Blogs on trial (5×8 – 3/8/11)

The case of Johnny Northsider, ode to the skyways, a ride against depression, an incident in Iowa, and the king strikes a blow against museum stodginess.


It will be interesting to see how differently — if at all — the mainstream media and bloggers cover the civil case against John Hoff, better known as “Johnny Northside,” whose blog post railing against the University of Minnesota’s hiring of a community leader on his bad side may have cost Jerry Moore his job.

Even after all of these years, “traditional” journalists often can’t resist the opportunity to brand an entire medium as a dirtier place than the rare air of a traditional newsroom, which requires us to ignore the many complaints against particulars in that setting.

“It’s also fair to say that the the sort of give-and-take atmosphere of the blogosphere raised a greater tolerance for the kind of free-for-all commentary that we see so much on the Internet,” U of M journalism expert Jane Kirtley told MPR’s Laura Yuen. Find the code words there while remembering that the reason there is “freedom of the press” is because of Jay Near, who was described as “anti-Catholic, anti-Semitic, anti-black and anti-labor” when he began publishing The Saturday Press in Minneapolis in 1927 using dead trees as his weapon of choice. He claimed Jewish gangs were running Minneapolis and shortly after his first issue, he got himself shot to death.

Let’s just say blogs didn’t invent the “give-and-take” atmosphere of journalism, though like Jay Near, Hoff has plenty of enemies. Here’s one.

Bloggers, meanwhile, may also see the case as another opportunity to exhaust us with the blogs vs. mainstream media debate of their own. Hoff, for example, makes a claim that his blog provides a valuable service, by pointing out the failings of the big boys. “When a house catches fire and burns down, we’re right over there going, ‘OK, they said the block, we want to know the specific address, we want to know who owned it. We want to know what’s going to happen.’ So we follow up,” he said. “They get a big story, but they leave pieces laying around, and those pieces matter to my neighborhood.”

There may be an element of truth to that, but it really doesn’t have anything to do with the lawsuit at hand. From a journalism standpoint, it’s about this:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court said a Kansas preacher and his flock has every right to stand outside the funeral of soldiers killed in war and scream, “God hates fags.” How, in turn, does a court say a guy with a blog — or a sign, for that matter — can’t say the U of M shouldn’t hire someone?

There may be a conversation to be had whether bloggers have the same “obligation” to exercise the same “care” that mainstream media exercises in the proper vetting of stories. That should be a very short conversation, however.

Moore’s attorney says Hoff doesn’t enjoy First Amendment speech protections because he doesn’t get all sides of an issue. And, it’s maintained, if others post inflammatory comments on his blog — they do — then he should be liable for those, too. That allegation should certainly get the attention of mainstream media, since the comments on their Web sites are (a) more numerous and (b) often at least as horrible as anything found on those newfangled blogs.

Suggested reading: The New Journalism? Why Traditional Defamation Laws Should Apply to Internet Blogs.


It’s an honest MPR employee who admits that the best part about the spiffy, still new, World Headquarters of News Cut is that it has a skyway connection. The skyway gives us a warm, safe way to get to all the often-closed second-floor businesses in downtown St. Paul.

We love our skyways in the Twin Cities. Or do we?

Videotect , the Architecture Minnesota magazine video competition, asked readers to create short videos on the skyway system and its impact on urban life. The website has posted the entries through March 18. Here’s one:

James Tucker from Architecture Minnesota on Vimeo.


Mark Meier of Minneapolis is planning a coast-to-coast bike ride this summer to convince men to face depression head on.

“I continue to meet men suffering in silence,” Meier tells the Strib’s Gail Rosenblum, “After a presentation, they’ll pull me aside or call or e-mail me and say, ‘I think I might be depressed, but I can’t tell anyone.'”

Meanwhile, Facebook is going to make it easier for people to report friends they think might be suicidal, the BBC says. This follows the death of a woman in the UK who posted she’d just taken an overdose of pills and nobody did anything. Why didn’t people do anything? Perhaps they wanted to pick up the phone, but they didn’t want to be wrong. The new system allows people to anonymously report suicidal content, which will then be relayed to authorities who will intervene.


Is Iowa showing its ugly side? Or does it just not like people who crash parties? Filmmaker Usama Alshaibi says he walked into a party in Fairfield, Iowa — not far from Ottumwa — said a woman on the street outside a loud party gave him the go ahead to walk in and join the celebration.

“Right when I walked in, somebody asked me my name. . .and I said, ‘My name is Usama.’ That’s when they started hitting me,” Alshaibi, 41, tells the Chicago Tribune.

A racially-motivated attack? Police say they’ve driven Alshaibi around the neighborhood and they’ve been unable to find the house where the assault allegedly occurred.


It’s a sad commentary on the world of museums that just when you think one finally figured out a way to relate to its audience and have a little — gasp — fun, you find out that one didn’t.

The best unauthorized Improv Everywhere missions are the ones that don’t technically break any rules. Surely there is no policy on the books at the Met about dressing up like a painting and standing in front of it. The museum allows sketchbooks in for the benefit of art students, so we used one to conceal our sign and our photographs. The King brought a pencil in to sign his autographs as markers are not allowed.

Here’s the whole — hilariously unmuseum-like — story


In Libya, Moammar Gadhafi is using aircraft against his own people. Voices in the U.S. Senate and elsewhere are calling for a no-fly zone over Libya to stop him. Should the United States use its military to intervene in Libya?


Midmorning (9-11 a.m.) – First hour: Minnesota saw a 55-percent increase in sex trafficking in 2010, and people fighting the problem say Minnesota’s legal system penalizes the very victims it’s seeking to protect. A bill currently in Minnesota’s Legislature seeks to correct that.

Second hour: There’s still three feet of snow on the ground, but baseball season isn’t far off. Midmorning gets the latest from spring training, and speaks with the author of a book on local baseball legend Toni Stone.

Midday (11 a.m. – 1 p.m.) – First hour: Former legislative leaders Steve Sviggum and Roger Moe discuss their plan for a nonpartisan commission to handle redistricting and talk about why so many issues become heavily political.

Second hour: A new America Abroad documentary about Muslim charities, called “Alms in the Name of Allah.”

Talk of the Nation (1-3 p.m.) – First hour: Should the U.S. continue with its timetable to withdraw from Iraq?

Second hour: Pollster Frank Luntz on his book, “Win.”