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May 07, 2007


James Lileks, a terrific writer and one of the best newspaper columnists in America, says on his blog today that his newspaper, the Minneapolis-St.Paul Star-Tribune, has decided to kill his column and have him write straight local news stories. This is like the Miami Heat deciding to relieve Dwyane Wade of his basketball-playing obligations so he can keep stats.

Sometimes I don't understand the newspaper business. What's left of it.


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Probably too much pressure with the NY Post being sold in the Midwest.

It's a business... unfortunately, it's a business that doesn't always understand that a cadre bleeds printers black when pricked.

Hey, you can't do that to a guy who references Arthur C. Clarke in his column. Boo.

Whoa. My brain just exploded. Unbelievable!


This is so ridiculous it strikes me as an April Fool's joke. Except that it's May. The "fools" part is accurate. Joke, not so much.

It's Minneapolis, what do you expect!

Won't happen. Can't happen. If it does happen, it's going to have to unhappen.

I say we boycott Minneapolis! What's there anyways??

this. is. so. depressing.

Honestly, who cares?
It's clear they need his talents more for enws and less for some self-indulgent ditty that has no consequence for anyone, elast of all readers.
just get to work, man, and quit your embarrassing whining.

Wow. Lileks is the Strib's best writer. What could they be thinking? Or not?

And if our chicken-booger-exploding-toilet-seat fearless leader here writes something without any sense of irony, it's something pretty bad.

OTOH -- wouldn't it be interesting to see Lileks angle on a school board meeting? A fire department picnic? A Lake Calhoun regatta?

This is a travesty. What a waste of talent.

kevin, honestly, we care.


we do care, kev.

I bet Lileks has 10 job offers from other papers by the end of the day. What is it about becoming "management" that makes people lose IQ points?

*waves @ Hammie WAY up there!!!*

Welcome back!!!!

The world is becoming a strange place. At least maybe he can keep his online blogging going.

It seems like all newspapers are pulling crap like this. Getting rid of columns because people are not buying papers anymore. The local paper the Columbus Dispatch just consolidated and cut a lot of stuff they had in it. The reason? newspapers are not selling anymore. They need to dumb it down to generate revenue. Young people don't bother to stay current on the news and pick and choose what they want from video links and blogs. Is the information researched to be correct? Who knows. They want sound bites not something they HAVE to READ! So the papers cut back to save money. Simple as that. The bottom line is the almighty dollar.

agree with rob. and lileks has a great website too. newspapers am shooting themselves in the feets.

This is nuts. The ONLY reason to buy papers any more, IMHO, is the local stuff and a chance to read the work of local writers. National news you get online or on TV. Chopping a column like Lileks' doesn't make any sense.

I would bet you on the street I live on, Out of the 20-30 houses on the street, only 5-6 get the daily paper. When I was a kid in the 60's and early 70's when my brothers and myself all had paper routes, ALMOST every house on a street got the paper. I took over the route my brother had. Those people are now either retired and moved away or have died. The generations when everyone read the paper are now over. The internet is slowly killing the print newspaper.

I read the paper - almost all of it. And what do I skip? You got it - the Sports section. The only time I read it is during Derby time and the "columnist emeritus" - whose sports writing kept him on the paper for 40 years - always in the sports section - is an awful piece of crap.But apparently my opinion doesn't count for anything, because they keep him on staff, unofficially and pay his way to places like Louisville, which he slanders in his column because he doesn't know how to write news, just "sports".
Thanks - I needed to say that./end rant

People think more of sports today than anything else. The local tv news during college football season leads in with stories on the local college team. The world could be coming to a end but Ohio State football is the top story. Incredible......

Something about sitting on the toilet balancing a laptop doesn't quite hack it - a newspaper though ...

I still read the daily fishwrap, but only because they litter my driveway with a copy every day at no cost to me just to keep their (faked) circulation numbers up.

If only the stuff in the first paragraph of Lileks' Bleat column were true.

