Get in There and Pitch

When it came to shilling for Governor Pawlenty's latest stadium initiative (see "The Old Ball Game"), I guess it shouldn't have come as a surprise that the editorial board at the Star Tribune would get a healthy jump on their peers at the Pioneer Press. After all, what was once a bona fide newspaper war between a scrappy, occasionally sensational David and a fat, happy Goliath has turned into such a lopsided affair that it's barely worth picking up both papers anymore. Still, those of us who still pine for a good old-fashioned border skirmish now and again thought this might be one of those times when the folks in St. Paul got up and took a legitimate swing.

They have the resources: The editorial board is one of the few departments at the PiPress that hasn't been completely demoralized or depleted of top talent. They have the experience: During Norm Coleman's eight years as mayor, the paper pitched its readers on a publicly funded hockey stadium, convention center, state-of-the-art office building, the accompanying parking lots, and almost every other steeply leveraged initiative pushed by a cadre of regional business interests known as the Capital City Partnership. As to motive, let's just say just the mere possibility that the PiPress could fly its blue and white flag inside another major sports arena should have been incentive enough to at least try to appear enthusiastic.

Instead, the St. Paul paper printed a namby-pamby editorial in early November titled "Pawlenty Appoints Needed Referee for Stadium Politics," in which it asserted that there might be "some wisdom in building projects funded partly by bonding," but that "over-reaching by advocates of stadium-building produces nothing but expensive studies and a mobilized opposition." The solutions, they concluded, "lie in burden-sharing and strategic realism."

That's just not going to get the job done, not when the competition has written nearly six dozen insistent editorials over the last nine years, praising almost every legislative scheme to get the public to cough up some dough for a new baseball stadium in Minneapolis. Basic economics and public opinion be damned, the Star Tribune has given Carl Pohlad and Major League Baseball every benefit of the doubt. They have expressed disgust with the incremental pace of politics, warned of the Twins' eventual disappearance (the team was going to move to North Carolina, the team was going to be contracted), and routinely chided readers for lacking spirit and vision.

During the 2002 legislative session (the last time lawmakers in this cash-strapped state dared broach the subject of bankrolling pro sports), hardly a week seemed to go by without someone on the Strib's Op-Ed page telling us that the presence of professional sports in the Twin Cities was, to coin a commercial phrase, priceless. "If you doubt those words," the edit board opined in January of that year, "we suggest watching rebroadcasts of the 1987 and 1991 World Series played occasionally on ESPN and then attempting to estimate the economic worth of sheer joy."

Sure enough, the Strib's first salvo on the subject this legislative preseason, which came four days after the PiPress weighed in, was state-of-the-art, a rhetorical highlight reel of everything that's come before. There was a healthy dose of hyperbole ("Pawlenty doesn't want to be remembered as the governor who let one or both of these teams slip away"); a paragraph's worth of economic assertion masked as anecdotal evidence ("We know of no markets regretting their new stadiums." Have they talked to anyone in Milwaukee or Detroit lately?); and the usual mix of pap and pandering ("The usual critics, left and right, will return to oppose stadiums and Pawlenty, hoping to scare him off the issue...On this matter, he is displaying leadership, foresight and at least tentative courage").

I suppose it is possible that the pro-business editorialists at the PiPress were just planning a more gradual offensive. Over the last year, the Star Tribune's editorials have been markedly more progressive, after all. On topics ranging from the war in Iraq, partial-birth abortion, gay rights, and the environment, in fact, they've been downright feisty--a pleasant surprise considering executive editor Anders Gyllenhaal told staffers after last year's election that the paper should be careful not to appear too liberal.

But the PiPress had better get on board soon, or they're going to spend their final summers hawking early editions at Midway Stadium, home of the St. Paul Saints. Because, when it comes to the business of selling readers on the advantages of higher taxes, higher ticket prices, and $10 bottles of beer, you can't waste your time debating the merits of corporate welfare or the wisdom of subsidizing fickle owners or barely solvent industries. Every drop of ink you waste on measured debate is a column inch that you could've spent convincing readers that they can't live without those special sections on game day, those billboards in center field, or the synergy that keeps the "mass" in mass media.


Local Indie Journalist Travels to Colombia

Before heading out to take in a few local bands on Wellstone World Music Day, I had the chance to hear Amy Goodman speak on "Corporations, the Media, & War" at the National Lawyers Guild convention, held near the University of Minnesota's law school.

After screening a jarring video that juxtaposed U.S. media coverage of the Iraq war with that of the Euro-press, the host and executive producer of Democracy Now! encouraged everyone in attendance to support independent media in print, online, and on cable access. The crowd responded with a standing ovation.

A week later, while having a cup of coffee with local freelance journalist Chip Mitchell, that call to arms rang in my ear. Mitchell, who arrived in Bogotá, Colombia, on November 25, will spend the next two years working with a small group of young, mainly indigenous reporters to produce original copy for the Minneapolis-based website, which--featuring material from news organizations from Reuters to El Tiempo--is already the largest English-language digest of news from and about the war-ravaged country.

Mitchell (the former editor of the Resource Center of the America's newsletter, Connection to the Americas) has written extensively on the region for publications such as The Progressive, and he's been heard locally on KFAI. Dispatches from the Digest, which he's been editing since May, have been picked up by various indie media outlets, including Pacifica. After receiving small donations from "dozens of dozens" of activists in the Twin Cities to help pay travel expenses, Mitchell decided to leave for the region and freelance for various publications while producing more original material for his site. "It's the place where people are under the boot of U.S. militarism more than anywhere else, outside of Iraq and Afghanistan," he says. "Yet, it's a region that routinely gets relegated to the back page. And no one is really doing much in the way of translating text from foreign news sources."

In the last 14 years, more than 114 journalists have been killed in Colombia, according to the Inter American Press Association, including a female talk radio host who was shot outside of her home on November 11. To this point, however, Mitchell says American reporters have been relatively safe--in part, one guesses, because neither the government, the army that does its dirty work, nor the various rebel groups are interested in being scrutinized any further in the Western press.

At last count, 400 people had signed up to receive Colombia Week's newsletter, which is e-mailed free of charge every Monday. Besides the cost of Mitchell's plane ticket, the operation's entire budget so far has been $39, which was spent to secure an ISP. I'm guessing Goodman would approve.

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