Add Star Tribune state Capitol reporter Eric Roper to the list of Minnesotans held hostage by the shutdown.
Whenever the standoff ends, Roper will join the Strib’s Minneapolis reporting team, beefing up the unit years after the paper cut back in a headlong rush to the suburbs.
At the dawn of the last decade, the Strib had Rochelle Olson prowling City Hall and Steve Brandt covering news that bubbled up from the parks and neighborhoods. It was a high-water mark for news junkies in the state’s largest city, but the Strib halved the team as it redeployed staff toward the booming suburbs.
At the time, editors explained that’s where most readers lived — objectively true, and a point that fit nicely into a subscriber push in the metro’s fastest-growing areas. More quietly, some Strib brass argued that the staff was overrepresented with central-city residents, engendering a snobbery that distorted the geographic coverage balance.
The Minneapolisphiles — and as a resident, I’ve always been one — argued that the city has resonance far beyond its population, given the hundreds of thousands of non-residents who work and recreate here, plus the race/class divides that prove harbingers of many suburban futures.
Without ditching the suburban strategy, Strib managers have decided to more fully embrace the latter view.
Says managing editor Rene Sanchez, “I think we owe our readers even stronger Minneapolis coverage. The plan is to be more aggressive on a range of city issues — to cover the news, but also to step back more often and write deeper pieces.”
Brandt, who now covers City Hall, and Roper, a personable but dogged young reporter, will tag-team City Hall and venture beyond it, one covering daily government stuff while the other does deeper dives. The other Minneapolis team members are cops reporter Matt McKinney, schools reporter Corey Mitchell, and general assignment/investigative reporter Randy Furst (who also writes for the paper’s Whistleblower unit).
Management also swapped out the team’s editor. Larry Oakes, one of the Strib’s best writers dragooned from northern Minnesota two years ago, will return to a regional-unit writing role. In his place: James Shiffer, who is such a Minneapolisophile he’s explored the city’s journalism and criminal past.
Sanchez, who has at times lamented that the metro section has too much spot crime, is adamant the new structure is not intended to put more siren-chasing in the paper’s pages. “It’s one thing to cover public safety incidents; it’s another to cover the police chief and his agenda,” he says. “It’s one thing to cover meetings; it’s another to probe city spending. We can and should do both, every week.”
Roper is one of the key contributors to the Strib’s Hot Dish Politics blog and attendant videos; his arrival may signal a Minneapolis version. Sanchez says only, “We also intend to bring more digital muscle to our Minneapolis coverage; readers will see some new steps by September.”
The Strib does not plan to reduce its state Capitol team; Sanchez says Roper’s position will be filled. Shiffer will continue to edit Whistleblower coverage, but has given up writing responsibilities there.