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Strib stupid move: Dumping Kersten and Coleman

Getting rid of Katherine Kersten and Nick Coleman is wrong, stupid and kinda pitiful.

Obviously the Strib has to shed some payroll, Nick and Katherine make above average wages. So there’s that.

And obviously the whole newspaper industry is dying — pretty fast, too. (Take a peek at this chart of the stock price of the McClatchy Co. (which owned the Strib from 1998-2006) over the past three years. So there’s that. And maybe pretty soon it won’t matter in what order the deck chairs were thrown off the Titanic. So there’s that.

There’s still a lot of good, hard-working dedicated reporters at my old workplace. And reporting still matters. A lot. So firing more reporters and editors instead of Nick and Katherine isn’t an appealing option. So there’s that.

Being “interesting” isn’t enough to save the day. So there’s that. So I’ve almost talked my way out of my first sentence about how stupid it was to dump Katherine and Nick.

But here’s the deal. Being interesting isn’t enough, but being dull can’t possibly be the answer. If you’re going to do down anyway, go down trying to be interesting.

Coleman and Kersten were more likely than most to be interesting at least once a week or so, and controversial, which is a form of interesting. They stirred the pot. They made people mad. They didn’t play it safe.

Disclosure: I’ve known Coleman for 31 years; we were teammates on the old State Desk. (He was the glamorous Rochester Bureau.) Even then, before he was columnist, he was above-average interesting. We have a relationship of mutual sarcasm, but he is better at it, and funnier. I’ve known Kersten for 10 years. Met her on a bus in Israel where she was the only conservative and, sure enough, found a way to make all the liberals crazy mad. (It had to do with denying that Christians bear collective guilt for the Holocaust.) We are friends. I’ve horrified many acquaintances, when they were ranting against Kersten, by defending her work and the decision of the Strib to hire her.

When the editors decided to ban the columnists from writing about politics in the last days of the recent election campaign, it was obvious that they thought controversy was not interesting. They thought it was DANGEROUS.

Now this. Don’t just make them be dull. Make them be gone. Make everyone write in that same I-don’t-exist voice of the omniscient narrator (who knows all but won’t quite tell you the most interesting stuff he knows, because it might DANGEROUS).

Over at Powerline, Scott Johnson half agrees with  me. Dumping the Coleman column “strengthens the paper,” Johnson writes. But Kersten, by virtue of her conservatism, “speaks for many in Minnesota who now are voiceless in the mainstream media.”

I disagree with Johnson about what the paper hopes to accomplish. They are seeking safety, but they won’t find it this way.

Pardon the football analogy (by the way, I’m on the Tarvaris bandwagon) but this Strib decision feels like trying to run out the clock when you’re behind by three touchdowns.

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Comments (14)

  1. Submitted by Mike Vanderscheuren on 12/16/2008 - 10:11 am.

    In my past stint in the corporate cube farm, we had a saying, “You can’t shrink your way to greatness.” I’m not sure what the brain wizards at these entities have in mind for the end game, but they seem intent to die by a “thousand cuts” while all of us watch. It will be hugely sad to lose Coleman’s column.

  2. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 12/16/2008 - 10:53 am.

    Coleman is interesting the way it is interesting to watch someone with a .4 BAC drive the Indy 500.

    Who else is going to get caught tossing matches while shouting “Our schools are burning”?

    Who else is going to call Pope Benedict a Nazi, and then wax nostalgic about his Catholic school education?

    Who else is going to dodge pop cans thrown at him by would-be interviewees?

    Who else is going to defend his amphigory by simply declaring he “knows stuff”??

    And what other local writer can claim to have been immortalized by New York University professor of Journalism Jay Rosen:

    “A stupid piece of writing cannot become a genre classic unless it is aggressively stupid, or stupid with great purpose, high flourish, true style. I think everyone who clicked a link and read Coleman’s hit piece on bloggers saw it as a potential classic right away.”

    Yeah, we’re all gonna be sorry when we don’t have Nick to kick around anymore.

