NSNC Prez Criticizes ‘Star Tribune’ Attempt to Reassign Columnists

By: Dave Astor

The president of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists (NSNC) criticized the Minneapolis Star Tribune’s effort to switch some of its columnists to reporting jobs.

Five Star Tribune columnists were reportedly asked last week if they would volunteer to join the newspaper’s shrinking reporter ranks — and at least one has apparently been ordered to do so. “(T)hey’ve killed my column, and assigned me to write straight local news stories,” James Lileks wrote in his blog.

NSNC President Mike Argento, reached this morning by E&P, said the Star Tribune’s action was “not a smart move. Columnists are the personality of a newspaper; the voice of a newspaper. That’s how a newspaper connects with readers.”

Argento, a columnist for the York (Pa.) Daily Record, added: “It’s just a reflection of the sad state of the newspaper industry. Many of the people running newspapers don’t have a vision. They’re concerned with dollars and cents, and the bottom line. They should look at the future, not just slash and burn.”

He said of Lileks: “I’ve read the guy for years now. He’s a very, very good columnist. I don’t understand why they would remove him.”

If the Star Tribune wants to change Lileks’ responsibilities, Argento continued, they should not just have him be a traditional reporter but take better advantage of Lileks’ online experience doing blogging and more.

Lileks, who has been syndicated by Newhouse News Service, wrote in his blog post that “there’s been some talk” that he might report about the Internet.

But he added: “I don’t want to write ABOUT the Internet. I want to write ON the Internet. I’d rather develop content than report about content developers. It’s that simple, and it’s also a matter of recognizing my failings: I am not Biff Deadline, Ace Reporter. I can do long stories with lots of color, all aslosh with subjective opinions, but writing straight news — clearly, simply, briskly — is a skill I lack, and I take off my hat to those who’ve mastered that discipline.”

When his column ends this month, Lileks continued, “I’ll no longer be telecommuting, either. This means I will start burning my share of hydrocarbons like a good American. Hell, I may leave the vehicle running all day outside the building just to make up for lost time. …”

And he told readers: “Would it matter if you contacted the paper? It very well might. … If I can get my column back and/or a nice big online gig, that would be a satisfactory conclusion.”

The other Star Tribune columnists asked if they wanted to volunteer to become reporters are metro columnists Nick Coleman, Doug Grow, Cheryl “CJ” Johnson, and Katherine Kersten, according to the Web site of The Rake magazine in Minneapolis.

Lileks and Star Tribune editors could not be immediately reached for comment this morning by E&P.

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