The newspaper canary dies, the comeback of the street in Minneapolis, revisiting bike-to-work day, a sense of place in the Twin Cities, and Minnesota Nice.
1) THE NEWSPAPER CANARY DIES
What a lousy week for the newspaper industry! This week the Rochester Post Bulletin announced it’s going to cut jobs and send the job of designing and laying out the local paper to Illinois. In Birmingham, Alabama, only 41 of 102 people in its newspaper newsroom are left. Hundreds of employees of the New Orleans Times Picayune lost their jobs when the newspaper decided to stop printing the dead-trees edition most days during the week. In all, 600 newspaper employees in the country lost their jobs on a single day.
And not many people who don’t make their living in the business could give a rip. That is the story.
There are lousy newspapers that don’t matter, but the death of the Times Picayune — its half-hearted attempt to survive online will fail; trust me. You don’t cut half your staff and still have the ability to do good journalism — is a significant one because it was a good newspaper. A bunch of cops who shot unarmed citizens on a bridge during Hurricane Katrina got stiff prison sentences because the newspaper was relentless in uncovering their attempt to cover it up.
Twitter didn’t uncover with the story, Facebook didn’t uncover the story, radio, TV, and podcasts didn’t uncover the story. The Huffington Post didn’t uncover the story. A newspaper brought people to justice.
“The main thing is I’m sad for this city,” photographer John McCusker tells NPR this morning. “You take away the Times-Picayune, and there are a bunch of police officers that were on the Danziger Bridge that would still be on the streets today.”
During the hurricane, newspaper employees left their families and flooding homes to put out its electronic edition, literally saving lives. For that, the people — people — won a Pulitzer Prize for the newspaper. Many of those people are now out of work.
Former staffer John McQuaid, writing on The Atlantic website, suggests if New Orleans is losing a paper of quality, no others are safe.
There are many promising experiments underway, whether with aggressive community engagement and social media, or paywalls and premium content. But with nola.com, the owners have so far promised to deliver only the barest bones of what an online news operation does: 24-hour coverage. In a click-centric website this can mean a hamster-wheel ethic, with staffers churning out blog posts, tweets, and video snippets 24/7, with little time to go deeper.
That is a shame — a travesty, really — because New Orleans is the ideal place to build a sustainable, innovative local newsgathering operation. In 2005, The Times-Picayune won widespread recognition its brave coverage of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the devastating flooding that followed. Staffers camped out with most of the city under water and without electricity, and documented the unfolding FEMA snafu. (I worked on flood coverage as well, though from a safe remove in the Washington bureau.)
Since then, the Times-Picayune has expertly handled the most challenging ongoing story a newspaper can encounter: the drama of a city literally rebuilding itself, body and soul. And despite diminished resources, it has ably covered major news including the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and continued to do investigations, such as this recent deep dive on Louisiana’s prisons. The paper hasn’t been perfect, by any means. Some love it, some hate it, but everybody reads it. It has one of the highest so-called penetration rates — percentage of residents who read the physical paper — in the United States.
The Times Picayune is the canary in the coal mine. Its death signals the end of the watchdog to prevent cops from killing citizens and politicians from being corrupt without impunity. That has to still matter to a national citizenry that has increasingly, it seems, been willing to accept being uninformed.
2) THE STREET COMEBACK
“Skyway or street?” has become the “plastic or paper?” of urban living again, at least in Minneapolis. The second-floor economy that made the street-level irrelevant — thanks to the skyway system — is giving way to a new reality, Streets.mn says, because it’s worth it hitting the street, again.
First, food carts. They are popping up all over downtown, and elsewhere. They line Marquette Avenue, and out come the crowds to the sidewalks (the publci realm) where nobody but smokers used to hang out. I guarantee the designers behind the recent rebuild of Marquette and 2nd did not have food carts in mind. But in a happy coincidence, there are no midday buses, so the northbound curb lane of Marquette is the perfect space for a row of food carts. It just goes to show that people yearn to embrace and enjoy their public realm, if you give them a reason to do so. Take that, skyways!
3) POSTSCRIPT: BIKE-TO-WORK DAY
There’s a guy in this who walks to work. From Woodbury.
4) A SENSE OF PLACE
What’s the deal with the people who named Minnesota’s cities? Here’s a terrific commentary in today’s Star Tribune on the similarity of names. Shoreview, Shorewood, St. Paul Park, St. Louis Park, Maplewood, Maple Grove, Maple Plain, Spring Lake Park. And we haven’t even talked, yet, about West St. Paul being south of St. Paul, just as South St. Paul is.
Greg Cunningham’s op-ed will have the native circling the wagons:
It is perhaps more than coincidental that Shoreview, Spring Lake Park and Mounds View were given names similar to Shorewood, Spring Park and Mound — three affluent Lake Minnetonka cities. When I lived in Los Angeles, real-estate agents referred to the unincorporated neighborhood next to Beverly Hills as “Beverly Hills Adjacent.” The thinking was that the name tie-in resulted in an automatic increase in the property values in the copycat neighborhood.
Still, the operative word was “adjacent.” Anyone who mistakenly found themselves in the wrong “Beverly Hills” had only a five-minute drive (20 in traffic) to the other. A Minnesotan who mistakenly finds himself in Shoreview, Spring Lake Park or Mounds View has to traverse half the metro area to get to the corresponding Lake Minnetonka city. Indeed, you can’t even see Mound from Mounds View. What sense does that make?
Over to you, natives.
5) MINNESOTA NICE
Today’s favorite in the Minneapolis 48 Hour Film Project competition…
A new report says Minnesota is warming faster than most other states. Today’s Question: What possible evidence of climate charge have you observed in your daily life?
WHAT WE’RE DOING
Daily Circuit (9-12 p.m.) – First hour: The battle over national security leaks.
Second hour: How scientists are finding ways to fix once incurable disabilities, by using our own minds.
Third hour: When do kids become adults?
MPR News Presents (12-1 pm): Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, speaking at the Commonwealth Club of California about his new book, “The Price of Inequality: How Today’s Divided Society Endangers Our Future.”
Talk of the Nation (1-2 p.m.) – Daniel Okrent, and Marilyn Sokol, of the off-Broadway show, “Old Jews Telling Jokes.”
All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) – A string of high-profile wrongful convictions has raised awareness of serious problems with the work of medical examiners and other forensic experts around the country. The Innocence Project and some of Minnesota’s top medical examiners and forensic scientists say defense attorneys need to do a better job of challenging junk science at trial. But attorneys are not scientists, and it’s not easy to identify when an expert is bending the truth about a complicated lab test or making up a story about the type of knife used in a stabbing. Many in the legal community say the first step is education. In response, on defense attorneys from around the state attended a day-long crash course in forensic pathology, sponsored by the Innocence Project. The group hopes the training will help prevent wrongful convictions. MPR’s Madeleine Baran will have the story.
In the U..S., manicures were once the exclusive province of the rich and famous. That’s before Vietnamese immigrants arrived and cornered the market on inexpensive nail-care salons. How they came to dominate the market is the result of a community’s dream for economic self-sufficiency. NPR will have the story as part of its new series on the American dream.