  3. Submitted by Ross Williams on 12/16/2008 - 11:10 am.

    I suspect the STRIB is asking a very basic question, what can it provide that people can’t get online.

    Being “interesting” isn’t enough. Coleman and Kersten may be celebrities, but they really aren’t that very different from dozens of online contributors including the ones at MinnPost. In fact, printed newspapers are really lousy places for that kind of commentary compared to the immediacy and interactivity of the web.

    Coleman and Kersten suffer from the newspaper style which assumes people can’t talk back in real time. They often noodle a column out of some limited facts while ignoring contradictory information. The result may be “interesting” to masochists of the opposite political persuasion, but for anyone looking to be informed they are pretty useless.

    In short, Coleman and Kersten are anachronisms. The only question is what parts of mainstream media that is not true of. The STRIB may eventually discover there is not enough to support an ongoing business that requires delivering newsprint to people.

  4. Submitted by Jeremy Powers on 12/16/2008 - 11:26 am.

    Katherine Kersten is the single worst journalist I have ever read. And there is no second place. She is an embarrassment to the Star Tribune every day she is published.

    As a former journalist, I understand what a column is supposed to be – an opinionated commentary on the day’s events. But to basically making up stuff, exaggerating what little facts she does have, taking quotes WILDLY out of context and to essentially regurgitate the worst part of American conservatism is neither interesting nor informative. It is controversy for the sake of controversy. You could have crazy ranting of a demented mind create controversy if that was your only point. She reads like the subject of the “Don’t Let This Happen To You” chapter in journalism 101.

    A case in point was when she was interviewed the outgoing Saint Paul cardinal with what amounted to being a tick-by-tick regurgitating of conservative Catholic views only to have the Cardinal write a letter to the Star Tribune essentially saying: “That’s not what I said.”

    All of her stuff is about the greatness of Christianity with no apologies for its centuries of abuses, school vouchers (Squawk! Polly wanna voucher!), the evils of non-Christian religion, the sanctity of Leave-It-To-Beaver family lifestyle, and the No-New-Taxes League, fronted by the other craziest person in the Twin Cities, Phil Krinkie.

    I stopped reading her and I stopped reading the letters to the editor she generates. If Kersten is a fine example of conservative thought in this country the only explanation for it could be that American conservatism is brain dead and on life support waiting for someone to pull the plug.

  5. Submitted by Brian Simon on 12/16/2008 - 12:08 pm.

    I somewhat agree with Ross Williams, to the point that if the Strib is asking what it can offer that is unique & interesting, Grow & Kersten are not ‘it’. There are good columnists out there, of both persuasions, who consistently write far better columns than Grow or Kersten. I’m a fairly voracious news consumer, but neither Grow nor Kersten have sparked my interest, or made me stop to think “I wonder what they wrote today.”

  6. Submitted by Brian Simon on 12/16/2008 - 12:09 pm.

    Whoops! Said Grow in my comment, but meant Nick C of the STrib, not Doug G of the Post… Duh.

  7. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 12/16/2008 - 12:36 pm.

    Call it a punt.
    Neither Coleman not Kersten are journalists; they’re commentators. One reads them not for information, but for interesting interpretations of news with which one may not agree, which is what makes it interesting.
    I don’t thing that the STrib has a business plan at this point beyond the Jonah principle — through everyone overboard so that the ship will survive for another day. But not for much longer….

  8. Submitted by Gail O'Hare on 12/16/2008 - 02:00 pm.

    You quote Scott Johnson who says Kersten: “speaks for many in Minnesota who now are voiceless in the mainstream media.” That’s a crock. Voiceless? We get so much right-tainted reporting – and selective reporting – that thorough, responsible journalism is a dim memory.

    As for Kersten, if she’s the best local conservatives can offer, they should be ashamed. She sees through a Catholic keyhole. She’s a zealot. Shes’ so predictable she’s boring.

