Archive for January 4th, 2007

Why mainstream is the real stream

4 January 2007

An American newspaper “Pioneer Press”, based in St Paul, Minnesota, has published a very fine New Year editorial on being a newspaper, and underlined—with pride—its core mandate.

Mainstream and proud of it: http://www.twincities.com/mld/twincities/news/editorial/16347432.htm

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We in the news business are accused by partisan advocates of dwelling in the “mainstream.” The “mainstream media” — “MSM” to the bloggers — is an epithet.

We interrupt your morning coffee today to embrace the idea of a “mainstream” of thought and culture existing, and to say that that your humble newspaper scribes do indeed aspire to ride that current.

But we must back up.

This has been a heck of a year in Minnesota media. The dear old Pioneer Press was part of a multi-team sale-and-trade that is switching our ownership from Knight Ridder Inc. to the MediaNews Group newspaper company. We lost some great journalists in a buyout dictated by the economics of our business. But we retain our passion to report, write, edit, take photos and produce the living history of our East Metro community.

Whether we do that well enough to justify your two bits (25 cents to you youngsters) is your decision, dear readers.

But while attention was focused on St. Paul, the Minneapolis-based Star Tribune was sold, at a steep discount, to a New York- and Houston-based investment group with no newspaper holdings. That deal is so fresh that we don’t know what to make of it. We respect the Star Tribune and its many fine journalists and hope that whatever happens, the cause of journalism — going out every day and telling the story of our community — is not compromised.

No newspaper or radio station or television station or Web site or blog deserves business simply because of its tradition. It must make the case each day that it provides a needed service. And we think what the world needs now is journalism, sweet journalism.

We need reporting on our governments, our businesses, our communities and the major changes in our lives. The New York Times, as great as it is, does not care about crime in Minneapolis or property taxes in St. Paul or the mess on the Maplewood City Council.

That’s our job.

Which brings us back to that mainstream thing.

Think of a river. Our offices are a few feet from the great Mississippi. It flows, generally, north to south. But there are eddies, channels, oxbows and other sidebars to the main event, moving every which way. As it moves past us in downtown St. Paul, the river is flowing southwest to northeast.

Even in low-water time in the summer, a leaf or twig falling from the Wabasha Street bridge will eventually catch that broad main current and move toward New Orleans. That’s the mainstream.

Is there such a current in today’s political and cultural wars? The advocates on all sides say there is not. It is in their interest to make this argument — as it is in ours to say the mainstream exists. The advocates subdivide the media audience into ever-smaller niches that agree with them. Many do not seek to persuade; dissenters are unwelcome. They want a radio show or a newspaper front page that sees the world their way. They are in the battle to win.

That is not who we are — “we” being the MSM, the mainstream media, the folks trying to find that broad current of American life.

We believe in giving all sides a platform. We think journalists can and should endeavor to be fair, no matter their personal views. We must show readers our work — where our information comes from, so readers can evaluate it as we have. We should happily correct our mistakes and admit our failings and do better the next day.

We do, however, have a failing that is often confused with political slant. It is that we must be open-minded and tolerant. We must defer to the best evidence. We must be willing to be proved wrong and to say so. Even on this page, where we endorse candidates and offer opinions, we believe we can do it in a respectful manner that acknowledges the merits of the opponents’ views.

This is life in the mainstream.

We have a friend who went from a newspaper to another media job where the boss made it clear that the agenda was to promote a narrow political viewpoint. Our friend, raised in the mainstream, wanted to tell all sides of the story, and never quite felt comfortable in that side-channel. “I’m proud to be mainstream media,” our friend said.

And so are we.

In the year ahead, we hope for the best for journalism in our community. We hope for a sense of community that creates a mainstream for businesses like us to operate in. We wish the best for those in the side-channels. But we want to ride that broad current that sweeps through our part of the world.

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