Eric Wieffering returns to Star Tribune as business columnist

Man, the Strib is full of staffing surprises lately, but this one seems unambiguously good: former Business section editor Eric Wieffering is returning to the paper as a columnist.

The business section has its heavy hitters, but it’s no secret new board chair Mike Sweeney has been pushing for more punch. Wieffering was a widely respected upper-level manager who got burnt out on the Strib’s bankruptcy descent when he left last year. He took a tour of the dark side in marketing and communications, but he and I go back far enough to his reporting days that I remember he can bloody some noses. Here’s hoping, and here’s the memo:

We are delighted to announce our new Business columnist with these four words:

Welcome back, Eric Wieffering!

Eric, as most of you know, is an excellent business journalist — a gifted writer and editor who has spent the past 25 years cultivating a deep understanding of the business community in the Twin Cities and Minnesota.

He is uniquely qualified to take on this important new role as part of our drive to make our already formidable business coverage better than ever.

Before he left a year ago to work as a senior account executive at Haberman and Associates, a marketing and communications firm in Minneapolis, Eric had long been a newsroom leader as much through his skill and spirit as the titles he held.

Over 11 distinguished years at the Star Tribune, Eric was an enterprise reporter, team leader, deputy editor, then the Assistant Managing Editor for Business. In his last year here, he led both our Business and Metro staffs. During his tenure leading Business, the section was named one of the best in the country by the Society of American Business Editors and Writers in 2008.

Eric also covered Northwest Airlines for the St. Paul Pioneer Press, and he has edited an award-winning monthly business magazine. He has a degree in English literature from Carleton College, and he and his family live in St. Paul.

Eric will return in early October. His column will begin soon afterward on the Sunday Business cover and other days, and his perspective on business will resound across all of our digital platforms.

Please join us in heartily welcoming him back.

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Comments (9)

  1. Submitted by John Reinan on 09/24/2010 - 06:57 pm.

    As a former journalist now in marketing, I’m disappointed at your glib and shallow characterization of marketing communications as “the dark side.”

    Are you suggesting that what Eric Wieffering did for the last year was somehow shady or unethical? If not, then why call it “the dark side?”

    And if so, then why praise the Strib for bringing back a shifty, unethical person to spread his views in a column?

    Your implication that there’s something less than desirable about marketing would come as a surprise to Joel and Laurie Kramer, who are currently engaged in a marketing campaign to get people to read MinnPost (and your column).

    It would come as a surprise to your wife’s law firm, whose blue-chip clients all have marketing departments that generate the profits enabling them to pay their legal fees.

    I know that “the dark side” is a joke that’s been around newsrooms forever. However, even when I was an award-winning business journalist at the Strib and other places, I never used that characterization. I saw marketing and communications people as fulfilling a useful role.

    And with the continuing degradation of the traditional media, companies themselves are now often the only place people can get information about products and services. They are moving aggressively to fill the void left by cutbacks of 25-50% at virtually every traditional media outlet you can name. When the traditional media have nobody left to cover their company or industry, they will communicate directly with potential customers themselves.

    I may seem like I’m overreacting to an old, tired joke. But you’re casually besmirching many thousands of people in the Twin Cities who not only are hard-working and creative, but support countless other Minnesota jobs by helping to generate the sales that keep Minnesota companies in business.

  2. Submitted by David Brauer on 09/24/2010 - 08:21 pm.

    John: Even though I’d suggest you regard “the dark side” the way journalists regard being called “hacks” — i.e., roll with it, it’s more a poke in the ribs than a criminal indictment — I don’t want to say you’re over-reacting. I can understand you defending your profession. At its best, it is useful, necessary, creative and ethical. I even dabble in it myself, on a volunteer basis for the Kingfield Farmers Market. (Hopefully your clients are as awesome as mine!)

    But … I’ll take journalism over marketing, since (at its best), it’s better to have the public as a client rather than a special interest. You’re right that marketers are filling the void left by journalists, and while that may be a market-driven necessity, it’s nothing to celebrate. Too many journalists have functioned as near-marketers for the industries they cover, one of the many reasons journalism is in trouble.