Lileks sucks ass, and I won't miss his "humor" column one bit.

Actually, my parents would be very, very happy if they got national/world news in their regional paper. They HATE watching stupid perky TV news, which, by the by, is all local waterskiing squirrels and the latest on Anna Nicole Smith. They subscribe to the Wall Street Journal now.

You know what makes a local/regional paper really truly worthless? When everything in it comes off the wires. A good local columnist like Lileks goes a long way. Plus, his site is brilliant. I can't believe there's not something for him to do on the web side of things if nothing else.

Perry and kev, you're certainly entitled to your opinions, but we will miss him tremendously. And I'm speaking for a great majority of this blog here. I don't even have to ask for a show of hands to know this.

Thank God for The Institute of Official Cheer!!

Shortsighted. Lileks is a great writer, and graced the Strib with his words. The Strib had 3 other metro columnists, believe it or not, each of whom belonged on the op-ed pages (2 hard left, hard right). Whatever their merits, none of them approach Lileks' wit, insight and ability to turn a phrase.

I have to agree with JM, however. I'm curious to see Lileks' treatment of the various stories in the Twin cities. I still think this is a bad move.

Maybe Dave can get him a job writing for the Herald? He could follow Gary Hart or something. That would be cool.

When Lileks is offered jobs for national publications (and he will be and he'll take one), the Trib can only blame itself when he fires a couple of shots their way.

I see a William Geist-like career arc in his future. And I mean that in a good way.

Typical "Strib" move. They get rid of the items people like and add what we don't. The only thing I use the paper for anymore is the crossword puzzle. Sad, but I can't stomach the drivel in the paper anymore.

Kevin and "Perry" are spouting the kind of nonsense that kids who have yet to reach puberty often do. Let their voices change, give them a few years actually reading newspapers and drinking something other than Mountain Dew, and they might come around to realizing that clever, insightful columnists are I also suspect there's a reason Perry's last name is "Winkle." I have to say, it fits.

As for the StarTrib's decision, it's utter bollocks. Clearly the people behind the decision have decided to lower the paper's carbon footprint by running it into the ground. I suspect Lairbo is correct and that Lileks may be writing his humour column well after the paper that currently employs him has become an ink-stained footnote or hangs up the "Under New Management" sign.

I should have "previewed" The sentence "and they might come around to realizing that clever, insightful columnists are" should have read "and they might come around to realizing that clever, insightful columnists are in precious, short supply."

The "winkle" joke stands though, I suspect for ages.

Where is a 9-foot tall Terminator robot shaped like the Pillsbury dough boy when you need one?

As an ocassional reader of the STrib (mostly because it's forced on me, but their online content is far superior to the St. Paul paper) I think this is ridiculous. The Star Tribune wouldn't know humor if it bit them in the hindquarters, though; far too important for trivial things like that.
I hope James Lileks finds something with better pay, job security, and that allows him to telecommute. A green roof would just be silly up here!

Seriously, you're all talking about his column as opposed to his blog or other online writing? I can see being a fan of the blog, though I'm not; I'm taken off guard that people are so loyal to a column that deals with topics such as (a more or less random sample) "I need new sunglasses," "I have a cold," "summer school-- boy that sucked," and "weird how birds die, innit?"

Yeah, one thing that Lileks' blog revealed was how much life and quirk was being squeezed out of his writing to make it fit in the Star-Tribune. (For which the editors blame him, not themselves.) Anyway, I don't think we should be bashing the people here who don't find Lileks funny. Humor is individual, they're entitled to their opinion...

...and isn't it interesting that at least they HAVE an opinion of Lileks. How many other writers at the Star-Tribune can anyone here say that of?

Because, FL, there's way too much seriousnessisocity in the world (to borrow a phrase turn from OtheUmanity) and we need all the amusement we can get. How many times do you want to read unrelieved versions of how many kids got shot up in schools or what boneheaded government maneuvers are afoot?

