Strib cuts affect arts coverageby Marianne Combs, Minnesota Public Radio
Friday marks the deadline for Star Tribune staff writers to decide whether they'll take buyouts the paper is offering as part of the recent budget cuts. While we still don't know the full effect of the cuts on the paper, we do know substantial changes are being made to the Star Tribune's arts coverage.
Minneapolis — In all, the newspaper is eliminating 50 positions from its newsroom of 380 reporters. That works out to about a 14 percent cut. But the reduction in dedicated arts and entertainment staff amounts to 25 percent--four full-time reporters and one part-time reporter.
Deciding where to cut was one of the first assignments for the Star Tribune's new editor, Nancy Barnes.
"For better or for worse, we had more resources in our features department than we had in our other departments," Barnes says. "So when we were looking for places where we could trim, that was one place that had more to give than some others did."
As part of the paper's reorganization, the Star Tribune is eliminating positions for a classical music critic and a part-time architecture critic. Barnes says general assignment reporters and freelancers will cover those beats as needed.
"I want to be clear about this. Nobody's saying we're eliminating coverage of architecture, nor are we eliminating coverage of classical music," says Barnes. "We cannot afford to have dedicated reporters. We're going to have to have people who cover this and other things too."
"It's a little bit like saying, 'Well, the Twins are fine, people like them, but why should we have to cover them all the time? Let's just go when there's a big story," says the paper's former theater critic Dan Sullivan.
Sullivan worked for the then-Minneapolis Tribune in the early 1960s. At that time he was assigned to cover theater and classical music. When he left he was replaced with two reporters, one for each beat. Now, more than 40 years later, he says the Star Tribune is regressing.
Sullivan says he understands the paper needs to make cuts, but he cannot believe it's eliminating the only reporter dedicated to covering classical music in a region where there are not one, but two internationally known orchestras, as well as an opera, several high-profile choirs and numerous smaller ensembles performing every week.
"It's a music center. It's a capital of American music, and for the people running this newspaper not to get that and not to see it's really important, even if they don't understand it, is beyond my ken," Sullivan says. "What are they thinking about? They want this still to be considered an important newspaper, and they don't really understand this part of the community."
The paper claims it's reorganizing in part to put more emphasis on local news, but Sullivan says it's eliminating two positions that are intrinsically local.
Sullivan says he hopes arts lovers will react just as sports fans would if Vikings or Twins coverage were cut.
As the Star Tribune's architecture and urban design reporter, Linda Mack has had plenty to cover: the new Guthrie theater, the Minneapolis library. Mack describes it as "architecture pig heaven," so she says she was dismayed when she learned the paper was eliminating her position.
"I fear that they have badly misread their constituency, because this community is extremely interested in design--and good design," says Mack. "Our cachet in all of the national magazines now is, Minneapolis is a design city."
Mack, who has written for the paper for 20 years, says by farming out her stories to general assignment reporters, the Star Tribune may still be able to cover architecture and design news. But it will not be able to provide a deeper context.
Longtime arts editor Claude Peck says he bemoans the loss of his architecture reporter and his classical music critic. And now it falls upon him to figure out how to move forward without them.
"It's not going to be pretty. It's going to be a difficult summer as we try to figure out what to do," says Peck. "As an editor with a passion for the arts and arts journalism, I feel that it's going to be essential to figure out a way to cover both architecture and classical music in a meaningful way."
Peck worries he won't have the resources to cover anything but the major classical events. He says he'll lobby the new assistant managing editor for features when she starts later this month, and try to persuade her to dedicate some of the general assignment reporters to specific areas in the arts.
Star Tribune Editor Nancy Barnes says despite the cuts, the paper still has 12 full-time staff dedicated to arts and entertainment, which is more than twice the number of staff in any other newsroom in the state.
The paper is keeping two theater reporters and its books editor, which Barnes says is a luxury for many other papers. Barnes says she's had to make difficult decisions and she asks the paper's readers to be patient.
- All Things Considered, 05/31/2007, 5:53 p.m.