Gobin Pawshington rips Babwa Spry Pelts

Duluth News Tribune Editor Robin Washington got one thing right in his column this week: The DNT is not good at promoting itself.

Washington announced that city hall reporter Brandon Stahl has been promoted to investigative/special projects editor and noted some other staff shuffling. It’s supposed to be good news. It shows that the DNT intends to focus more on investigative journalism. That’s what readers want, right?

But in the lead paragraphs, Washington for some reason decided to take a dig at Barbara Reyelts, news manager at Northland’s NewsCenter, who has for many years been promoted as an investigative journalist.

I’m not thrilled to admit it, but if you ask people to name an investigative reporter in the Northland, they’ll probably come up with a TV person whose name sounds like “spry pelts.”

More power to her and give credit to her station for sustaining the legacy of whatever stories she broke a decade or two ago. We at the newspaper should do as well promoting our staff.

Suddenly, promoting something readers will appreciate turns into a cheap shot against the competition.

Sure, Barbara Reyelts is a big girl and can take the heat, and there’s nothing wrong with being critical of her work as an investigative journalist when she is frequently promoted as such, but in the context of trying to promote the DNT it comes off as utterly obnoxious.

It must be embarrassing to the good reporters at the DNT to be so unfortunately associated with their editor’s remarks.

Making things worse, in the middle of noting the staff changes, Washington wrote:

If you’re keeping score, that’s a net gain for the DNT newsroom, contrary to any notions about the demise of newspapers.

Yes, it is a net gain for the DNT newsroom, but not for its network of newspapers. No one new was hired. Six people at four different Forum Communications newspapers were given new assignments.

So now something that would have, and should have, seemed like good news for the paper is reduced to seeming petty and pompous.

We’re all guilty of being critics from time to time, but when telling people they suck it’s generally wise to not talk about how awesome you are at the same time. That always backfires.

60 Comments

MikeS

about 10 years ago

When did Paul become a media critic? Wasn't he fired from every paper in town?

tamara

about 10 years ago

I wondered that myself, Paul...

Paul Lundgren

about 10 years ago

Ha! Yes, I have been fired from two papers -- neither of them being the Duluth News Tribune. (Fired in the truest sense once, and fired in the "we're so sorry we have to let you go but we're bleeding money" sense once.) 

And I guess I became a media critic today. I was just out on the porch a moment ago talking about how I should learn to keep my mouth shut. Oh well.

Bad Cat!

about 10 years ago

At least our local TV news is just that, local news. The DNT is just AP news feeds that I read for free on the Internet.

wildgoose

about 10 years ago

I caught that, too.  Plus, his 'joke' at the end of the column:   Passi and Stahl should make any official, or anyone else engaged in questionable or foolish behavior, consider the possibility of seeing it on the front page.

"Some people — usually the subjects of those [investigative] stories — don't like them. Most everyone else does. Everybody remembers them.

Which, with all due respect, you can't say for "spry pelts"."

What?  It doesn't even make sense to me, except it's a pointless dig.  I mean that, pointless, if he wants to raise a beef with Reyelts then do it, but say something.  Otherwise I agree with Paul, why not talk up your own team without ripping on the TV?

This may be a threadjack, but I like the new/old look of the Budgeteer, looks much more like the paper I started delivering when I was 8 years old.  Call me nostalgic, but I like my newspaper to look like a paper, not a weak copy of some other publication.  Also, I'm biased but I think that Matt Perrine's art and community coverage might just make that a must-read paper again, too.  I loved the recent stories and analysis of  the downtown economy.

Megan

about 10 years ago

I'm with you, Paul.  I read that article and it made me cringe and turn away the deeper it got.  

And "spry pelts"? WTF is that?  

Worse than the writing and digs, I kinda feel like he dumbed-down Passi and Stahl's promotion with his blithering.

Claire

about 10 years ago

I agree with you totally, Paul, that whole thing about "spry pelts" was weird. and I hope assigning Brandon Stahl to do  investigative journalism isn't going to make the paper even more of a tabloid than it's become in recent years.