Besides...what blog is it you're reading again...?

He was always underutilized there. They had no idea what they had.

"I'm taken off guard that people are so loyal to a column that deals with topics such as (a more or less random sample) "I need new sunglasses," "I have a cold," "summer school-- boy that sucked," and "weird how birds die, innit?"

I'm sorry, FL, but how could you write that on Dave Barry's site? You know, Dave Barry, the man who can spin gold from Wienermobiles, boogers and exploding cows? One of Lileks' bits of brilliance (just like Dave's) is that he can take the most mundane things and make them interesting/funny/hilarious.

Anyway, it not so much the newspaper column for a lot of us. It's just the astonishing underappreciation of real talent on the part of the Star-Trib overlords.

Newspapers have been slitting their throats for a while.

One day advertisers will smarten up and start spending money on the web. Not the PC MSM mush,

Wow. Two trolls on one thread. We almost never see those snarling darlings on this site. Funny that this topic woud bring them out of their burrows. Humor is subjective, guys. If you don't like it, fine. Most of us who know Lilek's work are fans - and I know that Dave is.

Thank God for The Institute of Official Cheer!!

Which, although it is of the same stripe as the Strib 250w-ers, is not something the Strib pays for. At least, not directly.

It appears that Lileks' fans tend to cite his recreational online activities when bemoaning the loss of the paid gig that allows him to devote time to those recreational activities.

Like it or not, the Strib's now dealing with a blog-saturated world where well-paid humor columnists are a luxury. If fans of Lileks' musings want him to keep writing -- especially those who follow the Bleat over the Daily Quirk -- perhaps they should dip into their wallets and pay for it, rather than expecting someone else to subsidise its production? That's what the free market's all about.

This is the kind of bone-headed maneuver that made me leave the fast-paced world of journalism for the fast-paced world of technical writing for a government subcontractor, where I sit in a trailer about 1/2 mile away from lots of buried nuclear waste. That, and all them murders I done.

The Bleat is the first thing I read in the morning. However, I have some small sympathy for the Strib. The Bleat is much better than Lileks' newspaper columns. The longer, more personal style really suits him. I started reading Lileks when our local paper ran his Newhouse column, and I didn't really get him. Found the blog and it all made more sense. But is he really a great columnist, or just a great blogger?

The Strib clearly has no idea of how to make money from the internet. If you are going to sell a dead tree paper, local news is an obvious strategy. So I can see trying to use him there. Dave's comparison to DWade is funny, but it's not clear that columns are selling fish wrap. When you can get Dave and Lileks on line for free...

So it will be interesting to see if there will be people knocking down Lileks' door with offers. How many people are there out there who want to pay a blogger to be funny? It's not 1999 anymore.

Pseudonymous --

No one's asking for professional charity for Lileks. The point is that, yes, we are here in this Internet world and, yes, the Strib is geting hammered in the Internet world, yet...they demoted the one guy they have on their roster who would be perfect for their venture into the online universe. It makes no sense.

Some of us do support our free online fun. You can donate online to Lilek's site. If you don't want to commit charity - buy his books! If you like the Institute, you will love the books. Put them with your pile of Dave books in the john.

This is completely retarded. Lileks is the best-known writer on that whole paper -- if there's any nationally-known writer other than Lileks on that paper, I've never heard of 'em. I wouldn't be surprised if his personal site gets more traffic than the whole Strib site.

Here's a quiz to see if you've "got what it takes" to be a newspaper editor:

You're in a fading industry that's making a slow & dumb transition to the online world. You've moved so slowly & clumsily that most of the things you used to control -- comics, sports news, classifieds -- have already been reinvented and seized by people who aren't involved with newspapers at all. But on your staff, you've got a local columnist who has a big & loyal online readership you would spend millions trying to get on your own. Do you:

a) Give him a substantial raise and have him write exclusively for your online paper?
b) Demote him to local coverage.

