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‘No comment’

That was Star Tribune spokesperson Ben Taylor’s reply when I asked him whether: the Strib had plans to a) buy the Pioneer Press, b) sell to soon-to-be-deleveraged PiPress overlord Dean Singleton, or c) investigate lesser cross-town efficiencies.

I also asked whether there had been any discussions with self-declared newspaper-consolidation “aggressor” Singleton, PiPress owner MediaNews Group, or PiPress executives about these possibilities.

Under new board chair Mike Sweeney, the Strib has become impressively responsive to my requests, so I find their unwillingness to issue even some bland “committed to the market” statement newsworthy. I have zero evidence that anything’s afoot at this point, but I think it’s OK to raise an eyebrow.

Update: Taylor sent me a polite note recommending I lower my eyebrow. He says that the “no comment” is strictly a reflection of “we are not going to talk about our competitor, which has pretty much been our policy for as long as I can remember.”

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Comments (10)

  1. Submitted by Hal Sanders on 01/19/2010 - 08:44 am.

    Buried in your item, you said, “I have zero evidence that anything’s afoot at this point,…”

    Tell me then why Ben Taylor should waste time responding to you.

  2. Submitted by David Brauer on 01/19/2010 - 09:28 am.

    Hal – I don’t think anything gets buried in a three-paragraph item.

    Why should Ben respond? Because reporters ask questions to get at the facts. I think the Strib is in that business, too, and I appreciate that management treats reporters they way they’d like their reporters treated.

    Journalists, even Stribbers, report “no comments” as newsworthy all the time. When a subject is in a ticklish situation and doesn’t want to divulge, that can be newsworthy. Adding the context that no other evidence exists isn’t bad; it’s responsible.

  3. Submitted by Hal Sanders on 01/19/2010 - 11:55 am.

    However, the “no comment” is usually issued when a question is asked that has some existence in reality.

    Reporters I’ve worked with rarely would ask a nonfact-based question when there is “zero evidence that anything’s afoot.” I didn’t say saying no evidence exists is bad. It just showed the worthlessness of your question. Your attempt to show “context” shows there was no context.

  4. Submitted by David Brauer on 01/19/2010 - 12:03 pm.

    Hal, I’m sorry, but there is plenty of basis in reality for the question.

    As noted in earlier pieces (and linked from this one), MediaNews CEO Dean Singleton told the Wall Street Journal he plans to be an “aggressor” in the consolidation/clustering biz, and when the reporter specifically mentioned the Twin Cities market, he said “look at a map.”

    Combine that with PiPress (and Strib) job cuts, previous deals with the Strib on delivery and distribution, and the PiPress’ presence as a stand-alone property in a company of clusters, and there is more than enough probable cause to ask. To say otherwise ignores reality, and seems strangely head-in-sand.

  5. Submitted by John O'Sullivan on 01/19/2010 - 03:58 pm.

    I’m with Hal on this one. Were you doing a major piece on the logistic potential of a Strib/PP merger, the “No Comment” would be noteworthy somewhere in your story. But devoting an entire blog entry to a fairly standard industry line is unfair. Dig a little deeper if you feel suspicious of their intonation, but I don’t think you should post a blog about the dead end you reached.

    Also, aren’t you worried about putting healthy relationship with Mike Sweeny in jeopardy?

  6. Submitted by David Brauer on 01/19/2010 - 04:11 pm.

    John – so far, Mike has shown he’s bigger than that.

    I think you have a mild misunderstanding of how web posts work, or at least a(nother) potential disagreement with me.

    The old days of waiting for “major pieces” are gone – and good riddance to many of them. One of the things I actually like about the format is that things can be covered serially, in an ongoing series of shorter posts, evolving with the story. I think it’s more natural, and often easier on readers as well as writers.

    Now, some posts are longer and more detailed than others, as the focus and events demand. This one was short for a reason. As I noted in the original piece, the Strib has been quite forthcoming on almost all subjects lately, which made this no-comment intriguing. I do wish Ben had given me his ultimate elaboration with the original no-comment, but I didn’t ask for one either.

    I think most regular readers would know I have covered the logistical potential of a Strib/PP merger, and will continue to. (The story doesn’t end today.) This is just one moment in that story. You’re an old Stribber, but you’re also a new media guy, so I hope that makes sense to you.

  7. Submitted by dan buechler on 01/19/2010 - 04:49 pm.

    With one newspaper there would be mega substantial cost savings and revenue from subscriptions and single copy would go up.
    Plus they could experiment with a 6 day paper.

  8. Submitted by John O'Sullivan on 01/19/2010 - 05:31 pm.

    Thanks for the response, David. I can appreciate the serialized nature of the blog. I think some of your excellent in-depth pieces can give me a false sense of expectation about your other entries.

    I guess my main issue is this: If “No Comment” makes it into a blog entry, what sort of things don’t make it into a blog entry? Do you ever kill stories after you’ve begun writing them (or one-off interactions, as the case may be) because you don’t deem them newsworthy or interesting enough?

  9. Submitted by dan buechler on 01/19/2010 - 05:37 pm.

    Ken Doctor writes about the digital side of this possibility could cut costs way down and chop management too.

  10. Submitted by David Brauer on 01/19/2010 - 08:14 pm.

    John – all the time. News judgment still at play, even in a serialized world.

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