News broke this week that the Minnesota News Council has closed its doors. A piece by Gail Rosenblum which ran in the Minneapolis Tribune last Thursday eulogized the Council as a promoter of “media accountability and civility in public discourse,” and “dialogue between news consumers and news makers.” She also asserted that it had a more practical value in keeping media complaints out of court through a sort of mediation process.
We at the Post were twice enmeshed in the coils of the News Council and our experience was entirely different. First of all, we sought no mediation of any kind. We told the Council that the complaints against us were without merit and, in fact, frivolous, brought by a mischievous county official, since moved on, and academics with too much time on their hands, one assumes. All were up to their necks in local politics. None of this would ever conceivably have wound up in court.
Nevertheless, the News Council informed us that we had no say in the matter, that a tribunal would convene whether or not we liked, or even participated in it. So what took place, then, was no kind of mediation but a very expensive and time-consuming forum for publicity-seekers airing their bogus grievances. It seemed to us that the Council, by then, had no way of sorting out legitimate from frivolous grievance, and would take virtually any case, simply as a reason to continue to exist. Certainly, in our instance, they rewrote the complaints against us from specific accusations which were absurd on their face, to questions of “fairness” for which there are no objective criteria and, therefore, impossible to defend or argue in any court of law.
We naturally refused to take part in the proceedings and informed the News Council that the only authority it could have over us was what we might voluntarily grant by our participation, which would be withheld, thanks so much.
It was particularly irksome, then, to receive a letter from the News Council awhile later, soliciting us as Minnesota Newspaper Association members, to contribute to the Council in order to enjoy the benefits enumerated in the first paragraph of this piece.
We naturally declined and shared our reasons in an open letter to MNA members. Among other things, we pointed out that newspapers caught up in MNC proceedings would not find themselves judged by their peers, rather, a weird assemblage of pompous PR types and air head academics; only five of the then current members were working print journalists.
We like to think that our input might have had something to do with the demise of the MNC, for its lack of credibility with and funding from the parties it was supposed to benefit.