When nationally-known columnist and blogger James Lileks revealed that the Star Tribune had axed his column and assigned him to local news, we wondered what the Strib could be thinking. After all, the new management has a failing newspaper on its hands, and instead of using one of its most valuable assets to improve their situation, they buried Lileks in an assignment which makes no use of his national standing.
At the time, we thought that the Strib might be pushing Lileks out because of his connections to the conservative blogosphere. Now, though, it looks much more like a case of complete managerial incompetence, because the new editors have most of the Strib’s reporters playing musical chairs:
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The wholesale reassignment sounds as foolish as one can get. It sounds like someone read a book that talked about how good cross-training can be for an organization, but that overlooks the fact that the paper has to get the news published. The best people to cover stories for the paper are people who have built expertise in the topics involved. The Strib will not improve by eliminating beats like Outdoors — in a state where people love outdoor activities — or by transferring them to less-knowledgeable but cheaper reporters.
We are seeing the last throes of a major metropolitan newspaper. This plan will almost guarantee that the quality of news reporting will follow the same trajectory as its editorial writing.