Back in town and catching up on the news, I was surprised to read Michael Brodkorb’s final blog post for the Star Tribune. It was my humble opinion that the once fiery and controversial Republican operative was doing a particularly good job with his eight-to-ten-posts-a-month gig for the paper, considering the modest compensation. Besides a steady stream of “heads up” political items and the like, he had clearly gone the extra mile covering the bizarre case of the disappearance of the two Lakeville teenagers, Samantha and Gianna Rucki. So why not keep him on?
On the phone, Brodkorb, who by all appearances is something of a changed man since his “troubles” four years ago, was as effusive in his gratitude to the Strib as he was in print. The original offer to contribute to the paper’s mostly online “Your Voices” section came at a moment when his reputation needed restorative therapy, and he grabbed it.
“It was never meant to be a forever thing,” he said. “It was an experiment and it was ending. I knew back in April it was going to end, and the paper allowed me to continue doing what I wanted to do right to the end, including that last post. I truly am grateful for the opportunity.”
Duly noted. But the thing that’s curious is that like most mainstream dailies, the Strib tacitly accepts that it has an imbalance of ideological tone, i.e. plenty of socially liberal reporters and editors and not so many conservative-minded writers who can reliably deliver. Given that, you’d think Brodkorb would have been someone they’d find a role for, somewhere.
Talking to Terry Sauer, Strib’s assistant managing editor for digital and the man who extended the offer to Brodkorb in the first place, I was assured that the paper was as pleased with how it worked out as Brodkorb was. “‘Your Voices’ had simply run its course,” said Sauer. “We originally reached out to Michael as a way to offer some balance with a more liberal blogger we had recruited [Mark Andrew, former Hennepin County commissioner]. As it turned out, Mark left before Michael came on board. But Michael threw himself into it nonetheless. We couldn’t have asked for more, and while we do pay, it isn’t a great deal of money, hundreds of dollars a month.”
Besides the struggle to recruit contributors, Sauer says there was also the problem of getting them to produce. “It had been kind of flagging,” says Sauer of the “Your Voices” concept. Of the original “Voices,” only Brodkorb and “The Home Inspector,” Reuben Saltzman, remained. Saltzman, who Sauer says was far and away the most popular of the bloggers, will continue on in the paper’s Home & Garden section.
Essentially, the money and editing energy involved in operating “Your Voices” has been replaced by the more writerly “10,000 Takes,” an essay format featuring local writers curated by Christy DeSmith. It’s an interesting concept, and some of the pieces are remarkably well-written. But the focus of most is more personal than news-driven.
“We’re pleased with how it’s working,” said Sauer. “There really have been very few clunkers in the bunch.” (Only a very few “10,000 Takes” are unsolicited. Generally, DeSmith approaches writers she knows or has heard of, encouraging them to contribute.)
If you’re wondering, Sauer says the paper’s current contract with the Newspaper Guild, the union that represents the paper’s reporters, permits this quantity of use of freelance material. (Not so long back there was a fairly strict rule about the length of time/amount of work a paper could pull out of a freelancer before it was required to either hire them or cut them loose.)
The other thing I always wondered about is how the Strib’s internal culture responded to Brodkorb. There is a mindset among some reporters that they have achieved a kind of sainthood, a petit pantheon, reserved for only the most talented and tested few. Outliers, especially someone with Brodkorb’s shall we say, “colorful” resume, are not readily embraced. It’s another way of saying there have been cases where intramural territorial wars have flared and stymied people coming in from unorthodox career tracks.
But we are in unorthodox times, or certainly times where orthodoxy is under heavy assault. Brodkorb may not have been the most polished writer (while he insists his fevered partisan days are behind him, were I his editor I would have encouraged him to cut loose a little more, to have more fun with his posts), but what media outlet has too much staff with the kind of institutional knowledge of local politics that Brodkorb has?
Sauer understands all that. “It really is all about us moving in another direction with the budget we’ve got,” he said. “Michael’s a quality person. He worked hard at what he did for us, and I hope there’s other media in town who’ll give him a look. In fact, I told him to please use me as a reference.”
If you’re reading this before noon Tuesday, or at least before roughly 6 p.m., you might want to celebrate Bob Dylan’s 75th birthday by tuning into The Current’s local live stream. Starting at noon, the local stream will run 75 consecutive Dylan classics. (Come on, they’re all classics!)
Says MPR spokeswoman Jen Keavy: “Bill DeVille curated the program and will host it, as well. It’s not chronological or alphabetical or anything like that, just 75 awesome Dylan songs. We estimated that the program would run 12-6 pm, but it’s probably going to run long. There will also be [one] Dylan song per hour on [terrestrial version of] The Current.”