A note from a newsroom staffer:
A reader from the Wabasha area was highly offended by the recent joke of the
day where the kid visits the farm and shoots the dogs.
We've hosted community forums at the Rochester Public Library for the better part of three years, just about every month. They're informal, open-ended, fairly unstructured, conversational affairs, a chance for me and other news people to hear directly from people in the community on issues, and for citizens to ask questions of media and public leaders.
They're generally pretty civil events. The January event was linked to the Rochester Reads community bookreading program, which this year featured the book "Three Cups of Tea." About 15 people turned out for that program.
Last night's event was more raucous, not surprisingly since it dealt with politics and current events at the Capitol. About 50 people attended, at least a few of whom were not happy with our panel lineup. Joining P-B state government reporter Matt Stolle, local news editor Mike Klein and me were former state Rep. Carla Nelson, now a financial adviser in Rochester but still an energized Republican, and Sandy Keith, longtime DFLer, former lieutenant governor and state Supreme Court chief justice, and currently executive director of the Rochester Downtown Alliance.
I put these programs together, somewhat hastily at times, and the roster of panelists involves more serendipity of scheduling and the kindness of participants such as Nelson and Keith than Machiavellian science. I thought it was a credible, fairly evenhanded and interesting panel that avoided having the usual party leaders and elected officials at the head table.
DFL Rep. Tina Liebling, Sen. Ann Lynch and others disagreed. Liebling and Lynch called the newsroom late Thursday afternoon and complained that the panel was tilted toward the GOP. They wondered what our agenda was, why there wasn't more balance, why Keith was chosen to represent the DFL perspective and why they weren't invited or informed.
Well, we've been doing these programs for three years and the agenda, as described, is just to have 90 minutes of questions and answers between citizens, with a few journalists joined by experts, newsmakers or regular Joes at the front table. We began promoting this month's event Tuesday -- arguably late in the game, but again, about 25-50 people typically attend...it's not like CNN sponsoring the latest Clinton-Obama debate.
Regarding balance -- call me naive, but please don't call me stupid. I know we need political balance in all things we touch, and I've been reminded in recent weeks that local politicians perceive all sorts of bias and favoritism in much of what we do -- politicians on both sides of the line.
Anyway, I had no problem with adding more panelists to address this perception of imbalance. We frequently add panelists (or panelists aren't able to attend) and the library has plenty of chairs. I invited Lynn Wilson, chairwoman of the Olmsted County DFL Party, who planned to attend, to join us at the front table or invite others to do the same. This was about 5 p.m., after having talked with Liebling.
In the end, Wilson decided against being up front, in part because the event wasn't billed that way. Just about the first comment of the evening, though, was from DFL activist Mark Fredrickson, who was polite but critical of the panel lineup and questioned Keith as a counterbalance to Nelson.
This produced some catcalls and general disarray, Keith was insulted and angrily got up to leave, and yours truly, whose abilities as a moderator are rarely needed at these meetings, tried to restore order. Sandy was persuaded to stay and in fact provided exactly what I expected him to offer -- charm, perspective, an impressive grasp of the issues now being addressed in Rochester and St. Paul, and as far as I could tell, a fairly DFL perspective.
In the end, we covered some important ground and hopefully those who were there thought it was a worthwhile 90 minutes. I asked people what issues are at the top of their agenda in 2008 and these were mentioned: The economy (as in higher prices for just about everything, as well as the tight job market), taxes (especially the impact of the new gas tax), crime and public safety, poverty, and health care.
Other specific items mentioned for us to address: The Minnesota health care provider tax and its impact; how the new gasoline tax will affect the region, from consumers to car dealers; how area counties will benefit from the proceeds of the tax, in the form of road and bridge work; concerns about gangs and violence; more reporting on sex offenders released from prison and where/how they live; illegal immigration; how to keep politics out of the state judiciary selection process; and many more.
Hopefully the event was productive and seemed reasonable to all who were there, regardless of party. Next time we have politicians or ex-politicians up front, which might be a while after last night's experience, we'll probably have more of them, erring on the side of the more, the merrier.
Sometimes a news release will cross my desk or pop up in my e-mail and I'll wonder, what can this possibly be about?
This one's from Winona State:
Winona State University - University Communication Office
Andrea Mikkelsen - Director of Public Information
Phone (507) 457-5024
Date: Feb. 28, 2008
Subject: WSU Presents Midnight Cowgirl
WINONA, Minn. (WSU-UC) – Winona State University-Rochester’s Women’s and
Gender Studies department presents “Midnight Cowgirl” Tuesday, March 4, from
12 Noon-1 p.m. in the Quiet Lounge, University Center Rochester.
The presentation is half song and half story. It discusses the topics of
women, horses and men.
“Midnight Cowgirl” is comprised of English department instructors Pat
Costello, Bob Sanborn and Pam Whitfield.
The event is co-sponsored by the Carol Ann Wallace Distinguished Lectureship
at WSU and Rochester Community and Technical College.
The event is free and open to the public.
For more information e-mail Tamara Berg at: Tberg@winona.edu
People read the Post-Bulletin far and wide:
Can you tell me what happened to "The Day in History" online? As a Rochester citizen living abroad, it was a great connection to my home and to its history.
I found myself wishing (writer Loren Else) would include even more details, but I never dreamed it would stop. It's very disappointing...
As I replied to Pete, "Day in History" is still online, but we moved it to the Local News category. While you're there, check out the Associated Press Day in History video feature, posted most days.
