Minnesota Independent made some serious cuts to their staff yesterday, according to a MinnPost report. The first on the list was reporter Molly Priesmeyer who rocked the site's Election Day coverage by breaking the Somali translator story and a unique scene setter at partying on the West Bank after Barack Obama's win.
It was later reported that full-time staffer Andy Birkey and politics freelancer Britt Robson were cut. TC Daily Planet then added that the site's entire freelance budget was cut, which meant that in addition to Robson, Karl Bremer, Jeff Severns Guntzel, David Noon were also eliminated.
The exiting employees aren't saying very nice things about the parent company Center for Independent Media that cut them unexpectedly. Some are claiming the organization pushed a heavily Democratic agenda and are now dumping the employees after a "Mission Accomplished."
Robson told David Brauer that he was concerned by the organization's nonprofit and nonpartisan message not correlating with what was coming from their bosses at the national level.
Here is the CIM mission statement:
The Center for Independent Media is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that operates an independent online news network in the public interest. The Center’s reporters adhere to the highest standards of journalism, follow the code of ethics adopted by the Society of Professional Journalists, and are the recipients of numerous awards for excellence in journalism. The Center views an informed citizenry as a fundamental principle of civil society and American democracy; in the words of the Supreme Court in Garrison v. Louisiana: “Speech concerning public affairs is more than self-expression; it is the essence of self-government.”
Here is what Robson had to say:
"I was working with them fairly closely during the Republican convention and privy to interoffice emails," Robson explains. "The type of things non-local editors were into were very party-race stories, particularly stories that embarrassed Republicans and promoted Democrats."
A reflexively pro-Dem agenda "is a bias that's reflected more in the national echelons," Robson says. "We both know Steve Perry; he probably has as little use for Democrats as Republicans, that's his reputation."
Priesmeyer responded to Brauer's post in the comments section, echoing Robson's concerns about the purpose of the CIM sites:
I agree with Robson. The worst part is that they touted creating a sustainable news site, one that lasted well beyond the election and focused on local news and issues. Not only do I feel disappointed, I feel cheated.
I feel like we were hired to be nothing more than shills for their platform under the guise of a mission focused on creating journalism that was "independent" and for the "common good." If I had been told I was a shill for the Democrats, I never would've written for the site. I guess that's why the CIM told editors and writers that our job was to write about major issues, like the economy and housing, that were important to local readers.
I don't know how the rest of the remaining folks feel. I am only speaking for myself. But given the "Mission Accomplished" timing and what I was told about the site's longevity previously, it certainly doesn't feel like the CIM's goals match up with their mission.
From the CIM site: "Programs emphasize the importance of citizen-driven journalism as a critical founding principle of our nation, the positive role of democratically elected government in securing the common good and social welfare, and the continuing benefits of our founding culture of egalitarian government by the people, for the people."
TC Daily Planet got an interview with CIM's media representative who half-explained the cuts and said more details could be released today:
Dan Walter, the media contact in the Washington headquarters, had little information. He characterized Birkey and Priesmeyer as “good people and good reporters and good writers.”
The reason for the funding cuts was “restructuring the overall organization,” Walter said. In response to questions, he said he did not know what cuts had been made in the other five states. He did not have information on the restructuring plans, although he said he understood the intention was “to expand the business model to other states.” He had no information on what kind of expansion might be planned or what other states might be involved.
What does this mean for Minnesota Independent? The cuts leave Steve Perry, Paul Schmelzer, Paul Demko, and Chris Steller as the remaining staff in what was a growing media site in the Twin Cities. Can they keep the momentum post-election with such a dwindling group of journalists?