Sam

about 10 years ago

About a year ago, the DNT articles that needed good investigative journalism often got the best information from its comments anonymous section (which Washington abolished after publishing an editorial by a UMD prof about how bad anonymous comments were).  

PDD is a good example of a place to get good information about the Twin Ports from comments.  This PDD thread itself is such an example of interesting public comments on a piece from the DNT.

Of course, one needs a good "mental filter" to filter out the junk comments (but one needs this filter for reading normal news articles too).

I can't recall how many times over the last year I read a DNT article and thought, "If there were anonymous comments, I'd probably have learned a lot more about this local issue."  Local people often have a lot to say about local issues, and some of those people have interesting things to say.  

Maybe the DNT should link to a PDD comment link for each article, so local people can supplement their information and point of view.  The DNT doesn't have a lot of money for thorough investigative journalism (and likely has some conflicts of interest, like any paper that relies on local businesses for ad revenue).  

Often it is only *anonymous* commenters who can give substantial information about the local "Powers that Be" (note the reference to investigative journalist David Halberstam's book "The Powers That Be," which is his account of how the modern media is an instrument of political and corporate power).  Non-anonymous critiques and discussions of well-connected local people and interests tend to be muted.

Claire

about 10 years ago

Sorry, Sam, I totally disagree with you. The DNT comments section was a total embarrassment, b/c a few wingnuts would hijack just about every thread and spew hate and nonsense. The reason PDD is a success is that there's some accountability, even though people can post anonymously if they wish. And if someone spews hate and nonsense here on PDD, chances are they'll get called out on it. If someone wants to provide information to DNT reporters anonymously, they can just shoot them an email -- anonymously.

Paul Lundgren

about 10 years ago

Yeah, I wouldn't drag the subject of closing comments on the DNT site into this. With comments like the ones they were getting, they are better off without.

Also, I would disagree with Bad Cat's assessment. The DNT provides far more local news than the Northland's NewsCenter. I just thought it was a no-class move for the DNT to take that personal poke at Reyelts in the context of hyping itself.

JBDRUM

about 10 years ago

The commentaries on PDD are more well informed and reasoned than the diatribes posted on the DNT website. Case in point was the latest exchange about the Israeli army response to the Gaza relief effort.

Will

about 10 years ago

I agree with Paul. It's good the DNT is getting an investigations unit (or whatever you want to call it) but that article was in surprisingly poor taste.

udarnik

about 10 years ago

I agree with Paul on this.  The tone of the column was bizarre, and parts of it made no sense at all.  "No one can say that about 'spry pelts'? WTF?"

Zac Bentz

about 10 years ago

All I know about the DNT is that they are in desperate need of a graphic designer/layout person. The secretary who's doing it now obviously has too many other things to do that take priority AND IS INSANE. The NNC may be graphically schizophrenic (I counted 6 NNC logos on the screen once) but the DNT really seems to be out for blood.

dlhmn

about 10 years ago

To each their own on that column, but isn't Northland's News Center dishing out pretty much the same thing - albeit less personal - with every one of their many promos (of which Barbara Reyelts, as part of management, no doubt plays a role in approving).

There's at least one ad in their rotation specifically touting their superiority over newspapers. And their incessant "more news" slogans tout - some more specific than others, all falsely - that they have "more news," while the DNT (and every other outlet in town) is lagging behind.

Jude

about 10 years ago

Zac: I agree about the layout of the paper.  I cannot bear to look at the front page, it is not inviting or pleasing and even the colors glare out...all that red and those huge letters. Not esthetically pleasing to my eye at all, glad you pointed that out, it has bothered me since they changed it.

mevdev

about 10 years ago

Redressing AP articles is a difficult task, apparently.

Sam

about 10 years ago

I completely agree about the wingnuts on the old DNT comment boards.  But I could just filter them out (I have to do a lot of filtering just to read the DNT in the first place).  My criterion for the comments being valuable was "How many informative or interesting comments did I read this week."  If I read more than one (and I usually did), then the comments were useful that week.  I don't pay attention to the crazies.  

