AS AN OBSESSIVE reader of the Star Tribune, Off Beat is often intrigued (and baffled) by the Newspaper of the Twin Cities' news judgment. Such was the case on January 10, when the paper posted a story at www.startribune.com about two off-duty Northwest Airlines pilots, arrested by Bloomington police for alcohol-related high jinks outside the Mall of America. Apparently the bust came after cops spotted the zany duo, um, whipping shitties in a rental car in the mall parking lot. (Technically, of course, there is no law against whipping shitties; the pilots were charged with open bottle, refusing a roadside breath test, and obstructing the legal process.) Interesting yarn, we thought. But a couple of hours after the story was posted, it mysteriously vanished--never to appear in the paper's hard copy. What gives, we wondered: Had the Strib succumbed to a complaint or threat from Northwest? Was the story inaccurate or flawed? Curious, we tracked down managing editor Pam Fine for an explanation. "The story didn't meet our news threshold," Fine explains. "When private citizens get arrested for alcohol-related incidents that don't do anybody bodily harm, we don't report on it." Fine says Northwest did complain to staffer Tony Kennedy, the reporter who wrote the article. But she insists the airline's public-relations concerns played no role in the decision to pull the story.
WHEN OFF BEAT last talked to Sandy Berman ("Berman Alleges Bibliocide," March 22, 2000), the former head cataloger for the Hennepin County Library was frothing about the disappearance of a half-dozen books by and about him from the catalog listings and shelves of the county library system. The disappearance took place after Berman clashed with HCL management, then opted for what he dubbed "forced retirement" in 1999 after 26 years with the library (see "Sandy Berman's Last Stand," July 14, 1999). In November the HCL finally mailed Berman a redacted copy of an independent investigative report: 27 pages that reference 18 interviews and 45 exhibits and includes 77 footnotes. The bottom line? Although the deletion of the library's bibliographic records appeared deliberate, "there is no way to know from the system who deleted the records." Berman's suspicions that HCL managers were to blame was dismissed. Berman's works largely deal with the ins, outs, and joys of library cataloging. And the author remains predictably unmollified by the HCL's findings. "They downplayed the whole affair from the beginning," scolds Berman. He has continued firing off letters to HCL, seeking a condemnation of what he dubs "biblio-Stalinism" and a promise that the library has taken steps to ensure it won't be repeated. But Thomas O'Neill, HCL's senior human-resources representative and recent Berman pen pal, says that as far as the library administration is concerned, the investigation closes the matter.
LAST YEAR CITY Pages chronicled the locally based American Hospitality Management Company's efforts to sell an Econo Lodge motel near the University of Minnesota online, via the eBay auction site ("The Virtual Realtor," May 17, 2000). Turns out their unique approach worked. The sale closed on August 31 of last year for $2.41 million, a shade less than the $2.5 million minimum bid that they had been seeking on www.eBay.com last spring. American Hospitality vice president and chief financial officer Vicki Richman tells Off Beat that a San Francisco-based family who shall remain nameless took the hook. Last week there were just over 700 real estate listings on eBay. While that's nothing when compared with the more than five million items currently up for bid, it's double the number of properties that were being offered via eBay when Richman first posted the Econo Lodge. The Web site now organizes its real estate listings into five different categories: commercial, residential, land, timeshares, and general. Off Beat found two current Minnesota properties up for bid on eBay: a house in Elmore, near the Iowa border (minimum bid sought: $12,999) and a 1920s brick house in Lake Park, near Moorhead. (In the latter case, the sale price was fixed at $37,900; bids were being taken on the down payment, which stood at more than $4,000.) For her part, Richman says eBay turned out to be a great way to do business: "It worked out very well. The people that I did hear from were all very serious."