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Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Will Minnesota Monitor Grab the Washington Bureau Advantage from the Strib?

Minnesota Monitor:

On this last day of 2007, looking forward to a year when the Twin Cities hosts the Republican convention, Democrats are hoping to capture more congressional seats, and Minnesota's unique personalities -- from Keith Ellison and Michele Bachmann to Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar -- are aiming to make an impact in our nation's capital, I'm interested in what happened to the Washington, D.C., bureau of the Star Tribune this year -- and, in news that has nothing to do with Minnesota's largest daily, discussing what will hopefully be a happy ending to this tale.
Paul Schmelzer :: Hope for "the Modern American Newsroom"
In March, Rep. Betty McCollum's office sent out a memo that, in part, bid a grateful farewell to longtime Star Tribune D.C. reporters Rob Hotakainen and Kevin Diaz, who were staying with McClatchy, the company that had just sold the paper to Avista. Avista lowballed the pair on salaries; at the time, Diaz said the offer would effectively mean giving "back every performance pay raise I've received since I came to Washington in 2000."

Strib management was incensed that McCollum's memo gave "the misimpression that the Star Tribune will now be covering Congress only with an intern," as Kate Parry, readers' representative at the time, put it. She argued that the last remaining Stribber in D.C., University of Minnesota grad Brady Averill, would be assisted by McClatchy news wires and Minneapolis-based editors.

In fact, Averill was the paper's only D.C.-based employee for 78 days in 2007. A week after her internship ended in May, management announced it'd be rehiring Diaz.

Today, Diaz is the Star Tribune's only full-timer, aided by an intern. The Pioneer Press doesn't have anyone in D.C.

According to Tom Hamburger, a Pulitzer finalist for his work with the Star Tribune and now a Los Angeles Times writer, the Washington bureau had five employees when he started there in 1989 -- four full-timers and an intern.

So where's the good news?

Right here. Minnesota Monitor's parent organization, the nonprofit Center for Independent Media (CIM), is opening what could be considered Minnesota's biggest D.C.-based news bureau. The Washington Independent, now in press-release mode but launching in mid-January, will have a staff of 10 to 12 reporters and editors covering Washington with an eye for the states with CIM daily news sites (Colorado, Iowa, Michigan and Minnesota).

The site has hired a bevy of staffers who have worked for the Washington Post, Talking Points Memo, The Charlie Rose Show, Associated Press, and The Nation, to name a few. But it's a two-way deal:

Minnesota gets original news from Washington reported by writers who know us and our state. They'll cover policies that affect us, track our elected officials and provide on-the-ground resources for Minnesota Monitor fellows reporting on national issues. And when, say, they'd like to know how a bill before Congress will affect working people in Minnesota, we'll be there to help find those voices.

It will take a while for new Washington Bureau reporters to cultivate their sources and get up to speed. None the less, this is an interesting strategy. Since Minn Post, and Daily Mole have come on the scene and Eric Black left the Minnesota Monitor, the Minnesota Monitor was losing some of what was originally making people go to the site.

Swiftee asks about funding (brings up the Sorosphere issue again) and Paul Schmelzer responds:

Swiftee, with all due respect: I'm the editor -- have been since August -- and I've never made any denials about our funding. Nor, in fact, have I ever been asked about our funders, not by you and not by anyone.

That said, here are the Center for Independent Media's funders; we're awfully grateful for the support:

Arca Foundation
Arkay Foundation
Bauman Family Foundation
Better World Fund
Bohemian Foundation
Brett Family Foundation
Gill Foundation
Open Society Institute
Park Foundation
Quixote Foundation
Rockefeller Family Foundation
Sunlight Foundation
Surdna Foundation
Wallace Global Fund

Eric's "admission," it's worth noting, is not news. We have links to our funders on our About page and our Wikipedia page; the Center for Independent Media lists our donors; and back in October I reprinted a Chronicle of Philanthropy article that lists many of them. Further, The Washington Independent has been crystal clear about these funders, listing them from the start on its About page and in the site's first post, by CIM's national editorial director, Jeff Morley. Googleable links, every one.

Paul Schmelzer also writes for Eyeteeth: A Journal of Incisive Ideas.

When Michael Brodkorb first wrote that Minnesota Monitor was getting George Soros money, Robin Marty denied it. Brodkorb wrote this after Robin Marty wrote a story on Minnesota Monitor attacking him.