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Is there anything to that rumor about Charley Walters and the Star Tribune?

I’m not usually big on rumors, but last Friday brought an interesting one; former Star Tribune sports reporter John Millea tweeting that Pioneer Press sports columnist Charley “Shooter” Walters could be “moving across the river” to the Strib. A subsequent tweet noted “Non-compete keeps Shooter off the grid for 12 months.”

Millea, who now works for the Minnesota High School League, is a respected enough guy that several newsies were immediately in my in-box urging me to check it out. Awaiting Walters’ callback, I talked to Pioneer Press editor Thom Fladung, who said he’d heard nothing about such a move — and had in the other cases where staffers moved west. Fladung’s verdict rhymed with “fullsnit.”

Subsequently, a knowledgeable source contributed an interesting bit of evidence that, in part, seemed to back up both Fladung and Millea. Shooter does have a contract with a 12-month non-compete. The deal does prevent him from going anywhere until late 2011.

Pioneer Press publisher Guy Gilmore declined to comment, and I didn’t hear back from Strib major domos, but Walters was more open. He acknowledged he was “bound” to the Pioneer Press, insisting that he was “totally committed” to the paper.

“I love St. Paul, I want to stay in St. Paul,” he stated.

Of Millea’s chatter, Walters said, “I don’t think there’s anything to it.”

He expanded on that tiny whiff of vagueness when I asked if he’d talked with the Strib. He said he had “not initiated” conversations with the Minneapolis paper — leaving hanging the implication that they had called him. He added “who knows what will happen?” to newspapers in these uncertain and Internet-disrupted times. “I want to work another seven to 10 years,” said the 63-year-old.

Even if Walters kept writing for another decade, he’d still be a spring chicken compared to Sid Hartman, now 90. Walters and Hartman are great notes-columnist rivals — they often tweak each other in print, though they avoid mentioning each other’s name. Presumably, Walters would eventually replace Hartman; his hire could also be part of the Strib’s latest push to gain readers in the Pioneer Press’s east-suburban base.

It’s also possible, frankly, that the loose talk is designed to give Walters more leverage going into his next contract negotiation. If I have Walters’ current deal right, he signed it in 2004 — before a bad economy totally swamped debt-ridden newspapers — and negotiated with then-owner Knight-Ridder, a country-club operation compared to the tight-fisted current overseer, Media News Group.

This all raises the fundamental question of how important notes columnists really are. As I wrote last week, sports is a big driver of readership. But Hartman — once a truly influential scoop-getter whose power-shilling made him the reporter we youngsters loved to hate — is no longer a must-read.

Fladung says Shooter is one of the PiPress’s most recognizable faces, even though Walters eschews TV and radio that have made Sid a household name. Still: would the needle move enough for either paper to offer any writer a new contract in these fraught times? At this point, we can’t assume anything is even happening, but I suspect 2011 will bring some sort of resolution.

Comments (10)

  1. Submitted by Bruce Adomeit on 11/30/2010 - 01:42 pm.

    Here’s hoping that Shooter’s non-compete clause won’t keep him from writing for Minnpost….

  2. Submitted by James Blum on 11/30/2010 - 04:15 pm.

    Ugh, this would be a dumb hire for the Strib. First, this particular genre (sports notes) is being/has been superseded by more immediate sources (i.e., internet aggregators). Second, Walters’ reputation precedes him, so I don’t think he’d boost the Strib readership one iota. In fact, hiring him might just hasten the decline. Third, if you feel strongly about having a sports notes column, go get someone who’s about 25, hungry and web-savvy, NOT a 63-year-old with a track record of pulling “scoops” out of his poopshoot.

    In other words, is the Strib a better paper with Walters or without him? My vote is “without.”

  3. Submitted by David Hanners on 11/30/2010 - 05:12 pm.

    I really can’t sit idly by while someone who doesn’t know Charley disses him. I don’t know what Mr. Blum’s beef is with Walters, but I can assure Mr. Blum that in-house, Charley is viewed as a valued and trusted colleague who, more often than not, has scooped the competition.

  4. Submitted by Mark Heuring on 11/30/2010 - 08:59 pm.

    I don’t see it happening, unless Sid is leaving and it appears he’s going to outlive us all.

  5. Submitted by Patrick Steele on 12/01/2010 - 08:38 am.

    Au contraire, Mr. Brauer, Hartman’s column is a must read for anyone who understands his brand of comedy.

  6. Submitted by James Blum on 12/01/2010 - 02:09 pm.

    Mr. Hanners: I’m sure Charley Walters has friends inside his place of employment. As for why I may have “dissed” him, I’ll let his words do the talking:

    Don’t Print That! “Word is the University of Minnesota is finding its search for a football coach harder than was anticipated.” (today, 12/1/10)

    Scoop! “Vikings headed for 5-11 season; team could buy out remainder of Favre’s contract” (uh, sure, 11/22/10)

    Scoop! “You can expect the No. 15-ranked Gophers men’s basketball team to be 12-0 when it begins its Big Ten season at Wisconsin on Dec. 28.” (a few of us had this hope — but only one of us got paid to have it printed in a newspaper! 11/23/10)

    I could do this all day …

  7. Submitted by David Hanners on 12/02/2010 - 09:23 am.

    Well, actually, you couldn’t keep doing it all day. What Walters does is not easy. Everybody thinks writing a regular column is easy until they have to actually do it. It is hard work. Until you’ve tried it, any criticism you have of someone who does it rings hollow.

    But, in that vein, I’m sure there are plenty of local TV weathermen and women who get their forecasts wrong that you could go after. You *could* do that all day, if that’s how you want to spend your time.

  8. Submitted by James Blum on 12/02/2010 - 02:12 pm.

    Mr. Hanners: Now you’re just being goofy. Do I have to have directed a Hollywood film to have an opinion about Harry Potter and put it in writing in the comments of a blog? Or would that “ring hollow?”

    If I can’t criticize Walters, who can? Who passes your purity test? Apparently, in Minneapolis, Walters’ critics would pretty much be limited to about 12 people under your rubric. Under that same logic, I’m guessing you don’t have much standing to criticize the play of any of our local professional sports teams … and I’m sure you’d never do that!

    Off topic but apropos to your last comment, I certainly do criticize local weather forecasters. I’m interested to know why, according to you, I “*could* do that all day” (despite the fact that I have never been a weather forecaster), but not criticize Charley “Poopshoot” Walters?

  9. Submitted by David Hanners on 12/03/2010 - 08:45 am.

    It’s impossible to take anyone seriously who appears to find glee in typing the word “Poopshoot” and means it as a pejorative against someone he’s never met and doesn’t know. But I do appreciate the laughs you have provided the rest of us, Mr. Blum.

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