Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Eyes on the Prize

We've been bannging the drum for the Star Tribune to take its self-appointed status as a "public trust" seriously and cover the big stories in its own back yard. The most prominent example of their neglect being the mysterious Flying Imam situation last fall. A story which drew national attention, had all sorts of loose ends and intriguing leads (including one lead provided by one if its own employees, miscast in a role not allowing him to pursue it), and which drew a disinterested shrug from the editors. To quote the Brokeback Mountain co-star's uncle who was then running the show:

I don't think the paper dropped this story, but I do think it had run its course. I would like to have seen a story delving into who these folks were, a good suggestion, but I don't think it's timely at this point. I think this is one of those stories that runs for a couple of days, then subsides. I gather you disagree, which is fine.

Flying Imams, I wish I could quit you! And Anders Gyllenhaal did. The unmistakable news instincts of a guy who thinks he's in charge of a virtual monopoly. You don't like the stories we chose to highlight, buy your own printing press pal. (Cue smug chortling).

This attitude appears to extend beyond our hometown public trust. The guy running the public trust in Tennessee had his own Flying Imam moment last week. Turns out the Nashville Tennessean had the story about Al Gore's mansion having the carbon footprint of Koch Refinery months ago, but they chose to do nothing with the story:

Tennessean editor Mark Silverman says the paper did indeed make the public information request back in January, after Gore's global warming film was nominated for an Academy Award on Jan. 23. He says the explanation for why the paper didn't use the information until after the Oscars has nothing to do with a pro-Gore agenda.

"It's very simple. We had other stuff. We got occupied by other stories," he says. "We requested the information right after he was nominated for the Oscars . . . It got put on the back burner simply because people were working on other stories."

Follow this link to see the kinds of vital stories they were forced to occupy themselves with instead.

What kinds of stories did the Star Tribune cover that were more timely and had more staying power than the Flying Imams? Well, how about this special reporting series, which seemed to have periodically occupied a front page position for about 6 months. As described by the Society of Professional Journalists:

Reporter Sharon Schmickle, photographer Jerry Holt and online producer Regina McCombs led a team of more than a dozen Minneapolis Star Tribune journalists who created an amazing package about the hundreds and perhaps thousands of Liberians refugees living in Minnesota. "A People Torn" describes how these men, women and children face deportation from the U.S. after escaping their country's brutal civil war.

Anyone at all in the Twin Cities actually read this series? Anyone? Anyone?

Moral of the story, if those Imams could have been framed as politically correct victims of the overly zealous US immigration authorities (?!?!), we'd have known more about them than their immediate families do.

Torn from today's headlines, I see the Flying Imams are back, by popular demand (at least demand from their legal advisors).

Six Muslim imams ordered off a US Airways flight at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport last November have filed a discrimination lawsuit against the airline and the Metropolitan Airports Commission, claiming they were removed from the plane because of their race and religion.

Get ready Star Tribune readers, now that the story is starting to fit the template, wall-to-wall coverage of their harrowing plight may be coming soon.

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