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The Star Tribune’s smart response to industry crisis

The smartest news organizations are focusing on enterprising coverage of their communities, and the Strib is doing that better than just about anyone.

The smartest news organizations are husbanding their reduced resources and deploying them for maximum impact with enterprising, high-profile coverage of their communities.
MinnPost photo by Corey Anderson

When my wife was working on a master’s in journalism at the University of Minnesota, her thesis argued that newspapers should have an independent local agenda.

Don’t try to be a newspaper of record, documenting all the day’s events as thoroughly as possible. Instead, select the most important topics and report on them in depth. And prioritize local coverage — news of your community — over national and international news.

Her faculty advisers recoiled at the notion. They made her throw out the thesis and start over.

Some 20 years later, the destructive power of the Internet has forced newspapers to do what my wife’s aborted thesis argued for. Every newspaper has less money and fewer people than it used to have.

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Meanwhile, industry pundits now tout the value of local news. National and international news are commodities, they say; survival for traditional media lies in giving the audience what it can’t get anywhere else.

Put it all together, and the smartest news organizations are husbanding their reduced resources and deploying them for maximum impact with enterprising, high-profile coverage of their communities.

Twin Cities readers are fortunate to have a newspaper doing that better than just about anyone. I was traveling recently and missed a week’s worth of Star Tribunes. Rather than putting them directly in the recycling pile on my return, I decided to play catch-up, looking at seven front pages to assess how the paper deployed its resources over the course of a typical week.

It was a pretty impressive showing. The paper ran 34 front-page stories during the week: five every day except Thursday, when 1A was opened up for a big package on the new pope.

During the week, the Strib ran 22 front-page stories focused on local and state news, and 12 that dealt with national and international topics. Thus the paper typically gives two-thirds of its front page to local news.

And the stories ranged widely, with a mix of news, analysis and investigation covering business, politics, demographics, crime and more. These weren’t stenography, either. Most were deeply reported, hard-hitting pieces that shed light on important issues.

The only quibble a regular reader might have would be the consistent lack of any light touch. The Strib’s front page is generally a pretty serious place. But with Lolcats just a click away, it’s hard to quarrel when the leading local news organization leans toward a high-minded approach.

This may not matter in the long run. The loyal newspaper audience is still graying and dying,  with young people getting their news from other sources. The glory days of market monopoly are gone forever, and digital revenue at newspapers won’t replace print revenue losses. News staffs probably will continue to shrink, forcing even tougher decisions on what the paper can cover.

But for now, readers of the Star Tribune should realize that they’re getting one of the nation’s best, deepest and most enterprising local news reports. Enjoy it while it lasts.