulda done to begin with … It’s true, I haven’t demanded MPR unionize. (I don’t think Sweeney was either, BTW.) Might be a good idea, though. Got any friends in the Newspaper Guild who want to expand membership? It’s hard to tell when one is using a made-up name … if you know what I mean. (Don’t protest too loudly!)

  5. Submitted by Jason DeRusha on 11/15/2009 - 08:43 pm.

    I love this: according to the MPR website about “The Future of News” — “The decline of journalism in America is reaching the point of crisis.”

    Perhaps the business model is reaching the point of crisis. Just because people are losing their jobs does not mean American journalism is in crisis.

    Most cities have four TV stations doing local news. 1 newspaper (at least). Several magazines. Dozens of websites. And of course, public radio. This is a crisis?

    Perhaps the quality of journalism is in crisis. Although that’s questionable. With the rise of the independent online media and the hobby bloggers who bring journalism to the table — it seems to me that journalism is doing OK.

    The business model is in crisis. Which matters to virtually no one, except the people who have gotten use to 40% profit margins and the shareholders who expect constant growth.

    Yes, we have to figure out how to make money doing this. But as long as anchors are making $500k and more, and publishers and managers are making the same kind of money — I’m not sure we’re quite in a crisis state.

  6. Submitted by Annalise Cudahy on 11/15/2009 - 08:48 pm.

    I agree that confabs like tomorrow’s are usually not a lot of fun, but it sounds to me like your whole profession is in a fightin’ mood.

    Here’s something to get you even hotter – how can you call it a “profession” when hardly anyone is getting paid a living wage anymore?

    [ducks and runs]

  7. Submitted by Joel Kramer on 11/15/2009 - 10:44 pm.

    I think I’ll stay out of both spats (the one between Sweeney and Kling and the one between Brauer and Gluekman). But I do want to point out that according to Nielsen NetView data cited in Jennifer Bjorhus’s story, MinnPost’s traffic is neck and neck with MPR’s.

  8. Submitted by Ann Alquist on 11/15/2009 - 10:45 pm.

    I’m somewhat amused that Mr. Sweeney is vain enough to presume that this is APM/MPR making a dig at the Strib. APM has bigger fish to fry, outside of Minnesota, namely in D.C. With a friendlier prevailing political wind and yes, a false journalism crisis or maybe even a real one either in our amidst or about to emerge, now is the time for public media to make the case for more dollars from the feds, especially radio. I know the Strib is the big enchilada in-state, but APM produces and distributes programming INTERNATIONALLY heard by over a million listeners, or something like that. I appreciate the local angle, but the real story is about the flow of dough coming out of Washington into Saint Paul (and Minneapolis too – the former prez of Public Radio International, now senior VP at CPB is on the attendee list.)
    But it would still be fun to watch the local suits claw each other, I’ll admit it. Are you bringing popcorn, David?

  9. Submitted by David Brauer on 11/15/2009 - 10:50 pm.

    But Joel – those numbers (for us at least, and according to Quantcast, both of us), are too low, right?

  10. Submitted by David Brauer on 11/15/2009 - 10:51 pm.

    Ann – assuming I’m not tied up in a catfight of my own, yes! Although when does a liveblogger have time to eat anything??

  11. Submitted by Joel Kramer on 11/15/2009 - 11:40 pm.

    Yes, David, Nielsen’s numbers (which I had never seen before because we don’t subscribe to their service) are way too low. Our internal page-view numbers from Google Analytics are more than three times what Nielsen reports. Every measurement service that compares sites produces different numbers for our site, often very different. But the comparisons are still interesting. Looking at monthly visits (a better measure than uniques) on, for example, our number for October was reported as 76% of MPR’s. Nielsen has us even on page views. Quantcast’s comparison is not meaningful, because we have given Quantcast access to our data but MPR has not.

  12. Submitted by Raj Maddali on 11/16/2009 - 07:13 am.

    To call MPR a non-profit is an absolute joke. In my opinion, it is nothing more than a W-DFL. A radio station that is protected by DFL members because it will spout their propaganda.

    Now they have a sign outside their office in the park claiming 100,000 member. Do you think the city of St. Paul will allow me to put up a sign stating the millions of dollars in payroll for the head honchos. Absolutely not.

  13. Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 11/16/2009 - 07:23 am.

    Joel: Picking the largest number out of a set of sources is a proud tradition in Internet publishing, so welcome to the club! But we both know internal log-file analytical tools can be wrong as well: I have three going on many of my sites, and they never agree, either.

    At we solved this problem in 2002: the only number that really matters is how many ads you are serving, and that’s the only number that matters to advertisers. Granted, that was a much larger scale than you or I are working on these days — we did 13M a weekday in terms of page impressions, and around 28M a day in terms of ads served. But I would imagine you can still poke through your ad-server logs and get the most accurate measure of how many pages you are really serving. Quantcast and Google Analytics are nice tools (while Compete and Alexa are completely worthless), but they can’t replace the data from your ad server.

  14. Submitted by Robert Moffitt on 11/16/2009 - 07:30 am.

    In his quote, Mr. Sweeney managed to sound like an outraged conservative,

    “He also questioned the use of taxpayer dollars…”

    an outraged liberal,

    “… to help pay for MPR’s nonunion newsroom to compete with the Star Tribune’s unionized newsroom.”

    and a whiney dead tree media guy. Sounds like MPR know how to push Sweeney’s buttons. Dosen’t sound like a guy who is “not worried” to me.

  15. Submitted by Raj Maddali on 11/16/2009 - 07:55 am.

    Mr Sweeney has a point. Why should the state pay for a DFL newsroom. And he points out the hypocrisy of a DFL sponsored non-union newsroom while the Strib is stuck with all the costs of a DFL sponsored union rules.

