Hibbing editor’s final column shows what’s at stake in newspaper crisis

Mike Jennings, editor of the Hibbing Daily Tribune, penned his final column today as he announced the newspaper’s decision to lay him off in advance of his summer retirement plans. The paper, like all papers, is facing tremendous financial pressure amid the recession and ever-contracting share of advertising and circulation revenue. They’ll make due without an editor for a while, as they have in the past. (Disclosure: I am a independent contract columnist for the Tribune, where I was editor from 2001-2003).

First off, though Jennings was not as high profile as other northern Minnesota journalists, people are going to deeply miss the work he does. He demonstrates why in his final column. Rather than waxing poetic about his career or lamenting the loss of the good ol’ days of American journalism, he simply “tied up the loose ends” on several stories he’s been doggedly following for the last year or so.

  • An investigation of police conduct in Hibbing is explored one last time with fresh information from a public request of information.
  • The Excelsior Energy Mesaba Energy Project is explained one more time. Indeed, Jennings provided the deepest and most unbiased local investigative journalism of this economic development project during his tenure here … had I or others been as good a journalist in 2001 perhaps the public wouldn’t be on the hook for as much of the debt on this beleaguered mess.
  • Jennings closes with a final look at the immense public liability for the Essar Steel mine and steel proposal in Nashwauk. He demonstrates in just a few hundred words how desperation for jobs among public officials can lead to poor decisions.

All of this is well worth a read. A blogger like me provides a piece of the puzzle in the new media, but cannot replace independent, peer reviewed journalism entirely. We need people at meetings, observing official actions and documenting progress … and that means someone has to pay journalists a fair wage to do that. Here is Jennings’ important closing sentiment:

A newspaper is a lot of things, but the most important of them is a watchdog. A good watchdog doesn’t have to bite — at least not often.

But it does have to watch. That means it has to get fed enough to at least keep its eyes open.

… The choices you make as an advertiser or subscriber will help determine whether your watchdog stays alive and alert.

Choose wisely. The vital interests you serve could turn out to be your own.

Good luck back in Kentucky, Mike. You’re spot on, as always.

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