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A bylineless Tuesday at the Star Tribune

For the casual newsreader, your workaday journalist tends to be semi-anonymous; there’s a byline there, but it’s skimmed past to get to the story. Well, today at the Star Tribune, there isn’t even that. In protest of staff cutbacks at the paper, the Star Tribune Newspaper Guild has called for a byline strike, explaining in a press release that “In coming weeks, 29 copy editors, photographers, photo lab assistants, photo editors, wire and web editors, copy desk chiefs, news assistants and graphics technicians will leave the newspaper through buyouts and layoffs.”

If reporters labor in obscurity, these behind-the-scenes employees are, to outsiders, a bit like cobbler’s leprechauns — we never see or hear of them, but, every morning, there work is done, and we have the shoes to prove it. Craig Silverman, writing for the Columbia Journalism Review, makes the case that these editorial wee folk are necessary in maintaining the quality of a newspaper, and if you’re just going to get rid of them, you need to put in place a new system to retain that quality. So what is the Strib’s plan?

In a memo reprinted by David Brauer, the scheme seems to be that reporters take greater care with their stories, doing things like, oh, running spellcheck on it. It boggles the mind to think that the employers at the Strib pretty much think the function of dozens of editorial professions boils down to being nothing more than a very expensive version of Spellcheck; perhaps it is in protest of this that the Newspaper Guild’s press release has one very obvious typo in it: Speaking of the outgoing employees, the release says “Together, they represent xxx years of service to the Star Tribune.” Spellcheck doesn’t flag xxx, by the way, perhaps thinking it refers to a Vin Diesel movie.

Spellcheck isn’t great with names either, especially if they are unusual or have a nonstandard spelling. Two examples: Arlen Specter and Michele Bachmann. So when Specter apologized to Bachmann Monday for telling her to act like a lady, as reported on, without careful editorial oversight, a newspaper might end up looking like the comments that follow the post, which includes the following spellings: Spector, Michelle, and Bachman.

While we’re on the topic of Bachmann, Wednesday is going to be an awfully exciting day for her: She’s planning to make her own health care policy announcement just hours before Obama’s State of the Union address, as reported by MinnPost’s Derek Wallbank. She has titled it the “Declaration of Health Care Independence.” The contents of her announcement have been embargoed until she speaks, but Politico’s Glenn Thrush was leaked a version, and he doesn’t see much worth reporting: “The document turns out to be less than specific — mostly a litany of Bachmann’s favorite pledges to fight socialized medicine and uphold the Constitution.”

While she’s got a few things to say about health care (especially abortion, which her declaration specifically prohibits, and against which she rallied at the Capitol steps last week), when asked as to whether or not corporation should be legally understood as having the same rights as people, Chris Stellar of the Minnesota Independent reports that she was strangely quiet. (The Uptake has the video).

As you’re probably aware, the subject has come up because the Supreme Court recently overturned limits on corporate contributions to political campaigns, arguing that, if corporations are basically people, contribution limits abridge their freedom of speech, if we understood it correctly. This decision has Keith Olbermann foaming with apocalyptic visions of a near-future in which all governance is done by proxy by billion-dollar corporations  and has President Obama himself declaring that “This ruling strikes at our democracy itself.” Bachmann will certainly have an opinion on this sooner or later, but it’s hard to know what that opinion will be. Generally, if Obama and Olbermann are agin’ it, she’d be for it, but she fashions herself a populist and there may well be a populist groundswell against this. But, then, she also stands to gain a lot of corporate donations. What a quandary!

Oh, corporations! KBR, a former subsidiary of Halliburton, is the company whose employee, Jamie Leigh, was reportedly gang raped by other employees in Iraq. Leigh was contractually obligated to pursue arbitration, and it was her fight to get the case into a public courtroom that inspired Al Franken to create an amendment to 2010 Defense Appropriations that would prohibit using companies that force arbitration in these cases. Well, KBR isn’t happy, and is doing what it can to stay out of court; right now, according to a story on AlterNet, they’re calling Leigh a liar. “Many, if not all, of her allegations against the KBR Defenndants (sic) are demonstrably false,” lawyers for KBR argue in their attempt to overturn the decision by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals allowing her a civil case. Gosh, you know where a great place would be to demonstrate her falsehoods? In court.

In a story by “A Star Tribune Staff Writer,the Strib looks at how the new Twins stadium might revitalize downtown — especially the long-struggling Block E. Interestingly, they have titled the story “Is it comeback time for Minneapolis’ Block E.” That’s the sort of thing an editor should have caught, because the title is a logical fallacy — specifically, petitio principii, better known as “begging the question.” How so? Well, a begged question is a a proposition that requires proof is assumed without proof, as Wikipedia describes it. In this instance, the assumption is that Block E has something to come back to. We love that ragged little corner of downtown Minneapolis, but there have never been good times for Block E, unless you were a lover of dive bars, Shinders, and punk shows. To put it another way: If the Washington Generals were to win a game against the Harlem Globetrotters, would you call that a comeback?