Many respectable newspapers still have a comments section for each article (the Star Tribune is one).  I suppose I'm willing to filter through the crazies to get to learn more about the area, and the Star Tribune readers are too.

Tony D.

about 10 years ago

From the column in question:

"If you know somebody who's ripping people off or doing something wrong in other ways, better tell them to watch out."

Here's an idea: I know from a very solid source that a local daily paper in Duluth, MN, was set to do a story on a Duluth author with a nationally published first novel (published by a big time NYC publisher) that has received an abundance of critical praise. The DNT did an interview and a photo shoot with the author, but the article never appeared. Why? Because the editor realized the author was also an editor of a local monthly magazine, so he put the kibosh on the piece because he didn't want to advertise a competitor. Isn't that censorship guided by business, not news validity? Not a very ethical decision for a news source. I'd love to see an investigative report on that story! What's next: "You buy an ad, see, and then we do this nice story about your company/product/event...."

Quite a shift in the DNT policy: In 2005, when X-Comm published Denny Anderson's "Goodnight, Everybody....and be Kind"--a memoir by the anchor of a competing news source--the DNT gave Denny and the book a front page, above-the-fold article that celebrated his 40 years as "The Voice of the Northland" (the DNT's headline that day). See, even when it struggled financially, the DNT used to be a class act (and they covered local news no matter who made it). Now, well, not so much. I wonder if it has anything to do with editorial leadership? I wonder how this sits with the hard working folks in the news room trenches?

 "Spry pelts"? Are you kidding me? Why take some cheap shot at the competition?  What did that do to help the paper gain readers and advertisers? Better to ignore the competition rather than to point it out. He took what should have been a selling feature for the paper (finally, someone assigned to investigate stories, what a novel idea for a newspaper!) and instead made the DNT look petty and small.

Resol

about 10 years ago

Yes Mevdev, it is difficult to pare syndicated articles down to a couple of short paragraphs and not lose important details.  But I suspect AP also syndicates the short-short versions for watered-down papers like the DNT.

If I see an AP, Post, or Times article in the DNT that looks interesting, I'll go read it at the source.  Considering our complex world is increasingly converted into sound bites, I wish the DNT would stop abbreviating already short articles.

-------------------

Congratulations to Brandon Stahl on his promotion (a fact I learned about, incidentally, on PDD).  The lack of investigative journalism in this town has been frequently lamented, and I applaud the DNT for making changes designed to fill the void.

Too bad they kicked it off in such an awkward manner.  No offence to Northland News Center specifically, but it comes across as pretty pathetic for a daily newspaper to try to reclaim the mantle of investigative journalism from a local TV news manager that is "...sustaining the legacy of whatever stories she broke a decade or two ago."

Oh I can't resist 'harsh criticism' of this rag. For example, can't they wait just a couple more days before they hide content behind their paywall?

Thanks Paul, for your watchful and discerning eye on the media in this town.  Hopefully you won't learn to keep your mouth shut.

Jenny

about 10 years ago

I was surprised by this column, too. It was really odd. I don't think it's professional to go after a competitor like that. The

"Which, with all due respect, you can't say for "spry pelts"."

line at the end was weird, esp. after calling her 'spry pelts' the whole time.

I was in Best Buy the other day and I heard someone say to another "Dude, Robin Washington did this video for the News Tribune TV thing, and it's so bizarre! It's like he was ". I went home and watched the segment and it's true - he was pretty weird on video. Has Washington lost his mind?

Trying to say that 'city worker earned $123k' article was good journalism is pretty off the mark, too. Actually, that was terrible journalism.  The worker is only getting paid that much because the city stacks him with overtime instead of just getting a second employee, but the DNT didn't seem to realize or want to make note of that part. Plus, it's personally embarrassing to a private citizen who is not a politician or anything. Pretty bad example.

Sam

about 10 years ago

Jenny's last comment really hit the nail on the head.  A lot of DNT articles report a story without reporting some of the most important facts about it.  It drives me crazy.  

