Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Trials and STribulations 

[A reader, Dan Cohen, has sent the following letter to the StarTribune regarding its coverage of several items regarding the tax increase proposals in the Legislature this session, and the coverage of Bill Cooper's departure to sunny and income-tax-free Florida. I am posting it without further comment as interesting to my readers. He has edited what he sent to the STrib here for style:]

The Strib doesn't have a clue as to what to do about the mess they're in. Here's an outfit that hates and is hated by a substantial part of their customer base trying to shapeshift into something that will matter to people they've been holding in open contempt for decades. They've operated as a monopoly, an unregulated monopoly at that, since time immemorial. That mindset informs every word they publish.

Take for instance Kate Parry's column of last week. Ms Parry is billed as the Readers Representative, with the mission of "ensuring" that the voice of the reader is heard in the newsroom. That's pretty much the opposite of what her column is about. Most of what she does is ensure that the voice of the newsroom is heard by the reader. She would seem to be fairly representative of the Strib's attitude in its present predicament. Here's her principal argument for the Strib to continue to act the way it does:
I shudder to think of those decisions (i.e., matters of public policy-- my wording. D.C.) being made based on the unverified claims I see plastered onto some websites and blogs.
What Ms. Parry and her ilk don't realize is that many of us shudder to see decisions on matters of public policy being based on what we read in the Strib. That's why their circulation is tanking. Readers now get information from the net and the blogs and each other, because a significant portion of the readership does not trust the Strib to give them an honest shake on the news.

For years and years, the Strib has gotten away with demonstrating disdain and distaste and then some, for those who disagreed with them. Why not? Their readers had no place else to go. And the Strib also hasn't seem to much care that often the feeling was mutual. In fact, they seemed to wear it as a badge of honor that so many of the unschooled masses were infuriated by the Strib. It just confirmed the Strib's intellectual superiority.

Times have changed.

Now Ms. Parry says, trust us.

It won't happen.

Once trust is gone, it never returns.

There is no return trip ticket to those halcyon days when the Strib called the shots around here. Now it is the Strib itself that is on the defensive and it is the Strib's policies and attitudes that are being called into question. And it is the readers who have the upper hand at last, voting with their mouses against the arrogance and elitism that held the upper hand for so long.

The solution: for the Strib there is none. The Strib will continue to wither, and while it will never go completely away, it will simply be one player among many in a highly segmented market, where their niche will consist of a hard core of aging angry leftists.

Lots of other business have faced competitive challenges and survived and even thrived. One example is TCF, which was slowly withering away in the dying Savings and Loan industry. A new leader, Bill Cooper, was brought in, and he revived the business by converting TCF to a chartered bank. An obvious solution? Hardly. Cooper's chief competitor, Hal Greenwood of Midwest Federal, continued to dig himself and his company into an even deeper hole by plunging his business into risky investments in trailer parks -- the subprime loans of that era-- that eventually bankrupted Midwest.

Greenwood wound up in prison.

Cooper was a leader in the Minnesota Republican party.

Greenwood was a leader in the Minnesota Democratic party.

Cooper's contribution was recently recorded by a Strib columnist who slammed him for making a big pot of money for himself and leaving Minnesota for warmer climes when he retired.

Okay, it's no secret nobody loves the richest kid in town, and slamming Cooper was tailor made for the Minnesota constituency that hates the wealthy and that the paper loves to cultivate, whether the rich earned their money themselves or not. (One exception: the notorious public leech, Carl Pohlad, whose legendary talent for snaring government handouts has earned the Strib's admiration).

It was also tailor made to bring tears of joy to every single development staffer in every single state in the union other than Minnesota, who will clip and trot out the Strib's attack on Cooper and today's editorial calling for the highest state levied taxes in the nation on personal income and show them to every corporate executive whom we are competing for to expand or open new business and bring new jobs to Minnesota.

"Here it is, Mr/Ms. Boss. Move to Minnesota, build a business, hire thousands of people, pay them decent salaries, generate dividends for your investors, and after working a lifetime to do it, when you decide to retire to , God forbid, a warmer climate, the local press, instead of congratulating you on your contribution to the civic welfare, will kick you in the butt, and tell you not to let the door do further damage to your backside on the way out. And while you're here, they'll also tax you to the max. Personally and with a great sense of moral entitlement."

This is the sort of stuff the Strib publishes every day in whatever little corner of the paper they can find that lends itself to that message, and believe me, it is a the business equivalent of a deadly roadside bomb in the hands of competing states.

Corporate executives are not given to calls to holy orders. They are, it is true, highly desirous of taking care of themselves bigtime. But the glory, the wonder, the blessing, of capitalism is that in order for them to receive the maximum benefit for themselves, unless they are of the Nachio variety, they also have to benefit others as well. That's what Cooper did. That's what the Strib denigrates. And that's the message that will find its way to every executive considering a move to Minnesota.

But then, it's all simply part of the same sad scenario: the desperate gasps of a wounded beast. And this is just the beginning.

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