After an exhaustive two-year study, the shocking truth is revealed: People don't trust the press

Not surprisingly, McGuire insists his reporters are anything but aloof, and are not separated from their source base. But others, including Strib columnist Doug Grow and business reporter Terry Fiedler, believe their paper is a work in progress. Like many of their colleagues, they want the Strib's rank and file to ask tougher questions, dig deeper for the truth, and keep in mind the age-old adage to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. This view, while critical of the status quo and revolutionary at a paper infamous for throwing softballs, runs contrary to the mind-set of those behind the Twin Cities Project on Media and the Public--business and community leaders who seem to prefer feel-good features over thorough investigations.

"Specifically, [the project's] conclusions about business are laughable. If anything we need to be tougher," Fiedler says. "We have to be more skeptical, get people to tell us what's going on, and get independent verification. That's what makes for 'positive' stories. Even if it's uncomfortable. Our job isn't to promote business. It's to help investors and taxpayers understand where their money is going and how it's being used."

Tevlin agrees. "It's much more dangerous for our readers to be exposed to overly positive coverage versus some vague notion of negative coverage--especially when it comes to public companies. We've done positive features about a public company and a week later their stock crashes through the floor. Then we get calls from people who say they went broke because they read our story."

Susan George

The size of the schism between critics like Johnson and those who view the Strib as too easy on the business community isn't lost on McGuire. "Look, on one side you have these folks who say we're too aggressive, too cynical," he says. "On the other side, you guys [City Pages] are kicking my ass because I'm not hard enough. That's just the nature of working at a big-city daily. I'm aiming for balance. I believe our job is to stimulate debate in this community."

Ultimately, Johnson and Moss say, such a debate is exactly what the sponsors of the Twin Cities Project on Media and the Public had hoped to inspire. The level and length of those deliberations, however, will remain limited until there's more to bring to the table than a dated, poorly sourced study and the entirely unsurprising conclusion that in these days of concocted attributions and fabricated stories, the public isn't enamored with its media.

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