Tribulations in today’s media

In a clash between quality journalism and profit-based business, something has to give.

Par Ridder’s court-ordered expulsion from the Star Tribune on Tuesday was another blow to the already tumultuous state of journalism in Minnesota. According to the ruling, Ridder illegally used and distributed confidential business information from the Pioneer Press, where he was publisher until he moved to the Star Tribune in March. The judge’s ruling answers the question of where we should stand on the line between journalism ethics and profit-driven business tactics.

The troubles at the Star Tribune began when Avista Capital Partners acquired the paper in March. Avista is a private equity firm with holdings in energy companies and off-shore drilling. Companies such as these, that are more concerned with profit margins than quality journalism, place pressure on editors and publishers to cut costs and increase profit, even at the expense of news quality. This for-profit model of the news industry seeks short-term profits and increases for stockholders and investors, creating light “fluff” material to attract more readers. With the mass exodus of advertising revenue and readership to the Internet, profit increase also means cutting costs. Unfortunately, this leads to unloading employees and in the case of Ridder, questionable business tactics.

Last May, in service to overhead pressure, the Star Tribune bought out some 145 newsroom and business employees, just three months after the Avista purchase. This limits the number of journalists left to perform serious, in-depth reporting.

The Star Tribune’s situation is common in today’s media. News owners bow to the whims of stockholders, rather than meet the needs of us, the stakeholders. Journalism is a service to the public and newspapers need to uphold their ethical and quality standards, and strive for the truth under the pressures from companies whose interests lie elsewhere. Keeping our democracy should be the bottom line.