Not Dead Yet

Finally, some good news for local media: a contract at the Pioneer Press

When union negotiations began at the Pioneer Press earlier this year, the newspaper's parent company, MediaNews, presented a list of 24 proposed revisions to the labor contract that ranged from onerous (instituting a two-tier wage system that would have allowed new hires to be paid considerably less) to the picayune (cuts in mileage re-imbursement).

In a tentative four-year contract agreement announced last week following three days of intense negotiations, the union was able to fend off 15 of the proposed changes. The 340-member bargaining unit also secured 2 percent raises each of the next two years, with a 3 percent pay hike in 2010. Best of all, the union won a guarantee that no layoffs will occur before the end of 2008.

But the union did make significant concessions. It agreed to a pension freeze, substantial changes to health coverage, and a vacation giveback that would save MediaNews $1 million.

Union members will vote on the proposed contract this week.

"I think everybody is aware we could have faced a real storm had we not taken this," says Alex Friedrich, a reporter who took part in the bargaining sessions. "We take some huge hits, but it could have been much worse." Paul Demko


Spank you very much

Minneapolis is abuzz with talk of school reform—but only one person is talking about reform school. You'll find that person over at Craig's List under the heading "BRITISH SCHOOL ROLE-PLAY!!!"

The post's author claims to be the "Headmaster's Secretary" at fictional St. Benedict's Academy in Minneapolis. The Secretary writes: "I have been to a few role-play schools in England and they are shocked that we have none here!"

The Secretary is looking for people "who want to experience a day in the life of British school in the 1950s." But don't expect to graduate with a degree; St. Benedicts is for "spanking enthusiasts." — Jeff Severns Guntzel


Surgeon General's Warning

On July 9, 2006, at roughly 4:00 a.m., Inver Grove Heights police were dispatched to the PDQ convenience store on reports of a burglary. Upon arriving at the scene, officers discovered a shattered glass door and two trash cans littering the parking lot.

The officers discovered that $3,565 worth of cigarettes had been stolen. Officers also noted, however, a half-smoked cigarette butt on the store's countertop.

The butt was dispatched for DNA analysis. It came back a match for Calvin Dushawn Murray Bell, according to court records. Last week, the 26-year-old was charged with one count of burglary and two counts of criminal stupidity. —Paul Demko


Setback for St. Olaf

This summer, we reported on fallout from the sale of WCAL, St. Olaf College's longtime classical music station, which MPR bought for $10.5 million and turned into the Current (A Trust Betrayed, 6/13/07). St. Olaf College wants to transfer money donated to the defunct WCAL into the school's general fund.

Last week, Rice County Judge Gerald Wolf dealt the school a significant blow. He appointed a retired judge to investigate the school's handling of assets linked to WCAL. The newly appointed investigator will trace the cash and determine if administrators did anything improper.

"We're thrilled about it," said Ruth Sylte, president of SaveWCAL.

The school downplayed the significance of the ruling. "I wouldn't say we're disappointed," said Janet Thompson, associate vice president of St. Olaf. "We're eager to move forward." Jonathan Kaminsky


Defensive Zone

Let me begin by saying that it's good to know my previous pleas for reader responses have not gone unheeded. I asked for feedback, and you came through like disgruntled champions. On Sunday, I returned home to find my voicemail flooded with calls from irate readers. It appears many of you are upset with our decision to divide the Twin Cities metro area into four zones. (As Strib editor Nancy Barnes announced on October 7, the four zones will bolster our coverage of outlying suburbs.)

Some of you bemoaned the decision as a calculated attempt to pander to more affluent markets, thereby increasing our revenue. Others speculated that the move would turn attention away from concerns of the inner city and poorer neighborhoods.

Many of you also complained that the increased coverage of levy referendums in the Westonka school district might translate to less national and international news coverage. Well, you're factually right, but you're interpretation needs a little fine-tuning.

"It is true that we put such news on the front page less often than we did 10 years ago," Barnes wrote in her October 7 announcement. "But that's because we think readers have seen and heard it lots of other places in the era of 24-hour news."

Barnes is right. The 24-hour news era has indeed wrought a Golden Age of mass media: The fare offered by countless newschannels clearly produces the most comprehensive and in-depth soundbites that any citizen-consumer could ask for.

As for us, we promise to bring you the kind community-based journalism that our advertisers crave. Take our recent story in the Twin Cities West section about the Eden Prairie City Council reducing the rent in a historic building to keep a popular-yet-struggling Dunn Bros. coffee shop from going under. The headline says it all: "Bean Counting."

 
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