    Coleman is another story, in that he’s broad-ranging and respects facts. It may be the Strib can’t afford two pricy opinion writers, but please don’t put Coleman in the same class with Kersten.

  9. Submitted by Ed Stych on 12/16/2008 - 02:28 pm.

    Eric, thanks for the most balanced report on this that I’ve read so far.

    As a recovering journalist who also happens to be a conservative, I’ll miss Katherine’s contribution to the Strib. Yes, this will force our family to take another look at the value of the Strib. Right now it’s pretty much the comics, the Isaac Asimov Super Quiz, and the coupons. I use the Strib website to read the local news, plus Joe, La Velle and Howard on the Twins.

    But that just leads to the obvious that none of us want to fully admit: The newspaper business model is broken. How long will it be before the Strib follows in the footsteps of the Detroit papers and delivers only three days a week? Some day our “daily” newspapers will be delivered only on Sundays. It’s sad, but inevitable.

    It’s a classic supply and demand issue. Way too much supply on the Internet. Even a truly great columnist like a Mike Royko couldn’t save ANY hard-copy version of a paper today. As long as a Royko is availabe on the Internet, why buy the paper just to read him?

    Mike’s been gone for 11 years now? I would have loved to have read his thoughts on the recent goings-on in Illinois!

  10. Submitted by Mike Haubrich on 12/16/2008 - 07:25 pm.

    I am going to join in with Jeremy here on the value of the Kersten columns. Good riddance. I am sure that she will find a home somewhere and Scott Johnson will once again be happy.

    Her columns were based on loose interpretations if miniscule facts and hardly any source for anything but predictable opinion.

    As to the newspaper model, there was a time not too long ago when I would wake up and head straight to the front door to grab the paper before I did anything else. For now, I am quite fine with firing up the old pc, hitting my feed reader and catching the news that way.

  11. Submitted by John E Iacono on 12/17/2008 - 03:52 pm.

    As the Strib gravitates more and more to a “one think” publication, it only becomes more and more irrelevant to many of its readers.

    While sympathetic to the dilemma in which print media find themselves in a philosophically divided country where whatever position you take will alienate half your potential readership, I do believe people would subscribe to a newspaper that could just keep the reporters opinions from slanting every article — EB excluded.

    The loss of EB was of greater import to me than the loss of either of these columnists, and went a long way to the decision we made after forty years:

    We had kept getting the Strib on Sundays for the TV Guide and the ads, but have now found it cheaper to get them from their competitor’s Sunday paper.

    And a trip to the store on Sunday morning has not been too high a price to pay.

  12. Submitted by Ted Snyder on 12/17/2008 - 06:32 pm.

    Good bye Kerstan! I can only second many of the thoughts already expressed concerning the quality of the reportage she brought to bear in her columns. Poor, second rate (or lower), would not earn a passing grade in high school journalism class. The Catholicism she represented –also meantioned above– was of a kind, she certainly did not represent the breadth of the Church’s social teaching, such as the option for the poor, the right to migrate, right to organize unions, etc. She was repeatedly and authoritatively contradicted by knowledgable sources on just about every important topic she addressed. No this adventure in affirmative action for conservagtives did not work out — there are many other conservative voices who would have done a much better job. Having a economic crisis is a graceful way to can Kerstan.

  13. Submitted by Eva Young on 12/17/2008 - 07:54 pm.

    Kersten’s columns generated letters because they were full of bigoted statements about “the homos” or “the muslims”. There are many much better conservative writers out there.

    I’m curious, Eric, what you think of Kersten’s habit of coming very close to copying the prose of others. Remember Conservative Reverb by Spotty at the Cucking Stool?

  14. Submitted by John E Iacono on 12/18/2008 - 11:48 am.

    To the folks here lambasting columnists with whom they disagree:

    One gets one’s own opinions, but one doesn’t get one’s own facts.

    I am dispirited to see so many half-truths, distortions, and even outright falsehoods in the comments being made on this topic.

    Please think twice and try to be sure statements made are the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. It will only enhance your comment’s credibility.

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