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The Star Tribune’s op-ed lineup turns rightward

Last month, news broke that the Star Tribune opinion section would cut back Sunday columnists Katherine Kersten and Nick Coleman from weekly to twice monthly.

Last month, news broke that the Star Tribune opinion section would cut back Sunday columnists Katherine Kersten and Nick Coleman from weekly to twice monthly. Coleman, as predicted, gave up the gig.

This past Sunday, editorial page editor Scott Gillespie filled out his dance card: conservative Jason Lewis, also twice monthly; additional columns from conservative commentary editor Doug Tice; and a Saturday column from editorial writer John Rash, whose politics (to my eyes, anyway) aren’t worn on the sleeve. Guess we’ll see.

Gillespie, no doubt aware that he was adding two conservatives while losing Coleman, made sure to mention that Lori Sturdevant (who provides succor to liberals) was keeping her Sunday column.

Still, if you add up the regulars, the Strib’s local op-ed columnist line-up just got more conservative.

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How you feel about this (assuming you feel anything at all) likely depends on your ideology. Lefties can’t help seeing it as further right-wing tilt from the paper that endorsed Norm Coleman and Tom Horner. Conservatives — especially who embrace the “Red Star” rhetoric — will see it as a necessary, if inadequate, counterweight from the liberal media establishment.

Me, I see a hole: the sharp-elbowed lefty. Sturdevant is the model of institutional civility; Tice, similarly, works with a scalpel, not a switchblade. Meanwhile, Kersten is a full-throated culture warrior, while Lewis embraces the right-wing’s economic battle cry. Their counterweight? No one, regularly.

The Strib’s editorial section doesn’t need a senseless ranter, but it needs more passion and regular representation from that part of the progressive community that makes Strib editorialists nervous. A few of the reporter/analysts I regularly read: Karl Bremer on the right-wing political-religious money machine; Rob Levine on education; Mark Gisleson on media and culture; Ed Kohler on technology; Sally Jo Sorensen on non-metro politics.

I realize this is the dreaded “blogosphere,” but frankly, with Kersten and Lewis in the mix, that spirit is already on the page. I don’t know if any of these folks would want the gig, but as part of the bargain they’d have to be willing to take an edit. Ideally, a prominent platform and professional vetting would serve writers and readers well.

I don’t know if the examples I’ve mentioned would wear well. But they’re representative of a part of the conversation that, save for Coleman, doesn’t really happen on the Strib edit page.

Gillespie says, “I always ask readers to try to look at our pages over the course of any one week. If they do that, they’ll find a really broad variety of perspectives.”

Somewhat to my dismay, he suggests that national columns can fill local gaps: “The mix of syndicated columnists we use is really important, and the readers I hear from value a ‘sharp-elbowed’ syndicated piece as much or more than those pieces we publish from local writers either as commentary or columns.”

I don’t agree: syndicated columns have their place, but local perspectives in a local paper are more important. (The rest of the Strib seems to be embracing this.)

“I think we’ll do fine meeting readers’ sharp-elbow expectations for liberals and conservatives after these changes,” Gillespie says, “ but we’ll keep listening and react if necessary.”