The pending purchase of the Star Tribune by Mankato businessman and Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor is great news for Minnesota.
As one of the nation’s largest newspapers and the state’s dominant news source, the Star Tribune plays an outsized role in informing the public and setting the topics of civic discussion, both in the Twin Cities and statewide.
Though its news staff is much smaller than it was a few years ago, the Strib still has a big footprint. As a practicing PR professional, I can tell you firsthand that getting a story in the Star Tribune still matters a great deal to my clients. People notice its coverage.
Taylor’s public statements – and his business record – indicate that he views the purchase of the newspaper as a long-term investment. That’s a welcome change from the Strib’s recent ownership history: first by the McClatchy chain, which hounded managers relentlessly for ever-larger profit margins; then by Avista Capital Partners, a group of Wall Street sharks who looked for a quick, bottom-feeding buck but wound up losing millions.
There’s already been one key indication that Taylor knows what he’s doing: He’s retaining Mike Klingensmith, the Star Tribune’s publisher. When Klingensmith announced to the newsroom that he’d be staying, the room broke out in applause.
You can probably count on both hands the number of times a newsroom has applauded a publisher since Gutenberg invented movable type. But Klingensmith has led the paper out of bankruptcy and to profitability in an era that’s been disastrous for traditional news organizations.
Though Minnesota and the nation have many other news organizations – like the one you’re patronizing now – that provide excellent, in-depth coverage of important issues, newspapers and TV still employ 93 percent of the paid journalists in this country. That’s according to the Pew Research Center’s 2014 State of the Media report.
Yet the pie continues to shrink overall. U.S. newspapers employ only about 38,000 journalists – a figure that includes not only reporters, but also copy editors, photographers, web developers and so on. That’s down a third from its peak in the 1990s.
Digital news, while taking advertising dollars from newspapers and TV, still employs very few journalists. According to the Pew report, only 3 percent of the nation’s professional journalists are employed by digital news operations of more than four people. The digital news realm – with important exceptions like MinnPost — still consists mainly of aggregators and pundits, repurposing and opining on the news that was originally reported by traditional media.
That’s why the continued health of the Star Tribune is so important to Minnesota – at least for now. We may see a time in 10 or 20 years when large, profitable digital news organizations provide thorough, in-depth coverage of their communities. But that day hasn’t arrived yet.
For now, a strong newspaper is still the community’s greatest news resource. And Glen Taylor’s ownership of the Star Tribune is the best opportunity for Minnesota to keep its best news asset.