Off Beat

At Least We Had the Good Sense Not to Order the Crabmeat-Stuffed Salmon

ALWAYS CURIOUS TO see what transpires when several hundred journalists convene within easy reach of good liquor and bad food, Off Beat wandered by the Saint Paul Hotel last Wednesday for the Page One Awards banquet, the annual shindig thrown by the state chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Plus, we were looking forward to catching a glimpse of the St. Paul Pioneer Press's Pulitzer Prize-winning scribe George Dohrmann, who seemed a shoo-in winner in the Investigative category. To our dismay, Dohrmann was nowhere to be seen. Upon reflection, he probably knew something we didn't. Called upon to deliver the keynote address, University of Minnesota president Mark Yudof had his captive audience facedown in their desserts within five minutes, only to drone on for several coma-inducing hours about the respective roles of public servants and the media, while the waiters clattered away with the soiled china. At some point during this nightmare, we were roused from our funk by an unelaborated-upon aside about inviting Gov. Jesse Ventura over for a kosher dinner. (What, did he and Terry turn up bearing a plateful of scallops wrapped in bacon?) Then came Star Tribune editor Tim McGuire, whose remarks upon being presented with the organization's Freedom of Information Award were mercifully brief, but bizarre. First McGuire zinged Yudof--who had, by that time, departed--slagging him for the length of his speech. Then, declaring that "freedom of information is the Lord's work," he distributed a couple of thank-yous and strode off with his plaque. Finally, it was on to the recitation of the countless Page One Award honorees. Fortunately the organizers take a minimalist approach to these proceedings, reeling them off as quickly as possible. Still, it made for one last go-figure moment, when the winners in the investigative category for large newspapers were read: The St. Paul Pioneer Press's Pulitzer Prize-winning exposé of the U of M cheating scandal took second place to the Strib's scramble-to-catch-up opus. The quiet smattering of applause that followed the announcement was an indelible moment indeed, and not in the least bit diminished when the Pi Press's investigative effort was rewarded with a consolation prize at the end of the affair--the SPJ's Sweepstakes Award for best story of the year.

We Only Wanted to Help

LAST WEEK OFF BEAT invited readers to suggest a new slogan for the Star Tribune. Though Doing the Lord's Work has made a recent push, the leading contender so far is The Newspaper That Occasionally Names Suspects Before They Are Charged. Inveterate readers of this column may recall that in our May 17 installment we sympathized with the Strib's reader representative "Sweet" Lou Gelfand, who several times each year is compelled to explain his paper's deviations from its "general policy" of not identifying criminal suspects until they've been charged. When we quizzed Gelfand about the issue and asked for a copy of the policy, he crouched down under his desk and covered his head with his hands. (Well, truth be told, we were engaged in a phone conversation with him and couldn't see what he was actually doing, but that's what Off Beat envisioned him doing.) Gelfand told us to take our request to managing editor Pam Fine. But Fine was out of the office, and when we finally caught up with her last week, she refused to send over a copy of the document. Which is too bad, because we had big plans: As a public service to Strib readers all over this great land, we were going to publish it in its entirety on our Web site, so that henceforth whenever The Newspaper That Does the Lord's Work named an uncharged suspect without explaining why, the answer would be a mere click away. Alas. Tell you what we're going to do instead, though: In this space each week (or whenever we remember to do it), we'll tally the number of times the Strib invokes its policy, as well as any deviations. This past week's score: 0 invocations, 1 deviation.

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