A few weeks ago the new owners of the Star Tribune threatened to send the jobs of thirty-two of their advertising production employees to India, unless the employees agreed to find “expense reductions” of half a million dollars—or about $15,600 per employee. This business came hot on the heels of the Strib’s announcement that Pioneer Press publisher Par Ridder would be moving across the river. Local media watchers barely had time to wonder aloud about the rationale behind the hiring of the guy who had done such a good job destroying morale in St. Paul before the answer became obvious: The staff cuts that had just been made at the Pioneer Press were about to be duplicated on the other side of the river, and here was the experienced hatchetman who could do it.
However, at the same time as the advertising production jobs were headed for the subcontinent, and reporting jobs to oblivion, other jobs at the Strib were being filled by former Pioneer Press staffers. Several managers who had worked with Ridder in St. Paul were offered jobs at the Strib, but it’s worth noting that, with the exception of an offer made to Pioneer Press Editor Tom Fladung, who turned it down, none of the new Stribbers were to be journalists. No seasoned, crusty columnists; no hard-hitting investigative reporters; no eloquent editorial writers were among those recruited. Of course, it’s very rare that publishers at big papers recruit their own ink-stained wretches, but it’s unlikely that any new wretches would have been sought when the resignations of two dozen old wretches had just been gleefully accepted.
So, let’s just leave it that Ridder was going to have to wage the newspaper war short one of his hand picked Myrmidons. Er, make that two…
Ramsey County Judge David Higgs decided that there’s another job that’s going unfilled, at least for a while—that of Director of Targeted Publications. In his first ruling in the lawsuit brought by the Pioneer Press against the Strib, Ridder, et al., Higgs ordered on April 20 that Jennifer Parratt, who held that job at the Pioneer Press until about ten minutes after Ridder landed at the Strib, had to abide by her signed non-compete and confidentiality agreements and not work at the Strib. At the Pioneer Press, Parratt was the publisher of Spaces (subtitled “Places and Faces”). A recent issue was very short on faces, but had plenty of pictures of highly designed rooms in highly designed homes right next to ads that looked as though they’d been designed by the sort of newspaper ad designers who soon might be working in Mumbai. Spaced among those ads and photos were words.
The lead stories in the February/March issue of Spaces concerned two remarkable examples of the journalism most valued by the people now running our state’s largest newspapers—journalism that generates advertising directly without any messy detours through the intelligence of a reader. Yup, if you read Spaces, you would be treated to the startling revelation that jewelry, candy, flowers, and lingerie (but only if you are already sufficiently intimate enough to have asked your lady for her bra and panty sizes) make great Valentine’s Day gifts. Top that off with a recommendation that silk-covered pillows will enhance your décor better than polyester ones, and by golly, you’ve got yourself forty pages of advertising you can deliver to the right zip codes.
The Star Tribune, of course, already has a publication like Spaces, called Marq. (Who thinks up these names?) Marq has an even higher class of advertisers than Spaces, because Marq goes a step further toward eliminating those pesky concerns about providing any pretense of objective service to readers. Marq lets the advertisers actually provide the exquisite photography that graces the exquisite stories about the advertisers’ exquisite products. Combine this with the fact that the Strib has easy access to a larger number of the right zip codes than its competitor to the east, and you’ve got yourself a luxury magazine. Of course, Marq has slightly higher journalistic aspirations, too. In its last issue, we were treated to the musings of erstwhile publisher Monica Moses on personal style, and how her expression thereof includes arranging the books on her home bookshelves based on the color of their spines: “The blues drift into purples, which drift into fuchsia. Let me tell you, book publishers aren’t doing enough with fuchsia.”
Unlike their publisher counterparts in the newspaper industry, who are doing plenty.