But perhaps it’s a bit too early to think about baseball and its effect on Minneapolis; not while we’re still in an advanced case of football doldrums — Paul Douglas, writing for MinnPost, describes post-Sunday Minnesota as being in a state of funereal mourning: “Black armbands, flags at half-staff, knots of (sad-looking) friends and colleagues speaking in hushed tones. Minnesota is still undergoing Vikings-trauma. We’ve all fallen —and we can’t get up.” WCCO’s Darcy Pohland puts it bluntly: It’s hard to root for the Vikings.

According to her cohort at WCCO, Pat Kessler, none of this is affecting the Vikings in their agitation for a new stadium. “They will push the project as economic development in a tough economy’ that it will create thousands of jobs,” according to Kessler in a sentence that probably read better aloud than it does on the page, with a single misplaced apostrophe just floating in the middle there.

Spellcheck doesn’t catch those either.

Comments (12)

  1. Submitted by Tim Walker on 01/26/2010 - 10:33 am.

    A a former copy editor at a major Twin Cities newspaper, I decry the recent moves at the PiPress and STrib to cut these behind-the-scenes folks.

    So, I applaud the efforts of the good folks at MinnPost who are keeping us all informed of this disturbing trend. And kudos, MinnPost, for also taking well-deserved jabs at the management types at these papers doing this wrong-headed downsizing.

    However, now that the MinnPost “business model is working” (as reported on this Web site), maybe MinnPost could hire a few copy editors?


    (No, not me. This former cobbler’s leprechaun-like person has moved on from that gig.)

  2. Submitted by Karl Bremer on 01/26/2010 - 11:16 am.

    Without copy editors, you end up with usage like this:

    “If reporters labor in obscurity, these behind-the-scenes employees are, to outsiders, a bit like cobbler’s leprechauns — we never see or hear of them, but, every morning, there work is done, and we have the shoes to prove it.”

  3. Submitted by Mick garry on 01/26/2010 - 11:20 am.

    Very clever in context with the cobbler’s leprechauns/copy editor metaphor: “…we never see or hear of them, but, every morning, there work is done…”

  4. Submitted by Max Sparber on 01/26/2010 - 12:33 pm.

    Hey, it got through speallcheck just fine.

  5. Submitted by Max Sparber on 01/26/2010 - 12:34 pm.

    Speallcheck, in the meanwhile, didn’t.

  6. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 01/26/2010 - 12:38 pm.

    As any high school English teacher can tell you, a large proportion of students never learn the difference between, and proper usage of “their,” “there,” and “they’re.”

    No doubt, even here at Minnpost, there are a few readers who have been scratching their heads about what the problem with the laboring in obscurity section of this article might be.

    Of course now that what they read in the newspapers won’t even be correct, such grammatical ignorance will become even more common.

  7. Submitted by dan buechler on 01/26/2010 - 02:14 pm.

    You’re all cracked youze guys. Never a word of sympathy for anyone outside the newsroom. If they can keep current journalism alive and make a 5% return more power to them.

  8. Submitted by Richard Parker on 01/26/2010 - 02:50 pm.

    Congratulations and thanks for trying to explain the real meaning of “begging the question.” Can’t tell you how many times, while working at the Strib cobblers’ bench, I changed “begs the question” to “raises the question” even in the best writers’ copy, when the latter was what the writer meant and no logical fallacy was involved. It’s another incorrect catch phrase that has crept into accepted use, like “I could care less,” and with nitpicking copy editors becoming extinct, our language is likely to continue to corrode.

    Unfortunately, I found it kind of hard to follow part of the explanation. I think this begs the question of whether someone gave the copy a careful read:

    “How so? Well, a begged question is a a proposition that requires proof is assumed without proof…”

  9. Submitted by Max Sparber on 01/26/2010 - 03:23 pm.

    The double a in a sentence is a traditional rhetorical technique used to …

    Oh man. Why even pretend? It was a cut and paste error.

  10. Submitted by Bob Alberti on 01/26/2010 - 11:38 pm.

    How about just an ACTUAL strike instead of a byline strike?

  11. Submitted by Steven Liesch on 01/29/2010 - 03:45 am.

    If it were not for copy editors,spell-check would kill perfectly spelled words like harbour,colour,etc.The youngsters that write the programs have no love of language or sense of history.

    Just try running Beowulf in Middle English at a spell-checker.

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