If you answered B, then you're ready for a high-flying newspaper management career ... for a few years, anyway, when the last local print newspaper shuts down for good. Jesus ...

Lileks is a great writer and a heck of a talented satirist. He shows a genuine affection for kitschy Americana while, at the same time, poking gentle fun at it. His picture books, The Gallery of Regrettable Food and Interior Desecrations, are a laugh riot.

This continues a horrible trend in newspapers where The Bottom Line Is All -- first the Atlanta Journal-Constitution decides to whack its book review section and now this. I wonder when they're going to realize that people who only want straight news can get that on cable or by quickly checking the net and it's only the non-straight-news offerings that make them stand out that is going to retain reader loyalty?

Ken Layne: Are you *the* Ken Layne, of Ken Layne and & the Corvids? The guy who started me blogging? If so: welcome.

Thanks Dave! Yes it is me, slacking off by reading blogs instead of working on blogs, as usual ....

No, actually LILEKS is asking for professional charity for Lileks. That's why he made this news public, and none of the other 'strib columnists in similar straits did--actually going so far as to provide (twice) a link to the paper's public advocate.

This is a guy who signed a high six-figure book deal and still have the gall to put out an online "tip jar" when his wife lost/left her job.

He's certainly talented, I wouldn't read him regularly if he wasn't, but he's can be so high-and-mighty in an ugly "I'm right and you're wrong" sort of way. And face it, he can be out-and-out cruel to people he doesn't like (store clerks, fat people, non-hawks).

I can't help but feel that a comeuppance of some sort was due.

I live in Minneapolis (there really is something here) and have had dealings with Mr. Lileks on several occasions and I can't honestly say I'll shed a tear when he goes but I am sorry to see the Strib give the boot to a local columnist. Thank God they are keeping the tips from Heloise because I have some leftover dryer lint and I know some day she will have a wonderful tip for me on how to use it.

Hmmm... talk about mixed feelings -- there's no other blogger I feel such love/hate for.

LOVE his takes on pop culture, HATE his politics -- although his posts on Iraq from four years ago may turn out to be the most hilarious stuff he's ever done.

To wit:

"Can you imagine the parties in Baghdad this week? Hospitals had best make a rubber stamp that says GEORGE, because nine months from now they’re going to use it on every other birth certificate."

Especially in the maternity ward of Perle Memorial Hospital, across from Bush Square, corner of Wolfowitz & Cheney!

I've posted a few of his other gems at http://bushwhacker.livejournal.com/

Hey "Ernesto," maybe you should have followed up with the next paragraph from that post:

"...If all goes well. Which it won’t. The Fog of Peace comes next; we will hear many stories of Setbacks and Troubling Developments and Roadblocks to Peace and the rest of the vocabulary the media deploys when a brutalized nation is freed from jail and does not immediately assume the characteristics of a Nebraska small-town school board."

Sheer genius. No wonder newspaper circulation figures look like the NASDAQ chart during the dot.com crash.

It can't have been a whole lot of fun working in the sort of environment that would do what they did to Mr. Lileks.

Sometimes it's better for you to get that boot in the butt from idiotic management, so it gets you to leave sooner. Less stomach acid and agita. But that's just the mercenary in me speaking (mercenary tech, not mercenary bang-bang ;)

On the other hand, If Lileks appears on the front page of both the main section and the local section, and look-at-me-look-at-me-I'm-so-great Nick Coleman never appears again in any section but the one with the comics and puzzles, that would be a significant improvement for the Star-Tribune...

Lileks is a GREAT writer. For someone like DB to note his "passing" says it all. You people that won't be shedding tears apparently do not have tears to shed, so don't even make the comment please. The good news is he will obviously be picked up by someone who recognizes and appreciates real talent.

That is your ass on that plate, Ernesto.
Just sayin', is all.

"No, actually LILEKS is asking for professional charity for Lileks. That's why he made this news public, and none of the other 'strib columnists in similar straits did--actually going so far as to provide (twice) a link to the paper's public advocate."