But maybe they just think that if they pay better (or more) journalists more to do more thorough, in depth reporting, they will not sell more papers anyway.

Mary

about 10 years ago

What a clunky and kind of demeaning way to promote itself and its staff. It takes a positive development and needlessly shackles it to negative connotations - it does seem really out of context.

Also, "spry pelts" is extremely lame.  If you're going to call somebody out, just call somebody out, don't try to be cutesy about it.

Piglet

about 10 years ago

If Rob Karwath were still at the DNT, you would never have seen such a thoughtless comment printed. My personal impression is that Mr. Washington has a grudge to bear and is less than professional both as a writer and a person. He owes Ms. Reyelts and the DNT readers an apology. As a person in a leadership position at the DNT, more should be demanded of him.

As for NNC ... "more newscasts does not equal more news" as they profess. It equals rehashing the same few stories over & over.

dlhmn

about 10 years ago

Re: Jenny's comment about the city overtime story

Jenny, did you just read the headline, or did you actually read the story? The story clearly outlined why the worker was earning that much money, and went into great detail about the city/union/OT rules and policies that led to the situation, as well as the sorry state of city infrastructure that necessitates so much work. They included comments from the worker in question, the union, city officials and other city employees. They compared Duluth's OT costs to other cities. They cast light on policies and procedures that most Duluth residents probably had never heard of. What more were you looking for?

udarnik

about 10 years ago

Also, the more I think about it, the more it bothers me that "spry pelts" does not really rhyme with "Reyelts."

Touchdown Johnson

about 10 years ago

Yeah, I can't stand Robin Washington. A friend of mine interned at the DNT and completely validated my impression. From personal experiences I can say that Karwath was a consummate professional and a very nice guy.

Congrats to Brandon Stahl, whose articles and blog I really enjoyed.

E.

about 10 years ago

I subscribe to the DNT and I think somebody there, whose name rhymes with "Bobbin Posh Wing Done," with all due respect of course,  thinks he is much funnier (and smarter) than he actually is.

The smug look on his face in his head shot photo makes it all the more unpalatable.

The Barbara Reyelts comment simply cements it as proof in my mind.

mevdev

about 10 years ago

There is a prime directive missing from both of these news outlets. It's like they want to be a part of something, but then they really don't want to help.

The series on poverty was great, but ultimately did it matter? Did it make people volunteer?

The DNT does not sell national news. It does not sell local news. It makes no money investigating interesting stories. It makes money selling advertisements.

I ask PDD: What could they write that would attract more advertisements? What would spur your business to advertise? Related story? Controversy? An article about you? What?

Paul Lundgren

about 10 years ago

Mevdev, your question is scary. The last thing we want newspapers doing is writing stories that make advertisers happy.

Advertisers should buy to capture an audience, and the audience is built through the paper writing good stories that have nothing to do with advertising.

Maybe the stories on poverty and homelessness did spur people to volunteer to help, but it's not the journalist's job to push anyone in one direction or the other. That can be done in an opinion piece, but not as part of the news.

Claire

about 10 years ago

Tony D -- Thanks for the story idea. I've been racking my brains on how to do a story on you-know-who, rhymes with Bendy Deb and her debut novel, which is FABULOUS and really did deserve more attention than it's received in the local media.

Resol

about 10 years ago

Yes, that's how it should be. The content attracts the readers, and the readers attract the advertisers.  

It would be nice if editors didn't make content decisions based on advertisers, and advertisers didn't make ad buying decisions based on content. I'm not that optimistic.  

The intermediary readers help us to ignore the glaring conflict of interest built right into the business model.

Claire

about 10 years ago

Resol wrote, "It would be nice if editors didn't make content decisions based on advertisers, and advertisers didn't make ad buying decisions based on content. I'm not that optimistic."

Resol, in a perfect world. I'll tell you, as someone in the media, it's the ideal to keep a wall between editorial and advertising. But the reality is far different, sadly. Wasn't there a big scandal in the early '90s, the DNT had an article about how to buy a house without dealing with realtors, and the realtors pulled their advertising?

