Star Tribune reassigns longtime environmental reporter Tom Meersman

This is a bit of a shocker: the Strib is moving 17-year environmental reporting vet Tom Meersman to its west metro bureau. According to an internal memo, he’ll still do “land use and water quality issues springing from the area’s parks and lakes, including Minneapolis,” but on a daily basis, these are general-assignment jobs.

For his part, Meersman says, “The change was not my idea. But I’m grateful to have been able to cover such an important beat for so long at the paper. My news assignment will also include coverage of the environment in Minneapolis and the western half of the metro area, so you can expect more good stories from me.”

Anyone who knows Meersman knows he’s a deeply experienced professional; he covered the environment at MPR before joining the Strib in 1993. By all accounts, there’s no controversy surrounding his work; he recently wrote part of the Strib’s very good “Losing Our Lakes” series.

Says managing editor Rene Sanchez, “Tom is a pro and has been a good steward of this beat. It won’t be easy to find a successor to fill his shoes, but I suspect there will a lot of interest in the beat in the newsroom.’’

So what’s going on? Management has reassigned several long-time beat reporters in recent months, seeking “fresh eyes” on various topics, even ones as technical as the environment. Since execs replaced news columnists nearly two years ago, they made it clear few positions should be seen as lifetime sinecures.

The Strib is talking louder about big-deal stories these days, and still must prove “new vision” overcomes experience lost.

Says Sanchez, “We are not taking any step away from covering environmental issues in Minnesota. It’s a very important subject, and you can be sure that we will continue to cover it aggressively.’’

The good news is the Strib will fill Meersman’s position. But, according to the job posting (below), whomever gets it will have to generate awards-level quality while “creating environmental coverage for print, online, social media and digital platforms, employing video, Twitter and blogs to build broad public understanding and conversation on one of the central issues of our time.”

The job is being advertised as an internal hire; the posting seeks a staffer with “a deep understanding of the science of both health issues and natural issues linked to our environment and be able to translate the technical aspects of the topic for our readers.”

Here’s the posting:

Description: This is a wide-ranging beat on a topic of intense interest to many Minnesotans, from developers to farmers to environmental activists to average people trying to decide if it’s worth it to buy organic blueberries. This reporter will be expected to observe locally the many ways the natural and man-made environment can affect our health and well-being, and tie those observations to larger environmental issues playing out nationally or even internationally — from climate change, to urban and suburban development and its environmental impact to alternative energy such as wind farms. 

From the environmental impact of agricultural practices, development around Minnesota’s iconic lakes and the tensions around preservation of the natural environment in northern Minnesota, to the pressures urban areas place on the environment, this beat should explore the competing interests of different people who value the natural environment for different purposes. This position will report to Dave Hage.

Qualifications: This reporter should have a deep understanding of the science of both health issues and natural issues linked to our environment and be able to translate the technical aspects of the topic for our readers.

This reporter needs to be prepared to cover direct threats to the public health from environmental issues such as feedlots, herbicide and pesticide use, toxic waste and emissions, and nuclear power plant emergencies. He or she also needs to convey the insidious affects on human health of long term land, air and water pollution.

This reporter should explore all facets of the emerging green movement, sustainability and transportation decisions that many individual are making in their lives in an attempt to protect the environment — from rain barrels to compost heaps to organic farming in the city. The effectiveness of widely organized efforts to reduce, reuse and recycle materials that would otherwise be discarded to landfills needs to be monitored. Government efforts to regulate environmental issues also require scrutiny.

This reporter needs to be adept at creating environmental coverage for print, online, social media and digital platforms, employing video, Twitter and blogs to build a broad public understanding and conversation on one of the central issues of our time.

Comments (11)

  1. Submitted by Susan Maricle on 09/23/2010 - 01:41 pm.

    Rather than be reassigned, Meersman should come to MinnPost.

  2. Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 09/23/2010 - 01:59 pm.

    David, did Meersman get reassigned because of Troubled Waters?

  3. Submitted by Whitney Clark on 09/23/2010 - 03:17 pm.

    It will be hard to fully judge this move until after the Strib has replaced Meersman but it’ll be a miracle if they find someone with the depth of experience and knowledge that Tom has brought for all these years. Not impossible but highly unlikely. Obviously, for any beat, but especially the environmental beat, quality reporting requires understanding the context, knowing the players and remembering the history. It’ll take years, even for a smart and ambitious new reporter, to learn what Meersman knows. Who loses? Strib readers and ultimately Minnesota’s environment.

  4. Submitted by David Brauer on 09/23/2010 - 03:19 pm.

    Elizabeth – no. The move was set in motion well before that controversy.

  5. Submitted by Nick Coleman on 09/23/2010 - 04:29 pm.

    Any beat reporter regarded as well-versed and learned in his/her field faces arbitrary removal in this time of media disarray and decline… News is so much more malleable without them and their annoying expertise… The Strib’s environmental beat, going back to Dean Rebuffoni, has been one of the most prestigious media beats in environmentally-conscious Minnesota… So it’s sad that an acknowledged leader in environmental journalism (see this 2005 award citation to Meersman from the American Institute of Biological Sciences — http://www.aibs.org/about-aibs/050412_winners_of_2005_aibs.html ) has been removed. But it is no surprise.

  6. Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 09/23/2010 - 04:44 pm.

    Man, that one really smells. Why would you put a less qualified reporter on an important beat? Meersman must’ve pissed someone off royally. This one has the odor of retaliation.

  7. Submitted by Joe Musich on 09/23/2010 - 09:37 pm.

    I will miss Meersman in his role as reporter of envirnmental issues. My students will miss his reporting. He was honest and through. We are worse off for it. If we actually are a meritorcacy what is the reason he was transferred. ? See the new documentary “Troubled Media.”

  8. Submitted by Susan Peterson on 09/23/2010 - 10:26 pm.

    This “reassignment” is a travesty, and the newsroom execs ought to be ashamed of themselves. Tom is simply one of the best beat reporters at the paper and certainly one of the most respected environmental reporters in the nation. He handles breaking news and covers big complicated issues better than anyone. What a waste

  9. Submitted by Richard Parker on 09/24/2010 - 02:48 pm.

    So does Tom tweet? Maybe not, and that’s the problem.

  10. Submitted by Rod Loper on 09/30/2010 - 08:59 am.

    His excellent series on lakes and zoning pissed off the Pawlenty crowd who promptly ordered the DNR to redo the work from public hearings that supported it. The oligarchy has planted “minders”
    throughout media and government for years to control the environmental message. The best one was a vice president of the university. I still
    suspect Himle-Horner hasd a hand in these things.

  11. Submitted by Rod Loper on 10/02/2010 - 10:38 am.

    Tom Meersman also knows the history of mining
    industry promises near the BWCA. His article in
    today’s STRIB recounts the leaching from test pits
    near the area that the Minnesota Pollution Control
    Agency ignores.

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