Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Star Tribune's Suki Dardarian At Year One: "Everything That Rises Must Converge"

"An identity is not to be found on the surface."
-Flannery O'Connor
A year ago this month Suki Dardarian started work as the Star Tribune's new managing editor. There was minimal coverage of what I considered to be an important development in Minnesota media.

Dardarian came to the Star Tribune from the Seattle Times, where she had been passed over for promotion to editor. Later in the year her husband, Peter Callaghan, joined MinnPost. I wrote a two part blog about her arrival which can be read here and here. Aside from that, I know of no other coverage of her in local media, traditional or new. That should tell us something.

Since that time, the Star Tribune has moved from its previous headquarters of 95 years, a stand alone building not entirely lacking in architectural beauty, to three floors of a ghastly glass building which pockmark downtown Minneapolis, adding to the ugliness of that part of the city. For all the sneering at St. Paul, where I live, the most cursory of visits to the two downtowns quickly leaves no doubt which city understands urbanism-as-humanism better.

Even Star Tribune reporters understood what was being lost, as they tweeted fond reminiscences of the work space they were losing, sometimes at a level of treacle that made me blanche but not respond. Being Irish, I recognized mourning despite the very different garb in which it was clothed in this instance and mourning should rarely be mocked, at least in public.

New office space with a worse product is my assessment of Dardarian's first year. To be fair, which is an important value to me, I don't know how the internals of the Star Tribune have played out vis-a-vis Dardarian and her boss, executive editor and white Hispanic Rene Sanchez. Any outside observer can reasonably assume that she has executed the ideas--the vision thing--for which Sanchez hired her. And certainly one year is a short amount of time, especially given the move of the newspaper to a faux Google-like environment.

And yet a number of changes took place undeniably engineered by Dardarian. On the reportorial level, perhaps none was as noticeable as the letting go of Rachel Stassen Berger, a long time, predictably liberal reporter for the Star Tribune. The Pioneer Press picked her up and the cover story was the age old "better opportunity" one. It may well have been but something tells me not. Again, to be fair, Berger has said publicly that this is precisely what happened. And who among us would distrust the media?

David Brauer & Brian Lambert both speculated about the move but neither suggested the change had anything to do with Dardarian. It might not have but to leave that possibility out was telling. Brauer is an interesting follow on Twitter (@dbrauer) and readers should. We have something of an entente cordiale and it works. Lambert is not on Twitter (I admit to being intrigued by that) and he likes me when I criticize my team and ignores me when I do the same to his. Pure MinnPost, which is not a legitimate news source. Still, I could do worse.

But coverage of media personnel bores me and it should bore you. Why? Because where any given reporter works is far less interesting compared to what they are covering and how. Or, as is so often the case, what is not being covered by local media. Our insipid local Fourth Estate seems never to mind getting scooped repeatedly by national and foreign press on stories under their noses. Political correctness essentially explains why.

"Morning Hot Dish," previously Berger's beat, has been taken over by a new Dardarian hire, J. Patrick Cooligan. It's awful: bullshit chatty, lowbrow and full of media self-references.

Worse, it steals unapologetically, in both tone and substance, from Blois Olson and his well read and deservedly well regarded free-subscription based "Morning Take." No honor among thieves, one gathers.

Which brings us to the one thing Dardarian has done: hire lots of truly mediocre reporters who write badly and on abysmal and idiotic topics. In this, perhaps, she's just imitating her boss, white Hispanic Rene Sanchez: hire no one who will threaten you but whom you can fire if things get rough. Allison Sherry in the DC bureau, who took over from the accomplished and well respected Kevin Diaz, now at the Houston Chronicle, as is Dardarian's predecessor, is the worst among the lot. If you're intelligent, you don't actually read the Star Tribune so much as put up with it; the Board editorials are a monument to brain dead liberalism. I'm not sure what this portends for its business model.

Of course, there was a turgid 5 part series about the dangers of ATV's that fairly screamed "nominate us for a Pulitzer about an invented story the general public doesn't care about." It bombed and when the reporters went online to have a real time discussion about the "issues" it raised, one was put in mind of a digital cemetery.

I thought, mistakenly, that Dardarian would view her new job in a new town as an opportunity for truly fresh, creative thinking, writing and reporting. Putting aside the exegiencies of print media in a dinosaur-like decline, Minnesota would have benefitted from someone in her position who wanted to shake things up.

As I wrote previously, and however fatuous the premise, Suki Dardarian said she went into journalism to change the world. Instead, she does what pleases management in order to get her paycheck and oversees a daily product of breathtaking incuriosity. Sic transit liberal arts majors.

This is odd because we've had, for example, a few articles about sleazy public education officials abusing their expense accounts. Why not more of this?

The renowned journalist Jack Shafer, of all people, said to me on Twitter that the Pulitzers are a "shit prize." Indeed they are (as are Polk & Peabody and those awful "regional" Emmys). But Dardarian has twice been on a Pulitzer jury so it's all she knows. Given her readership, though, who could tell the merely mediocre from the truly awful?

It takes some doing to make the Star Tribune worse than it was just a year ago but Suki Dardarian has done just that. Again, this must be what management wants but the product is truly awful. Any Minnesotan can ignore this newspaper and be equally if not more fully informed.

The new, revamped, highly touted Star Tribune website was supposed to launch last Sunday. As of this writing, it hasn't. Some might say this is emblematic of the comprehensive incompetence at all levels of the Star Tribune.

In preparing to write this post I found that Dardarian has me blocked on Twitter. I've never engaged directly with her, to my knowledge, and have a reputation of at least being polite with those with whom I disagree.

I can't take it personally. I can only assume that Dardarian isn't used to having her journalistic ideology challenged. From the falling arc of her career, it shows.

Photo credit: Suki Dardarian, Instagram

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