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City Pages staff shake-up could mean better news

There’s been a turnover flurry at City Pages, but not much drama and the potential for improved news coverage.

Let’s do the roster moves first.

Out:

  • Staff writer David Hansen was fired at the end of October, though he remains a CP freelancer
  • Staff writer Bradley Campbell has given notice; he’ll be a student at Maine’s Salt Institute for Documentary Studies.

In:

  • Andy Mannix, who’ll begin a six-month reporting fellowship Jan. 1.
  • Hart Van Denburg, a veteran journalist who’ll take over Citypages.com’s Blotter

Shifting:

  • Staff writer Emily Kaiser, ex-Blotter filler, who’s replacing Hansen

TBD:

  • Campbell’s replacement, also due around Jan. 1

To me, two things stand out. First, Mannix and Kaiser are really good young reporters, veterans of the Minnesota Daily (bias: I am, too) and therefore knowledgeable about the local scene. Second, Mannix’s gig, while temporary, amounts to a six-month staff increase.

As regular readers know, I regularly ding CP for what I see as a surplus of “made-you-look” journalism and too little important stuff I don’t already know. But in recent months, I’ve detected an uptick. For example, Erin Carlyle’s nicely done probe of Minneapolis City Council Member Lisa Goodman, quickly followed by a nice get on Council President Barb Johnson’s campaign expenditures.

Editor Kevin Hoffman is unapologetic about the headlong pursuit of pageviews (City Pages hit 3.5 million in November) especially in Blotter, where no absurd Wisconsin misdeed or Michele Bachmann emission goes unsalivated over. That has led some to dog Kaiser’s journalistic skills.

But really, Blotter is a meat-grinder — six to eight posts a day, Hoffman says — and such dues-paying is hardly the measure of a professional. (Good luck, Hart!) Kaiser came well-recommended from a Strib reporting internship, and if you look past Blotter dues-paying, she’s a really good writer.

OK, yeah, her most recent feature was about a porn star, but Hoffman says his “number one priority” is hard news investigative. I hear some snickers, but I’m going to go with better angels today.

Hoffman, hired from Cleveland two-plus years ago, acknowledges he’s had to ramp up on the local scene. So has his reporting staff, who are out-of-towners and/or pretty new to the profession. (Aside from the newly hired Van Denburg, the 32-year-old Carlyle is the only journalism vet, though there’s experience in the web and design crews.)

“As my writers mature, and I mature in my editorship, we’re going to penetrate the scene more, you’re going to see more and more breaking stories, investigative stories, shaking things up,” Hoffman promises.

Like Kaiser, Mannix’s light has been hidden under a bushel at CP, where since June he’s written the Twin Cities Reader aggregation page. I think of him more as a guy able to spin out vivid pieces of urban reportage like “The Pirates of St. Paul,” about that city’s police collaboration with the recording industry to catch CD fraudsters, or a terrific look at a Minneapolis Civilian Review Authority Catch-22.

Yeah, I groan over Hoffman hyping a Jesse Ventura “exclusive” that’s only exclusive in the narrowest sense and features warmed-over rants, though I understand the business imperative. Still, if the editor designates Kaiser and Mannix mostly to new news, the slap-and-tickle stuff may seem a tolerable price for keeping salaried dirt-diggers employed.

A few final notes:

Hansen, a genuinely good guy and a sweet writer, deserves a special plug for being stand-up and self-aware in discussing his exit.

“I was told that they need a hard news reporter in my position, which is a job I’m simply not cut out for (I don’t have the education or the experience or the interest to cut muster in that field),” he said via email. “I’d tried playing ball as a hard news guy for my last couple features for CP, but I think Kevin wants a real true-blue investigative reporter in my place.”

In addition to his City Pages work, Hansen also hopes to write for the Strib’s vita.mn. If you’re looking to use him, he says, “My strong suits are certainly the humanities: music, film, sports, and lit crit, in that order.”

Also, if you want that open staff reporting job, don’t bother. Hoffman says he’s not taking applications. Corporate parent Village Voice Media has a backlog of ex-fellows looking for gigs, and also relies on specific recruiting programs at colleges such as Columbia.

Finally, I’m looking forward to more Van Denburg. He’s done a good job on the social media beat (one Hoffman was smart to create), with original reporting such as this. I hope he has time for more in the meat-grinder.

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Comments (1)

  1. Submitted by Kelly O'Brien on 12/04/2009 - 10:51 am.

    It would be swell if CP could also find room for a fact checker on their staff. The piece on Lisa Goodman that you think was “nicely done” was full of factual errors and assumptions by the writer. Its publication turned me off from reading CP, as I just don’t trust their writers anymore.

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