Thoughts on the decline of the Minneapolis Star Tribune
"Why haven't you written anything about the massacre at the Strib?" someone asked the other day. I thought about it, and realized I don't have enough inside information to write anything that hasn't already been written. And in a deal like this, you can be sure that there's lots going on behind the scenes that will probably stay there. More, of course.
On the human side of things, I know that some much beloved senior employees, though sad for the paper and their colleagues, are happy enough to take the buy-out and be done with it, and others are bereft. I know some who were re-assigned within the paper who are happier at their new posts and some who are miserable. I know some who took earlier buy-outs and are already in new jobs, finding that there is life after the Strib and others who are in free-fall. Those hanging on at the Strib are numb and shaken. Morale is in the basement.
Then there's the economics of the whole thing, which we've all contributed to by relying more and more on the blogosphere to get our news. The Strib's makeover, an attempt to be more attractive to the ADD reading public, lost them readers and respect. Classified ads, once the cash cow of newspapers, are down, thanks to sites like Craigslist. The bottom-line for most daily print media ain't good today -- and the future looks worse.
It's no wonder that Joel Kramer, former Strib publisher who oversaw the first sale of the Cowles Media-owned Strib to McClachy, is considering launching an online news site. Although tricky to figure out how to offer competitive salaries for on-line writers, he'd definitely have an experienced pool of applicants to choose from.
So, the question is, how do you tighten the belt, keep your best writers and some semblance of current news and fresh opinions in light of dwinding readers and revenue? I don't know. Over time, businesses have always found themselves caught in the crush of technology's maw, and the race is to the -- adaptable. Paper companies making the fine papers used in letterhead and corporate reports, for instance, have seen markets shrink as correspondence and annual reports moved on-line, and competitors gobbled each other up pac-man style, closing plants and laying off workers as they went. Kodak, on the other hand, has taken a risky leap into the color printer business as a way of adapting to the arrival of the film-free digital camera.
There is one constant in almost all cases however, and that's that those at the top feel far less pain than those at the bottom. Financial pain, at least. I know a few big-hearted business honchos who go to extremes to protect their workers, and who are devastated when a company fails and they have to let those workers go.
The one constant I am hearing at the Strib is that publisher Par Ridder is not among the latter sort. Not one Strib employee I spoke with had anything good to say about him.
To add to his dismal likability rating, as the laid-off Strib employees hit the streets in pursuit of new jobs, and attorneys wrangle over lawsuits involving Ridder's traitorous -- and possibly illegal -- move from the Pioneer Press to the Strib, the Rake and the TwinCities Daily Planet report that Ridder is preparing to move into a $2.73 million house on Lake of the Isles.
What irks most in all of this, as with bankruptcy issues at NWA -- and the war in Iraq -- is how little the pain is shared. Those breathing the thin air at the very top of the economic ladder keep adding to their heap of dough with buy-outs, bonuses and sell-outs, and seem oblivious to the sacrifices and hardships of those on the lrungs below, who are quickly losing their grip.
As a former Pioneer Press newsroom employee put it, "The pricey house is another statement on how well people at the top are doing in big business these days, while the rank and file continue to lose ground."
Even though I think Ridder's fortune was socked away long ago by his ancestors, and the decline of the Strib plays little part in his personal bottom line, the new house on Lake of the Isles is an insensitive move, to put it mildly, at a time when 145 or so of his former employees worry if they'll be able to hang on to their own humble homes. Bad move, Par.
ps. The pic's a house on Lake of Isles, not thee house.