    At its absolute best, journalistic independence and the freedom to speak freely is “the lightest side.” Assuming Eric and the Strib avoid ethical conflicts stemming from his soon-to-be-former employer and clients, I’m optimistic the public will be better off from the switch.

  3. Submitted by John Reinan on 09/24/2010 - 09:20 pm.

    Thanks for the thoughtful response. I’m not taking back what I said, but you make a good point.

  4. Submitted by Hal Sanders on 09/24/2010 - 10:50 pm.

    You’re right on one point, John. You’re overreacting. Why are you taking this so personal?

  5. Submitted by Jon Austin on 09/25/2010 - 01:43 pm.

    I’m not particularly put out by David’s “dark side” comment – I’ve been called worse by him and others I care about alot more than him (sorry, David) – but I am struck by the notions that general interests are always better than special interests and that marketing only exists to fill a void left by journalists. The former is not always true – is it wrong to lobby and advocate for children with “orphaned” diseases, for example – and the latter is flat-out wrong.

    Marketing is a separate discipline and profession from journalism that can and does exist regardless of the state of journalism. Further, it can be practiced by people who are every bit as ethical and moral as journalists. Similarly, both professions have their share of sleazebags. No one’s got a monopoly on the human condition in my experience.

    But…the black capes are WAY cooler and learning how to do that Darth Vader thing with the choking gesture is great for parties and long meetings.

  6. Submitted by David Brauer on 09/25/2010 - 04:26 pm.

    Jon – don’t know if it’s the marketer or the journalist in ya, but you’re whacking at a straw man.

    I never said marketing *only* exists to fill a void left by journalist. That was in the context of John’s poke about marketers replacing journalists. Within that realm, your profession is not superior (and I did note, importantly, at each profession’s best).

    For example, I would rather have a journalist reporting on Northwest Airlines than a Northwest Airline marketer reporting on Northwest Airlines. Generally speaking, I think history showed us that. There are simply some things the NWA marketer cannot say about NWA, and the journalist can (at journalism’s best).

    Put a different way: For journalists, it’s a sin when commercial interests affect what they say, but for the marketer, this is a given. That’s the dark side some of us fear.

    As John R. noted, there is a lot of good marketer/communications types do (even for MinnPost!) and as you note, a lot of that work is different from what journalists do. I think there’s a reason they are considered different professions, and I’d like to keep some distinctions distinct.

    Gotta go; someone wants to show me this map to the Death Star’s weak spots …

  7. Submitted by Jon Austin on 09/25/2010 - 10:52 pm.

    We keep building ’em and you keep shooting at them. I like my chances.

  8. Submitted by Hal Davis on 09/27/2010 - 05:30 pm.

    David writes, re journalists:

    ==it’s a sin when commercial interests affect what they say, but for the marketer, this is a given==

    Before I got my current job in Twin Cities journalism, I worked for a while writing ad copy.

    As I was being trained in this new skill, I “interviewed” a fellow employee acting as a client. He provided me with a fact that I wished to verify and explore more closely. So I asked some follow-up questions.

    After the q-and-a session, my trainer pointed out that I was engaging in journalism. “Here,” she said, “we believe what a client tells us.”

  9. Submitted by Ken Kadet on 10/27/2010 - 09:10 am.

    I’ve been at PR agencies or freelance for my whole career…John R., David has it right when he says to let it roll off your back…I can’t stand listening to folks in PR and marketing talk about how they fill journalism’s void.

    It’s bull. You protest too much.

    My aspiration in this job is to tell a company’s stories. Not the good, bad and ugly, but the way they want to be seen so that they can be successful at what they do. Not falsehoods, lies or spin … just choosing the stories that bring their businesses to life.

    Lots of times, I use journalistic techniques to do that, and lots of times these ferret out a hard truth that a client needs to face…and believe it or not, they typically do.

    But as much as I love and respect journalism, I’m not a journalist. And though I sometimes work with journalists, I do not compare myself to journalists…I do what I do and I think it does some good for my clients, their customers and…by extension, our community. But let’s not inflate ourselves. As a writer/PR consultant/marketer, I think that’s enough.

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