Danny

about 10 years ago

34 comments, most complaining about Robin's quote, but nobody denying that what he said about Reyelts is right.

Paul Lundgren

about 10 years ago

Whether Reyelts is an excellent investigative journalist or not is a separate issue. In some people's opinion I'm sure she is and in other people's opinion I'm sure she isn't. 

People in the latter group probably don't feel it's appropriate to get into that in this thread because the complaint isn't that Washington is critical of Reyelts, but rather that he took a very clumsy stab at her in the context of promoting his own paper.

wildgoose

about 10 years ago

Because it was a cheap shot, Danny, and actually kind of bizarre.  Oh and not funny.  

But in my hamfisted way I did sort of address what you are saying by saying he should have just written about criticism of "Spry pelts" if he had something to say otherwise, just leave it alone.

edgeways

about 10 years ago

Washington got mixed up and confused his WordPress blog with the DNT editorial page.

c-freak

about 10 years ago

Underlying sexism too obvs.

Danny

about 10 years ago

HA!  Yup.  It's sexism.  And everyone ripping into Washington is either racist or anti-semetic or a combination of both.


Lord.

Adam

about 10 years ago

"New funding model for journalism: try doing it for a change."
— Julian Paul Assange, WikiLeaks founder [Twitter / web]

maria

about 10 years ago

I thought it was more age-ist, the way he condescendingly referred to her good news coverage as occurring "a decade or two ago."

Either way, Washington should spend more time on news and less time ripping on people who at least TRY to cover the news. Didn't Washington write a whole column recently on crossword puzzles? Good lord.

Danny

about 10 years ago

How about it wasn't ageism, sexism, frighteningly-skinnyism, or whatever?  How about it was simply one journalist giving his opinion on another journalist?

mevdev

about 10 years ago

"Mevdev, your question is scary. The last thing we want newspapers doing is writing stories that make advertisers happy."

We have no inherent right to a non-biased high-journalistic-integrity newspaper. Therefore, we get what they give us.

The DNT is a business and must make decisions based on money coming in. I am just trying to get this into perspective.

Resol

about 10 years ago

I think Mevdev, we do have an inherent (or at least constitutional) right to quality non-biased journalism as it is prerequisite for true democracy.  We can hardly self-govern effectively without the free flow of information.

Paul's point, I believe, was that to encourage thinking about how to increase revenue by appealing to advertisers with content would directly compromise that unbiased flow of information.  I took it a little further in my comment by questioning whether the advertisement funded business model really is capable of consistently producing information that is beneficial to the community and democracy but possibly detrimental to a major advertiser.

This view is based on your assertion (which I agree with) that the "DNT is a business and must make decisions based on money coming in." With that reality in mind, we need to do our best to bridge the gap between the way things are and the way they ought to be. In the absence of a credible funding alternative (thanks for the link Adam), the best bet is to maintain a thick wall between the business side and the journalism side of a newspaper.

Now please back to Bobbin Posh Wing Done.

vicarious

about 10 years ago

"How about it wasn't ageism, sexism, frighteningly-skinnyism, or whatever? How about it was simply one journalist giving his opinion on another journalist?"

That isn't journalism.

Danny

about 10 years ago

So journalists have to be journalists at all times and never, ever give their opinions on other journalists?

Paul Lundgren

about 10 years ago

Mr. Washington was writing a column and not a news story, and it is entirely expected that he will share his opinion from time to time in his column.

It was the execution and context of his remarks that are being criticized here.

Should I repeat that a few more times?

Tony D.

about 10 years ago

Danny, not sure why this is so difficult for you to understand.

Washington's column last Sunday wasn't a piece of journalism. It was a sales piece (disguised within his column, which we normally expect to be opinion) about the DNT now having investigative reporters on staff and other staffing changes. If it were an opinion piece about the quality of investigative journalism in the Duluth media, then he would have had the right to actually say something critical about Barbara Reyelts. (And if he were honest he would have had to say something even more critical about the DNT.)