  16. Submitted by Paul Gustafson on 11/16/2009 - 09:41 am.

    It’s Demolition Derby Days in the Media World.

    Which will be the last jalopies moving after the verbal and economic crashing is over?

    Or will some sleek, light-weight newcomers currently w/o visible engines prevail because the contest is really about who is first in a downhill race?

    There will be survivors. But it’s far from clear who they will be, and what kind of journalism they will offer.

    The MPR Summit appears to be more than a bit self-serving. But discussion is good, no matter the sponsor, if it is honest and doesn’t fall to the level of a school lunchroom food fight.

    A couple of thoughts about Jason’s comments.

    The media business model is broken, but journalism is OK? Hmmm. That’s like saying the car is fine even though the engine doesn’t work.

    Having 1 or 2 major/weak newspapers and four major/weak TV outlets, etc. does not mean journalism is in good shape in the Twin Cities. That means the existing organizations all cover the same must-have minimum basic news stories, with few resources to get to the next level: in-depth or enterprise stories the other’s don’t have.

    And then, you have to factor in the resources the current local media Big Guys devote to Infotainment. That may be a necessary revenue ploy, but I don’t call it journalism.

    And how are half-million dollar-plus salaries for execs and anchors a sign of vitality? I’d say they are part of the problem. That’s poor resource allocation in a time of crisis.

    Raj says MPR runs a DFL newsroom? Baloney. I’m a Kling critic, but that is beyond the pale. So, what would qualify for a “neutral” news source, Raj? Fox News Network? Yike!

  17. Submitted by Karen Sandness on 11/16/2009 - 09:42 am.

    I can tell that the Strib has been laying off copy editors. I’ve seen some glaring errors in spelling and grammar over the past few months. Unfortunately, judging from the quality of the spelling and grammar in many of the online comments, few readers will notice.

    As for the W-DFL remarks, MPR is not particularly left-wing. To hear what real left-wing media sound like, listen to KFAI’s news programs.

    Commercial radio needs…commercials, and corporations don’t like to sponsor anyone who neither preaches nor ignores their religion of “private always good, public always bad,” so non-profit stations are the only place to hear news that isn’t either right-wing or trivialized.

  18. Submitted by Steve Titterud on 11/16/2009 - 10:05 am.

    The Star-Tribune should declare itself a so-called “non-profit” (in the same spirit as MPR) and then line up at the trough with the rest of ’em.

    Maybe MPR’s “non-profit” ruse is the key to a successful business model?

  19. Submitted by Paul Scott on 11/16/2009 - 10:06 am.

    I don’t normally read the comments on the Strib website, as the vitriol just wears you down. But I saw an interesting comment at the top of that story you mentioned, from a guy who says he worked at MPR for 8 years. If he is legit, and I realize that’s a big if, what he says at one point should give us pause: “… Plus, they edit out negative refs in stories about companies that underwrite them.” I just have to think that has the whiff of truthiness about it. I doubt it would occur in a Politbureau sort of fashion, but I could see critical stories about underwriters just not getting any traction, not when you could pick up a feature about pond frogs or the horse race of an election or something. But I think the same thing is going on at the Strib, vis a vis large employers in the state. The device industry seems to be a sacred cow. Target, 3M, etc

  20. Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 11/16/2009 - 11:02 am.

    Here’s our story about how MPR virtually ignored the Allina scandal a few years ago, and about how the two organizations are connected.

  21. Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 11/16/2009 - 11:04 am.

    Forgot to mention – as you’ll see in the intro to the story – we wrote the piece as an op-ed for the Strib, and irony of ironies – they wouldn’t run it!

  22. Submitted by Dimitri Drekonja on 11/16/2009 - 12:28 pm.

    I honestly have no idea how competetive various parts of the news-reporting apparatus are with each other, but I do have to point out the semi-silliness of trying to create the illusion of a horse-race between the Minnpost and MPR (Joel Kramer- “MinnPost’s traffic is neck and neck with MPR’s”). One is exclusivly web-based, whereas the other is radio, with a web presence for die-hards. Sort of like saying you can hit a baseball just about as well as Adrian Peterson. It may be of interest, but it’s comparing apples to oranges.

  23. Submitted by Karen Sandness on 11/16/2009 - 05:37 pm.

    On the matter of negative references to underwriters, I heard the same thing from a former NPR reporter who spoke at the University of Michigan in 1988, that she had a lot of freedom of expression except when it reflected negatively on an underwriter.

    She also decried the practice of assigning people who speak only English and know nothing about the world outside the U.S. as foreign correspondents. She reported from Central America, and she often saw American journalists reporting based on what they thought was happening or based on reports from the American embassy (“Western diplomatic sources”) instead of going and talking in Spanish to people who were actually involved in the story being reported.

  24. Submitted by Joel Kramer on 11/16/2009 - 09:13 pm.

    Kevin: We have checked our OAS ad serving numbers, and the page view number that it gives us is very close to our Google Analytics number, which is why we’re confident in the Google number.

    Dimitri: Of course I know that MPR’s strength is on the radio. But the web comparison is quite relevant, because MPR is making a big push with its NewsQ to strengthen its news franchise on the Internet. In fact, I could turn the argument around: Since MPR has a strong franchise on the radio, it should be able to drive a lot of traffic to its website, as Star Tribune and Pioneer Press do. So one would expect the number of visits to its site to be many times MinnPost’s, but that’s not the case.

  25. Submitted by Joe Musich on 08/13/2013 - 07:58 pm.

    my read order

    My home page as of now is MPR. My first news check is NYT. My second minnpost. The strib is after the Pioneer Press. But the Daily planet and Guardian are moving up fast. Both are before the local newspaper web additions. Daily Planet may soon jump Minnpost over the tfa issue.

Leave a Reply