In recent years, I’ve written a lot about the Star Tribune’s diminishments, so I think it’s important to note when the paper has grabbed back some of what was lost.
Before bankruptcy, readers might not have batted an eye at a reporter going overseas; in fact, reporter Mark Brunswick traveled to Iraq, among other places, when McClatchy Co. owned the Strib. But those datelines almost seemed like a mirage during Avista’s tortured control.
As Chapter 11 proceedings wound down last fall, Strib editors created a military affairs beat and redeployed Brunswick. Late last year, he and photographer Richard Sennott were sent to Afghanistan for a full month. On Sunday, the first result appeared in the paper. It was spectacular.
“Crossing the Desert of Death,” is a gripping but not mawkish tale of Minnesota grunts on a 20-hour resupply mission through dangerous Helmand province.
Like its protagonists, who crawl over sand at 3 miles per hour, Brunswick’s prose is compelling precisely because it disdains showiness and sweats the small stuff, from the goat curry the soldiers eat before their slog to the tattooed, energy-drink-fueled Minnesota gunner staring at a hostile crowd for 15 minutes and deciding not to shoot. It’s read-to-the-bottom material — yes, a metaphor for America’s torturous crawl, but authentic, not contrived — and Sennott’s photos make the protagonists that much more indelible.
I didn’t write about the four-part series yesterday because the Strib’s “Only in Your Sunday paper” policy put the piece off-limits to non-subscribers. Thankfully, that wall crumbled more quickly than usual; the opener and today’s Part II, along with various v-logs, are available now.
Managing editor Rene Sanchez says the paper spent $6,000 on the trip — a pittance really, though giving up a reporter and a photographer for a month was the bigger cost. But the biggest benefit, aside from telling memorable stories about a vital issue, is that top-notch journalists regained an opportunity to seek those tales no matter where the subjects take them.