Star Tribune asks guv candidates for mental health records

Amid layoffs and a new publisher, the paper finally hits bottom

The daily newspaper of Minneapolis has sent gubernatorial candidates an email asking them to disclose their mental health records as well as any past treatment for the use of drugs or alcohol.

The email from the Star Tribune ominously promises that even "the absence of a response" is likely to be used in a future news story. Translation: If you don't respond to our prying survey, everybody is going to assume you're a heroin junkie, so 'fess up with the Alcoholics Anonymous already.

"Following up on the recent published remarks by former Sen. Mark Dayton about his treatment for depression and alcohol abuse, the Star Tribune is asking each candidate for governor whether he or she has ever received therapy or treatment of any kind for use of alcohol or prescription or non-prescription drugs, or for depression or anxiety," the email reads. "The response—or the absence of a response—will likely be used in a future news story."

The Strib also got a new publisher: Mike Klingensmith, a Fridley kid who once drove a cab in the Twin Cities before heading for the bright lights of New York City. He brings with him two decades of media business experience at Time, Inc., as well as a more recent specialty: media mergers and acquisitions.

Klingensmith joins the paper after its recent emergence from bankruptcy, a series of layoffs, an ongoing struggle to find new footing in a fragmented media marketplace, and the departure of its last publisher, Chris Harte, in the fall.

Job number one upon his return to Minnesota: end the Star Tribune's dismal revenue picture. One way he plans to do that, it seems, will be to start charging web users for access to the Star Tribune's site.

"I think that the consumers so far have been enjoying somewhat of a free ride," Klingensmith told MPR News Q. "I've never particularly seen the logic of charging readers for information that you then subsequently just post for free on the internet, so we're going to look at that."

Although it has emerged from bankruptcy, the Star Tribune apparently isn't finished restructuring.

First came news of the loss of high-profile editor Christine Ledbetter, a marquee hire from Chicago who was brought in to bolster the features desk in May 2007. At the time, her hiring was viewed as a rare bright spot in an otherwise dismal month of layoffs, but she had no illusions about what she was walking into.

"It's a troubled time to go to Minneapolis," Ledbetter said via cell phone on the eve of her arrival. "But I've sort of been through this at the Sun-Times, and I know how to get through it, and I'm confident that we'll do that."

Then came a memo announcing up to 30 more layoffs, up to 18 of them copy editors. To make up for the loss of manpower, the memo mandated that reporters use a spellchecker, which brought a rejoinder from the Columbia Journalism Review, a national media watchdog.

"Asking reporters to use a spellchecker is not a path to accuracy," wrote Craig Silverman. "It would be a stretch to call them Band-Aid solutions." 

 
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