Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Stillwater: The Gazette Editorial Page--My God...

A while back, I asked Kris Janisch, editor of the Stillwater Gazette, if I could get my regular column back in that fine organ.

He said no; but he was very diplomatic and professional about it. Which wasn’t surprising, really—Kris was a fine reporter before he was promoted to editor. The best part of the Gazette under his leadership is still its front page, its local news reporting.

But he declined my services, explaining that the main reason that they wouldn’t take me on again as a columnist was that (after being fired) I published “a private document.” This, I must assume, refers to an angry smear directed to the Gazette by local political activist Margot Rheinberger. In it, she demanded that I be fired, and so I was. My transgression was apparently that I printed a copy of that email in this blog after I was “terminated.”

So I understand the Gazette’s position: you don’t want to engage a columnist who might publish an “internal document” in his blog (yes, even if he prints it after you've fired him.)

I’m telling you this in the interest of full disclosure, because I’m about to criticize the Gazette—for the first time on this blog in about a year. The criticism is rooted in this question: who is doing their columns on local politics, these days?

No one, apparently, except the local politicians. Mark Hugunin still writes regularly, and his stuff is often interesting—but Hugunin is a some-time candidate for office, so his columns on local controversies are somewhat “careful”; whatever he writes can be thrown up to him the next time he seeks office. The editorial page stuff on Congress and the State House is regularly written by: the people serving in the Congress and the State House. George Thole is back occasionally, and he sometimes drops conservative views into his popular sports column—but he’s a local politician, too. Janet O’Connell, who was not a politician or candidate for office, used to bring a strong liberal perspective on local politics to the Gazette. But she is gone.

I’m not alleging that the Gazette won’t print strong liberal or conservative views; they will—especially if they’re coming from syndicated columnists who have no interest in or knowledge of the St. Croix valley. What I am alleging is that the stuff we’re reading on “the opinion page” these days has regularly descended to material like this:

“To kick off Memorial Day Weekend, here are 31 ways in which you and your friends can enjoy the St. Croix Valley:

1. Pay tribute to those who have served by visiting the Stillwater Veteran’s Memorial.
2. Go to Nelson’s Ice Cream Stand on Greeley and a single scoop of Caramel Cluster-Fun Ice Cream.
3. Take someone to Nelson’s for the first time and watch their amazement at the size of the cone.
4. Take a boat ride up the scenic St. Croix River. Then—it’s off to Nelson’s for a tremendous scoop of Strawberry Swirlie on a chocolate covered waffle cone.
5. Grab a Meister burger, order it with grilled onions and a side of fries, at Meister’s bar and grill. And for dessert—why, right up the street, make a turn, and you’re back at Nelson’s for their incredible mega-sized nuts sundae.
6. Head to Savories for their shrimp po’boy sandwich. Mm-mmm! That’s good.
7. Back to Nelson’s for more you know what.
8. Ask Hilda to be your server at the Gasthaus restaurant. Pickles galore!
9. Catch a concert at the local Lumberjack Days—only five minutes drive from Nelson’s, the home of the super-size serving cone!
10. People watch at Pappy’s bar; get shit-faced and talk about puffing local businesses on “The Opinion Page.” Then vomit ice cream off the pier.
11. Back to Nelson’s for more! Bubble Gum Ripple, that’s nummy. Then go to Joseph’s restaurant for a slice of Joseph’s famous incredible macadamia jelly pie. Then, brunch at the Lake Elmo Inn! Why not? And why not stop at Nelson’s one more time on the way home to pick up a take out gallon of their Hot Buttered Almond Joy Up Your Fudge-Packed Rocky Road ice cream --”

Et cetera, et cetera. And then he ends the list with this, my favorite:

“31. Support as many of the local stores, restaurants and merchants as possible.”

The columnist includes that suggestion, in case you didn’t get the message behind the first thirty.

Jesus Christ, Kris. Jesus Christ, Mark Berriman, publisher. Jesus Christ, Sun Newspapers. This is the Gazette’s Opinion Page, now? You guys are happy with that? This is the editorial page of the oldest daily paper in Minnesota? There's a war on, you know.



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