The Strib’s been cranking out the stories (and the wishful thinking) about the 35W bridge collapse in the Strib.
According to Sarah Janecek at Politics in Minnesota, there’s a story behind the story:
One GOP legislator, disturbed by the secrecy shrouds detailed in the Star Tribune, sent an email to MnDOT asking what’s going on. [PIM obtained copies of the relevant emais.] Here’s how MnDOT answered the question:
“Unfortunately, the relationship between our employees and some reporters — and I stress ‘some reporters’ — at the Star Tribune has become extremely strained…MnDOT employees have been subjected to professional and unnecessarily harsh name-calling, hostile phone conversations and phone and email harassment. MnDOT employees have come to me with reports of enduring profanity in phone conversations and having their professional and personal integrity questioned. Employees have further reported that, when they have granted interviews and provided professional information, they feel their work has been mischaracterized in print and facts have been disregarded in lieu of predetermined story lines.”
I’d ask someone from the Strib for a comment – but they’d probably punch me.
To be precise, MnDOT employees are tired of hearing “BS” in heated long form, and “you’re lying” and “you’re stonewalling” from the two career Star Tribune reporters with pit bull reputations: Tony Kennedy and Paul McEnroe. What’s more, a document request made one hour is followed by a series of harassing emails mere hours later asking where their documents are.
Reporters acting like jagbags? Nothing new, right?
Of course, there’s more:
…Many of the document requests are duplicative — different people at the paper are asking for exactly the same stuff. As far as PIM knows, there are at least eight different requests from Star Tribune people. Besides Kennedy and McEnroe, other Star Tribune reporters who are asking for duplicative documents are Dan Browning, Nick Coleman, Pat Doyle, Jim Foti, Kaszuba and Bob Von Sternberg.
Typically, on a big story like the bridge collapse, one editor is put in charge. This apparently hasn’t happened.
In other words, the Strib’s newsroom – wracked by layoffs and budget cuts – is a Sacramento fire drill.
Or is there more?
Better media analysis minds than ours think there’s something else going on: Star Tribune editor Nancy Barnes and others at the paper want a Pulitzer for the paper’s coverage. That makes sense to us. The bridge collapse will likely be the only shot Minnesota media will have in our lifetimes at winning the “Breaking News” prize. [Let’s all certainly hope so.]
Which makes sense; it’s something people’ve been predicting since the spume from the river was still in the air. Indeed, many of us – the Strib’s legions of amateur critics – lauded the paper for its reporting (albeit not opinion writing) in the wake of the collapse, and figured the paper might be in line for its first Pulitzer since the Battle of Yorktown.
Does it affect the paper’s approach to journalism?:
The Pulitzer theory also explains why the paper repeatedly fails to point out MnDOT’s legal constraints on document requests, an omission that is grossly misleading to readers. Media requests for government documents are covered by the Minnesota Data Practices Act (MDPA) and the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The most important aspect of these laws as they apply to obtaining government information about the bridge collapse is that the MDPA applies before August 1, 2007 and the federal FOIA applies after the bridge fell. That’s because the National Transportation Safety Board has an exemption from FOIA for any “ongoing investigation” so as not to jeopardize that investigation. Obviously, that exemption is broad and severely curtails the information MnDOT can legally provide.
Which – as Janecek alleges – is the part the Strib won’t tell the reader.
On the one hand, “jourmalistic ethics” tend to be exactly what a “journalist” needs them to be to get their story (and/or their Pulitzer).
On the other…well, read the whole thing.