Not sure if she means P-B editors or the kids in this pic...a note from a reader:
On the Community page of the Feb. 12 paper you posted a piture of two kids on the partially frozen Zumbro River. As many accidents as there are every winter with people gong through the ice, do you really think it wise to glorify people playing so close to open water?! I look at this picture and think these guys are idiots!
Fair point. We photograph reality, whether kids are wearing bike helmets, crossing against the traffic light or whatever, but we don't necessarily have to use the pics. That said, people do things that involve some risk -- every day in the sports section, for example -- and we choose at times to reflect that.
Politics and current events at the Minnesota Legislature are on the agenda at the P-B Dialogues community forum, coming up Thursday night in Rochester.
The event, featuring Post-Bulletin journalists as well as former Rep. Carla Nelson of Rochester and civic leader and former Supreme Court justice Sandy Keith, will begin at 6:30 p.m. in the Rochester Public Library auditorium.
Local news editor Mike Klein and government reporter Matt Stolle will join me in the conversation about politics -- from the presidential level to local elections -- and legislative action to date. This week’s veto override to authorize $6.6 billion in road and bridge construction likely will be a hot topic.
The event is free, as are the coffee and cookies. Look for more details here in advance, and I'll have plenty more to post afterward.
Some P-B typos and errors are more painful for me than others. This is one we made in Thursday's paper that hits too close to home (and note my earlier post on the Beethoven festival):
Dear Mr. Furst,
We were thrilled to see the announcement today regarding the upcoming Minnesota Beethoven Festival. However, there was one mistake in the posting... Joshua Bell plays the violin!
Holly J. Kellar
Marketing & PR Director
Minnesota Beethoven Festival
Thanks for the forgiving tone, Holly...yes, just "one mistake" in the item, but it was a doozy.
The reporter who made the error is an excellent and hard-working journalist who knows Bell is a violin phenom -- which is to explain, everyone makes inexplicable errors at times. Our challenge is to have enough proofing and redundancies in the process that you don't see those errors in print.
Here's a note from a reader, Mary Chollar:
Dear Mr. Furst,
Thank you for the article about the inspiring wheelchair dancers and Jane Belau's healing music in the Gonda subway lobby (Feb. 2, Jeff Hansel).
I was deeply touched when I saw them in late December and was moved to write my own experience of their loving gift. Perhaps my words express the feelings of others who have experienced these same magical moments.
It's fascinating to watch the news media deal with the fallout from the New York Times report yesterday on John McCain.
I tuned in the network news Thursday for the first time in a while and chose ABC News. Wrong choice -- McCain himself couldn't have written a more favorable script for Charlie Gibson. Let's just say Gibson's "frame" on the story was skeptical, and subversively partisan -- an approach his former ABC colleague Brit Hume has perfected at Fox.
There were plenty of other TV journalists taking shots at the Times as well, empathizing with McCain that it's "difficult to prove a negative" and suggesting the Times rushed the story to print because the New Republic was about to publish a behind-the-scenes story about the Times' work on the story.
That's among the more ludicrous threads in Thursday's media reaction: To think the Times would risk its credibility because of a critical story pending in a relatively obscure magazine is absurd. Presumably there were competitive pressures to get the story into print -- yes, that's the nature of news media, just like every other venture in the capitalist world, and it tends to drive good investigative reporting -- but it's laughable that the pressure was coming from the New Republic.
I also thought it was interesting how the New Republic story was effusively praised Thursday by talking heads such as Chris Matthews, while the reporting that took infinitely more guts and effort to produce, the Times story, was found so wanting, so imperfect, so lacking in sources and context, missing that je ne sais quoi, the Times' distinctive "authoritative tone."
Time will tell which story deserved more praise.
For all the criticism of the Times for dwelling on the prurient aspect of the story, I thought it was especially telling last night that the sex angle was pretty much the only one of interest to Matthews and others -- in fact, it often seemed the broadcast news "experts" hadn't read the whole story. The Times story raises other questions of judgment and impropriety, aside from McCain's personal rectitude regarding the lobbyist, but none could be as well-illustrated for TV as the sex angle, with the fashion shot of lobbyist Vicki Iseman.
I'll note here that the Washington Post also reported many of the same details in Thursday's edition, without sourcing the Times...in other words, they had their own sources, providing the same information.
Final point: The Times story doesn't assert that McCain had a romantic relationship with Iseman -- it says that some of his top advisors, "convinced the relationship had become romantic," intervened, confronted him and took action, and it attributes that information to "several people in the campaign said on the condition of anonymity." Not one person or two people -- several people provided that information to the Times.
Is that fact true, that staff members were concerned and took some action? If so, and clearly the Times says it is, then the story's right on the money and worth publishing, in my view -- especially in the context of McCain's history regarding lobbyists, campaign ethics and his "Straight Talk Express" reputation.
Until given more reason to doubt the story than Gibson, Brit, Rush and others have offered, I think it's an important story, and the Times was courageous to go with it.
A newsroom colleague sent this note to me while I was away for a few days...need to catch up with some of my robot reading, I see:
A reader called to complain about the story "Love & Sex with Robots" p. F8 Sat. 2/16. And also some other story about eating off of naked bodies.
"Why does that have to be in the paper?"
Of course it doesn't HAVE to be in the paper...but as I noted on this blog, the naked sushi story was an inevitable hit worldwide.