Sorry, you're just wrong. Letting the people at the paper know that James Lileks has a substantial online following is not giving him charity. It's just an audience telling his overseers what they think--no one's giving him any money.

And your example of the other 'strib columnists doesn't hold water. They didn't do that because they couldn't do that--who would care? He's built a following on his own--he has every right to call on it when he feels it might help. After all, those of us who think he's great want to see him thrive too.

I see points on both sides.....James is a great writer, but the Strib is dying, and tons of unpaid readership doesn't keep the lights on. One really good columnist whose best work is outside the paper is not enough to save it.

Surely he's doing pretty well from the books...they sell well, and he's got enourmous amounts of material. I'd like to see bigger projects.....and I'd buy them.

Move on, James, you're a big boy now.

Even if the books are selling well, they're not selling Stephen King well, and books take a LOOOONG time to make back their advances, especially if there's a lot of promotion done, which there isn't in this case.

And sometimes the bookstores don't help. Borders had The Gallery of Regrettable Food shelved in cooking, of all things. I kept sending "mishelved" notes up the line but that never changed. So there's a whole potential audience missed entirely because the book's in the wrong place.

Basically, a book that you worked on for a year might get an advance of $10K— and then it's two more years before you even start to get royalties. If you're popular. Most writers have to have five or more books on the shelf before they start to see any return. So don't bet on his books providing him an income.

I read the Strib daily, and think the world of Lileks. He'll land on his feet. I'm not sure of the Strib. It was sold to the Maclatchy network a few years ago, then sold in December to a private equity firm with no other media experience. To them it's like reassigning a house painter to move from one room to another. The Strib just had a long time local columnist retire, and rumors abound that they will reassign other local columnists, good writers all. Newspapers trying to compete with new media should be getting their good writers to write more, not less. Lileks should not be doing beat reporting, but should be given more column and range to use his considerable talents for writing on local issues. He loves the Twin Cities and writes beautifully about local events and people. I know this from reading his blog. Newspapers cannot compete with new media by muzzling their best writers; they need to give them more rope, not less. Unfortunately, that may not be obvious to the investment bankers running the Strib now.

we should all start worrying about climate change, not silly beats...


"Hey "Ernesto," maybe you should have followed up with the next paragraph from that post:

"...If all goes well. Which it won’t. The Fog of Peace comes next; we will hear many stories of Setbacks and Troubling Developments and Roadblocks to Peace and the rest of the vocabulary the media deploys when a brutalized nation is freed from jail and does not immediately assume the characteristics of a Nebraska small-town school board.""

You're right, "Steve" -- that's even funnier!

Well, maybe not "ha ha" funny.

Let's see, four years after Lilek's splendid little war began, and how many Iraqis died in carbombings the last two days? 80? 90? 120?

Some fog.

But, thanks to his subtle subtext, we at least know who's to blame, don't we? Damn media and its gloomy-gus "stories" and negative-nellie "vocabulary"!

Got to give him credit, though -- he may've been the first person in the country to propagate the "if they'd only report on the schools we've painted instead of the dead babies lying all over, we'd HAVE that small town school board vibe by now" meme that's since been embraced by every wingnut in the country.

If Lileks wants to charge $50 per year for access to his site (the Bleat, the Diner, Institute of Official Cheer), my credit card is ready.

How long before subscription numbers to Lileks.com eclipse those of the Strib? And, hey, no Target circulars to deal with.

Newspapers are doomed.

Chucky, quick quiz:

Where is the city of Ramadi?

Answer now!

If you said "62 miles west of Baghdad," you lose. The whole situation in Iraq doesn't revolve around Baghdad, despite your darling MSM outlets' attempts to convince you otherwise.

Somehow, I doubt you've bothered to speak with soldiers who've toured Iraq. If you had, you'd know what a tool you are right now.

The bottom line is the almighty dollar.