But it was not really an opinion as much as it was a thinly-veiled sales piece designed to increase readership and advertisers for the DNT, and he used it to take a cheap shot at a competitor. And no matter your opinion of Reyelt's journalism, age, gender, or physical appearance, it was extremely inappropriate, unnecessary, sophomoric, and distracted from the goal of the piece, essentially undermining the entire effort and making the whole DNT look small and petty

Come to think of it, Washington's piece was a lot like many of your posts: too often inappropriate, unnecessary, sophomoric, and a distraction from the real topic at hand that essentially undermines a lively discussion. Oh, and don't let me forget thinking oneself clever for coming up with names like "Skelator" or "Spry Pelts."

Claire

about 10 years ago

I just think making fun of someone's name in a newspaper column is childish and immature.

Danny

about 10 years ago

Look.  I totally get it.  I totally understand WHY everyone is in such a tizzy about what he did here (although some of the ageism and sexism allegations are absolutely laughable).  I just didn't find it particularly offensive...partly since I agree with what he said (and nobody else seems to disagree since nobody is disputing his opinion).  It's merely a matter of me being able to handle this style of writing a column and some people not being able to.  But again, I'm sort of an "all bets are off" guy when it comes to the opinions being shared.  If you're not, then so be it.

Paul Lundgren

about 10 years ago

@ Claire: I don't think he wasn't making fun of her name, I think he was just being cutesy about coming right out and naming her.

Danny

about 10 years ago

Also, to Claire: He wasn't making fun of her name.  He was referencing her without saying her name by (sloppily) rhyming it.  That practice is decidedly NOT making fun of her name.  Weird that you would have gotten that out of it. 

Paul Lundgren

about 10 years ago

Since the subject of the DNT closing its online comments came up earlier, I'll note that a new comments feature was launched today.

According to a story in the paper: "The comments site has some new additions, including real-time flow to posts and yea-or-nay voting on the quality of individual comments, which will hide often-disliked posts from public view. Comments also will be threaded, making it easier for readers to reply to a specific post."

It seems the word "post" is synonymous with "comment" in the story, in case any of you are confused.

Claire

about 10 years ago

Here we go again...

Shut up, Danny.

about 10 years ago

Washington's comments were tacky, and appear to be fueled by his completely chickenshit personality. Bashing someone else who does a similar job, but better, is little more than an obvious inferiority complex, especially considering the fact that this was a promotional piece for the image of the DNT. I feel bad for his reporters because they have to deal with his piss-poor judgments fueled by his rollercoaster ego all the damned time. 

And I know Reyelts, so I feel compelled to back her up. She may be a bitch sometimes, and she may be one of the more controversial TV news personalities around here, but goddammit, she's a very smart woman with a good head on her shoulders. And she's a better journalist than Washington. Considerably so. And that is saying something considering the fact that print is supposed to be the superior medium.

Danny

about 10 years ago

Shut Up, Danny...if that is indeed your real name: I'm still waiting to hear what stories Babs HAS indeed broken in the last decade or two.  You know, like Robin said.

Shut up, Danny.

about 10 years ago

Give her a call at the station and ask her sometime if you're that concerned. Maybe she'll give you an interview for your silly podcast, too.

mk

about 10 years ago

So about this investigative journalism business. 

What constitutes investigative journalism?  Could someone who has more education that I regarding these matters give me a definition? 

And what then, is the line between investigative journalism and tabloid crap?  What constitutes a lead versus a rumor?  And if you hear a rumor, do you follow it?  And when does it because a grown up version of high school shenanigans? 

Why, MK?  Why are you digging up this old thread?  Because the phone call I got for a potential investigative journalism piece was so friggin' ridiculous, that I'm ready to cancel my subscription.  Anybody with some mildly honed observation skills of human nature would quickly put together that the lead was no lead at all.

Sean

about 9 years ago

Anyone that doesn't like Barbara can kiss it. She is classy. Some people are obviously a little jealous.

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