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The stories behind the stories: January 2012

January 2012 will go down in the books as one of the mildest Minnesota Januarys in recent memory.  But around the water cooler, people in the Twin Cities were buzzing about much more than just the weather.  From a half-submerged Target semi-truck to Red Bull Crashed Ice, below are some of the stories behind the stories that made the front page.

Chalk one up for Patch

When word got out on January 10 that Shakopee was putting its name in the hat for the “stadium location sweepstakes,” guess who broke the story?  Star Tribune?  Wrong.  MPR?  Try again.  One of the TV stations?  You are mistaken.  Try Shakopee Patch.  The hyperlocal news site dedicated solely on the city of Shakopee is one of 25 Patch sites in the metro area.  Each site has one full-time editor and a cast of freelancers providing content.  Don’t expect this to be the last time Patch breaks a big story in the Twin Cities.

Target on ice

Courtesy of the Minnesota State Patrol

On January 6, the driver of a Target semi-truck lost control of his vehicle and skidded off I-94 in Monticello into an icy pond.  The driver suffered minor injuries and was released from the hospital shortly after he arrived.  No big deal, right?  Not so much.  While in the waiting room at the dentist that day, I noticed CNN was airing live aerial footage of the truck stuck in the ice.  The story had exploded onto the national scene (CNBC, Huffington Post, Yahoo! and FOX News, just to name a few).  Why did this seemingly insignificant story go national?  Two words:  great video.  Target is one of the most recognizable corporations in the nation, and its logo was peering just above the ice as if it was staged for the media.  To quote one of the CNBC anchors:  “That is an amazing picture.  That’s going to get a lot of play.”  TV news types are suckers for great video.

What’s oozing out of the Cathedral?

Courtesy of the Pioneer Press

Many were buzzing about this stunning aerial photo taken during Red Bull Crashed Ice, which drew more than 80,000 spectators to downtown Saint Paul.  The photo, which looks like a giant radioactive snake wrapping its way through the streets, was taken by Pioneer Press photographer Ben Garvin.  In an interview with MinnPost’s David Brauer, Garvin said Pioneer Press photographers go up in planes just once or twice a year to capture aerial shots.  We’re glad this was one of those instances.

Replacing a legend

After spending 45 years at Minnesota Public Radio, Midday host Gary Eichten signed off for the last time on January 20.  How does MPR replace a Minnesota legend?  Rather than try to replace someone who has been a well-respected radio fixture for decades and risk losing listeners, MPR decided to cancel the Midday show altogether.  A few days after Eichten’s retirement, MPR announced that it will launch the “Daily Circuit,” hosted by Kerri Miller and Tom Weber.  The show, which will air weekdays from 9 a.m.-noon, debuts on February 21.

Unnecessary roughness

On January 9, a story was released about the recovery of Michael Philbin’s body in a Wisconsin river.  He’s the son of Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin.  While this is not a Minnesota story, I couldn’t avoid commenting on what I read in the last paragraph.

“Michael Philbin was sentenced to six months in jail in 2009 after he was convicted of misdemeanor counts of sexually assaulting two teen girls and two counts of battery.”

Why did the reporter mention Philbin’s criminal history in a story about his death?  Journalists are taught to never speculate and never include unrelated information.  The only situation in which it would have been acceptable to include such information is if investigators said Philbin’s death may have been related to his criminal past.  But they didn’t.

Investigative resurgence

Despite newsroom cutbacks, we’ve noticed a rise in solid investigative reporting, especially at Minnesota Public Radio.  On January 20, MPR ran a comprehensive piece outlining how the Republican Party of Minnesota came to be $2 million in debt.  Three days later, they filed a report of similar magnitude detailing a difficult first year for construction of the Central Corridor in Saint Paul.  Instead of skimming over the issues, these reporters dug deep into their stories, and it was clear they spent a great deal of time and resources producing them.

For many years, it appeared the news industry was heading in the direction of “quantity over quality.”  But two of the four major TV stations in the Twin Cities are currently seeking investigative reporters.  Perhaps local news organizations are learning that the public appreciates top-notch, in-depth pieces.

That’s all for the month of January.  Be sure to check back with the GP Spin next month for the February edition of Minnesota media highlights.

posted by Chris Duffy on January 31, 2012

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