Star Tribune workers seek public support to save the newspaper

Reposted from Workday Minnesota MINNEAPOLIS - A major-league city depends on a professional source of daily news. Workers at the Minneapolis Star Tribune took that message to the streets Monday, using the Minnesota Twins’ home opener to unveil a campaign to save their bankrupt newspaper.

As fans filed into the Metrodome, members of the Minnesota Newspaper Guild and other Star Tribune unions passed out “Save the Strib” bumper stickers and baseball scorecards printed with tips on how to support the nation’s 15th-largest newpaper - and its 1500 workers.

The Star Tribune filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in January, after Avista Capital Partners defaulted on loans it took out to finance 90 percent of the $530 million it paid to acquire the newspaper two years ago.

Since then, newspapers nationwide have seen their circulation and advertising revenues dip substantially. Earlier this year publications in Denver and Seattle – formerly two-newspaper metropolitan areas like the Twin Cities – shuttered their print operations.

“Save the Strib” organizers say their goal is to avoid a similar fate locally by stirring up grassroots support for the newspaper, making their product more responsive to readers’ needs and, if possible, identifying alternative ownership groups.

Jackie Crosby, a Star Tribune business reporter and one of several campaign organizers, said she fears Minnesotans have developed a “sense of complacency” about the future of their largest newspaper, when what’s needed is a sense of urgency.

“People know the Star Tribune is in trouble,” Crosby said. “But you talk to people and they say, ‘The newspaper’s not going away, is it?’ Well, it could.”

If the Star Tribune does go away, Crosby said, the community will lose “an index of the way people live.”

While the Internet has a wealth of voices providing opinions on current events, most of those voices depend on professional journalists to do the work of news gathering and reporting. And no media outlet in town hires as many professional journalists as the Star Tribune.

“Paid journalists pore through reports and documents and sit in on public meetings,” she said. “We look in places people don’t normally look and try to shine a light on the community.”

The campaign’s slogan, “It’s About Our Community,” stresses both the newspaper’s vital role in the democratic process and its impact on a region’s quality of life, Star Tribune business reporter Jennifer Bjorhus said.

“I’ve worked at a lot of metro dailies in a lot of cities,” Bjorhus said. “There’s no question the daily newspaper is the heartbeat of the cities where I’ve worked.”

Bjorhus is not alone. In video testimonials posted online at savethestrib.com, civic leaders, business owners and sports stars – including Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman and hockey star Lou Nanne – speak to what a vibrant daily newspaper means to them.

The Web site also features a petition of support for the Star Tribune, as well as a forum where community members can suggest ways to improve the Star Tribune or make it more profitable. There’s even a forum for ideas about alternative ownership structures.

Finding a buyer for the Star Tribune may seem “audacious,” Crosby acknowledged, but it’s also the newspaper’s best hope for survival.

Has Star Tribune ownership gotten involved in “Save the Strib?” Not yet, but Crosby, who said Guild members have been the “catalyst” for the campaign so far, left the door open.

“We’d love to have (ownership) involved,” she said. “We think they care about saving the Star Tribune as much as we do.”

Michael Moore edits The Union Advocate, the official publication of the St. Paul