When news spread on Thursday that George Mikan had died, it wasn't exactly a shock. Aside from the facts--that he was 80 years old, in ill health for years, and remembered only through grainy, silent black-and-white films--there's also a statue of the guy at Target Center. Once there's bronze in your image, you're as good as dust.
The only intrigue surrounding the passing was that the Star Tribune's quickie online post of Mikan's life and times bore the byline of Dan Barreiro, a former sports columnist who left the paper a year ago to throw all his energies into his evening gabfest on KFAN (AM 1130).
"No one was more surprised than me," Barreiro says. "It was definitely weird seeing it."
Turns out, perhaps not surprisingly, that the Strib had it in the can. The way Barreiro remembers it, there was a push by editors a few years back to get future notable obits cobbled together by staff writers on their beats. "I can't tell you the exact time or how long ago I wrote it," Barreiro says. "My assumption was that someone would rework it from mine and put their byline on it."
Which is almost what happened when the paper hit the streets on Friday morning: Michael Rand had indeed contributed fresh reporting to the newspaper's front-page remembrance, but Barreiro's name appeared first.
One could think this was a whiff of new honesty in the print media, and one would probably be wrong. Before the final product, Barreiro also noticed that the online version had a Scottsdale dateline, the Arizona city where Mikan lived and died. "I did call and tell them to remove the dateline," Barreiro says. "Don't put me in a position here where I'm in a place I'm not." (Barreiro, in fact, could be spotted in the press box at the Twins game Thursday afternoon.)
The surprise guest byline recalls the real byline snafu at the Newspaper of the Twin Cities, the one involving local weatherman Paul Douglas penning front-section stories for the paper. (These are different from his forecasts on the back page of the Metro section.) The newspaper guild--the union for the rank-and-file wretches--has cried foul, citing an agreement that apparently bars the use of "freelance experts." (The guild won an initial ruling, but Strib management has appealed.)
Barreiro, who is no longer in the union, feels there's nothing here that would inspire him to litigate. "I wrote it as a guild member," he says. "My assumption is that they can take anything I wrote for them and use it."
Besides, as Barreiro says, "There are worse bylines to have.... It's kinda neat; I'm gonna keep it as a piece of memorabilia," he says, before darkening slightly. "I'm not expecting a check."
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