Posted by: rob | 10:42 AM on May 7, 2007

Yeah rob, I hate that too.

However, I'm philanthropic by nature. I want to help lighten your burden. Send me your dollars.

I know its not much. But, it is the least I can do.

For the folks complaining that the online site doesn't make any money-- are you blind? I know that for the last two years, when I logged in each week and read the stuff by Lileks, there have been 5 links on each "Story"-- plus one for the paper-- as well as the ones on the main link page.

Do you think the Strip is running those ads for free?

Jennyoh, Use the lint with egg cartons and paraffin to make fire starters. Now you can drop the Trib. I did.

Lileks is a prime example of the internet cream rising to the top without patronage. His success is purely merit based and represents a return to those values driven by the readership.

You folks didn’t think the MSM propagandists would sit still for THAT without retribution did you?

This is a warning shot across the bows of anyone wishing to swim upstream against the currently controlling regime in news rooms country wide.

But fear not for the talented Mr. Lileks, he wont be long in the wilderness with his abilities.

Mike MN .... You have changed my life. You will see me at the Uptown Art Fair selling dryer lint candles in a eco-friendly shirt.

Actually, this could be a good thing. If they let him write local news articles in his distinctive style and give him some freedom to choose what he writes about, it could make the local news much more interesting to read. If they force him to write "standard" news articles about local events and give him no latitude, then it will be a total waste.

While I don't live anywhere near Minneapolis and don't really care about local Minneapolis news, I'd probably read the local news if James wrote it in his own way.


It figures that the lefty troll would take the name of a murdering communist bastard...

Long Live Lilieks!
(This too, shall pass)

It figures that the lefty troll would take the name of a murdering communist bastard...

Long Live Lileks!
(This too, shall pass)

Folks, you're forgetting that Dave Barry is HUMOR columnist. He's being FUNNY about Lileks being so TALENTED, and how SAD it is that days as a columnist at the Strib are over. Barry actually is ecstatic. These humor columnists are more competitive than Russian chess players and like King Herod, Barry is happy he has one less competitor out there.


"It figures that the lefty troll would take the name of a murdering communist bastard..."

Now hold the phone.

"Lefty troll" implies that Dave Barry runs some kind of rightwing blog -- and if you think that's the case, you ought to read a few of his choice comments about the Vietnam war.

"Dave Barry Hits Below the Beltway" would be a good place to start.

Many years ago the Strib had a saloon columnist - Will Jones - gone long ago. They had a local politics columnist, and a good one - Abe Altrowitz - gone too. If you can't find columnists - local, inside stuff - on the local saloons, the pols, the cops - why pay 50 cents for the paper? The stuff culled from the LA Times, the Washington Post, the AP, pick it up when you want it, get the back three weeks.

If you want to read a real newspaper, go down to the library and get the microfilm of a sheet from 150 years ago - there was some journalism, partisan, biased, vulgar, tasteless, vicious - all boiled down to pablum now, nothing to offend the most shriveled hyperBaptist Legionnaire.

Please don't refer to [email protected] as "Kev." The real Kev is still here, if in longtime lurk mode, and he doesn't want to be associated with someone like that. I would imagine that anyone who can't appreciate Lileks doesn't have much of a soul either.

BTW, here's what I sent to the Strib's reader rep, Kate Parry:

Ms. Parry:

Like many others, I want to convey my disappointment with your paper's decision to drop the Lileks column and to "reassign" him to a position that's not at all commensurate with his many talents. I'm sorry, but having Lileks do beat reporting is pretty much like having Leonard Bernstein in your employ and only allowing him to conduct a middle-school orchestra.

One thing is for certain--this guy from Dallas would have had little reason to visit your paper's site (and register, read your ads, etc.) were it not for the Quirk and its predecessor, the Backfence, and this decision leaves me little reason to do so in the future.

I do hope that "the powers that be" will reconsider.

If you're a Lileks fan, feel free to write her as well; it couldn't hurt.

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