Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Changing of the Guard

Discouraging news on the mainstream media front. The replacements for Star Tribune metro columnists Nick Coleman and Katherine Kersten have been announced: Gail Rosenblum and John Tevlin.

Both are current employees of the Star Tribune (strike one). Ms. Rosenblum currently does the "relationships" column for the paper and is billed as offering a dramatic shift from the ideology of Katherine Kersten (strike two). And, (strike three?) Tevlin has been described as the following by some of the most aggressively partisan journalists in town.

Excerpts from Brian Lambert of MSP Magazine:

Tevlin, in my opinion one of the three or four best writers currently on staff, has a demonstrated facility with complex stories and a long history with the state and Twin Cities.

While not quite as much as with Nick Coleman, I regard Tevlin as a friend

"Other kids dreamed of being Fran Tarkenton when they grew up. I dreamed of being Jim Klobuchar," he said, in a quote that may haunt him the next time our media gang has drinks.

From David Brauer at MinnPost:

Tevlin is an old friend and I'm pretty psyched about his selection. An alt-weekly veteran, he's one of the Strib's best hard-news writers, a longtime local digger who knows the haunts and the backstories.

Tevlin is no shrinking violet, and no political eunuch, so folks worried that Strib columns will be attenuated that way probably have little to fear. If he speaks his mind, the Kersten crowd will get little satisfaction, but he's a champion of the underdog and a mocker of the arrogant more than a partisan hack.
Oh boy. "Champion of the underdog" is another way to say applying a filter on what is reported, making sure favorite protected classes are subjected to only flattering coverage, while political enemies are demonized. In other words, the same reporting you get from the likes of Coleman, Lambert, and Brauer. Not exactly the strategy I'd recommend for a foundering business trying to differentiate itself from its failed past and from its numerous competitors in the marketplace.

To be fair to Tevlin, Brauer and Lambert's assessments may be nothing more than wishful thinking. The archives of Fraters Libertas show this Star Tribune reporter showing up a couple of times. Once, when he was writing an article on the then vibrant social scene among right wing amateur opinion editorialists at Keegan. I described his output as "mostly accurate." And, as I recall, he seemed jolly and sociable, the type of guy you'd enjoy having a beer with.

However, a minor dispute did later arise regarding the accuracy of his reporting, from a local, angry, basement dweller.

Tevlin also appeared regarding a story about Star Tribune employee pilfering newspapers around the office, with this quote:

"The whole free newspaper-Romenesko leak issue is our version of the gay marriage debate," said Jon Tevlin, a staff writer. "We're deeply in debt, circulation is falling and profits are down 14 percent this quarter. So let's obsess about something that isn't really very significant."

My commentary from then still applies: "a reporter at the Star Tribune thinks that potentially changing the definition of marriage contrary to thousands of years legal precedent, without even allowing the people to vote on it, "isn't really very significant." For future context purposes, duly noted.

Ray of hope, Lambert tried to goad Tevlin into accepting the mantle of metro columnist partisan attack dog, and here was his response:

Well look, I know there is still a market for rage. I read it, and I hear it all the time on the radio. But it just isn't my thing. Even guys like (Jimmy) Breslin, who may have a reputation for it, really were best known for telling stories about the city. Breslin wasn't driven by rage.

If he indeed adopts this approach, it would be a good thing for the paper and the readership. There are a million stories out there in the naked city. Very few of the worthwhile ones can be found while wearing the self righteous "champion of the underdog" goggles. Plus, Lambert and Brauer will be thoroughly covering those anyway.

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