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Thursday, May 29, 2008

Can the electronic media be ignored?

I was a bit amused and then intrigued by some comments made by former Attorney General Mike Hatch posted yesterday on MinnPost. The Hatch comments were in response to a request for an interview from MinnPost's Eric Black, who was writing a piece on Hatch's role in the current managerial situation at the AG's Office. (Actually, it's the first part of a two-part series. UPDATE: Click here for part 2.)

Hatch, who now is in private practice in Minneapolis, had apparently scheduled an interview with Black, but then backed out at the last minute. Rather than just giving the typical Marsha Brady excuse (i.e. "Something suddenly came up"), Hatch sent a rather lengthy explanation as to why he was cancelling and not commenting, during the course of which he did, in fact, comment.

Here is part of what Hatch sent to MinnPost: "I had misinterpreted my secretary's message, and thought that you were with the Rochester Post. ... [I]t is my policy not to interview with bloggers. While I should stop right here, I feel chagrined in having agreed to a telephone interview with the Rochester Post, finding out that in fact you represent a blog called the Minnesota Post [sic], and having raised your expectations of an interview. ..."

First of all, I am not sure MinnPost is really a "blog" per se. The folks over at MinnPost may or may not agree with me, but I would say it's more of an online news service covering public affairs. These days, with people making comments on posted articles that may or may nor have previously appeared in print, it gets harder and harder to draw such distinctions. MinnPost is most definitely part of the electronic media -- a vastly growing segment of the news business. The migration of news online has hit daily general- circulation newspapers hard. Papers like the Star Tribune and Pioneer Press have shed some of their top journalists, who, in turn, have gone on to become part of the online media. Thus, in closing himself off to "bloggers," Hatch is losing access to some of the best and brightest in the business. Plus, many people born after 1980 will likely never get to see his pearls of wisdom if he confines himself solely to print. (Although most newspapers have a web presence themselves these days, so the dividing line gets kind of blurry.)

This is not the first time Hatch has professed a resistance to technology. Some may recall a little more than a year ago, while he was the director of complex litigation at the AG's office, he proclaimed that he didn't even have an e-mail address. (Ironically, that comment came as a rebuttal to allegations that Hatch had forced staffers to post positive things about the AG's Office on this blog). While I find it a bit difficult to believe that such a politicically well-informed man would have no idea what MinnPost is, I would suggest he acquaint himself with it and other online media.

As both a blogger and the editor of a brick-and-mortar (or at least paper-and-ink) newspaper, I don't really have a dog in this hunt. (Minnesota Lawyer has both a blog and a website, which makes us what the guys on Wall Street like to call a "multimedia" operation.) A part of me likes the idea of sources only talking to print publications because that's still the bread-and-butter of the news industry -- at least until someone figures out how to make online news pay. But realistically, I don't think it works to limit yourself to print in 2008.

They used to say that you shouldn't pick a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel. These days, I would make the following addendum: "You also shouldn't pick a fight with someone who gets a lot of unique visits to his or her site." Not as catchy, perhaps, but an accurate reflection of changes in the industry.


Aaron said...

I was pretty impressed but not surprised by Hatch's ignorance in his statement.

It was particularly humorous to me too because MinnPost has tried so darn hard to not be labeled as a "blog" or having "blogs" by saying they're more "professional journalists," as if professional journalists can't be bloggers too (like Eric Black). In fact, MinnPost goes out of their way to call their columnists' blogs "Current Posts" and seem to refuse to have them called blogs.

Then Mike Hatch refuses an interview with someone who has written for the Star Tribune for thirty years that writes for an online media publication run by the former publisher of the Star Tribune because he thinks it's a "blog."

A whole lot of funny yesterday. Can't wait for Eric Black's second installment.

Anonymous said...

The reason state officials like Mike Hatch and Tim Pawlenty don't use e-mail isn't because they're afraid of technology. They reason is they're afraid reporters will get their hands on it through data practices requests.

Mark Cohen, editor said...

Good point, and true, no doubt. As I recall, Mr. Hatch made the statement at the time to demonstrate that he was not techno-savvy enough to be attuned to blogs. (Of course, you don't need an e-mail address to post on a blog ...). I don't suspect Mr. Hatch actually is a techno-phobe, I think he's too sharp a political strategist to suffer under that kind of handicap.