Not Eudora   By Harry Welty
Published March 17, 2005

KDLH and the News


I donít know if Pat Kelly is the most gregarious fellow in Duluth but thatís how he comes across on television. So, it was particularly painful to watch him anchoring his newly abbreviated show with a rival networkís news staff last week. I donít blame the KBJR folks. Iím sure every one of them watched the evisceration of KDLH by its new owners and thought to themselves, ďthere but for the grace of God. . .Ē


Iíve had dozens of ideas for columns recently but the consolidation of the press was not one of them. However, for the first time since I started writing ďNot EudoraĒ my wife told me that she knew what I would be writing about in my next column. It sounded more like an order than a guess. This was notable because Claudia rarely reads my columns and thatís been fine with me. Itís dangerous to throw spitballs when the teacher is looking.


Claudia thinks her objection to the KDLH acquisition is because of the right-wingization of the press. Dismissed as liberal by conservative pundits the ďmain street mediaĒ seems to have swung closer to their orbit. The Moonies bought the Washington Times to showcase conservative columnists. The Clear Channel bought up hundreds of local radio stations to broadcast Limbaugh and Liddy. Rupert Murdoch took over Fox News and injected it with a healthy dose of conservative news programming. (Although in my mind the irreverent Simpsonís and King of the Hill more than compensate for Foxís right-wing bloviosity). And now in Duluth it looks like Malaprop Inc (or is that Malodorous or Maladroit Inc?) has silenced another mainstream voice.


Unlike my wife Iím not too worried about the loss of KDLH as a news provider. Frankly, itís a bigger blow to Duluthís vanity. Big cities have all three networks and suddenly we arenít in that league anymore! 


As a self-proclaimed ďsmall time politicianĒ and news junky itís been a long time since I was dependent on television for my news. I gave up national television news shows fifteen or twenty years ago in favor of the in-depth reporting of National Public Radio. Ironically, I did watch local television (and my preferred station was KDLH) but more to see how local stories were spun than to get the news. Television news is mostly headlines with a few minutes of video. Its reporters rarely stick around long enough to become local experts and even when they do they remain general assignment reporters who have to cover the entire body of news. They do so about as thoroughly as a bikini.


I think Claudia has a much more visceral objection to the KDLH takeover. Fifty people lost their jobs because an absentee owner wants to make a profit. This is a very real concern for someone who works for another potential takeover target Ė Allete/Minnesota Power. This was especially true in the hard charging 90ís when the deregulation mania swept through the electric utility industry.


The justification for hostile takeovers was never the same as the motive for them. The justification was noble Ė to enhance productivity. The motive was much simpler Ė to make money. A business could be taken over, its liabilities (the employees) cast off, and its parts sold for a quick profit. But sometimes productivity played little part in the acquisition. And sometimes, as Enron proved, even profitability was hard to come by.


Minnesota Power and Allete have lost some of the luster they once enjoyed in Duluth. A controversial former CEO and the power line controversy have not helped. Still, no other local employer has done more to bring new businesses into the area economy than MPL/Allete. This is in large measure because MP/Allete executives live in the area and have a vested interest in the success of Duluth and its environs.


The same could have been said of KDLH News. I was personally in a position to see how interested KDLH was in the Duluth Schools. In addition, the station worked hard to promote a number of community causes. But most of those employees have now been cast off because they were an impediment to profitability. It remains to be seen whether the new owners of KDLH will be any more dependable than an absentee landlord who rents houses to people who park their cars, couches and beer cans on the front lawn.


As for the news . . . well I think it will survive no thanks to me. When Bob Boone invited me to write for the Reader Weekly he imagined that I would inform the public with my trenchant analysis of local politics. Unfortunately for the Reader Iím far too sympathetic with local elected officials to beat them up because Iíve been one myself. Heck, I knew Neil Atkins when he zipped around town on his Harley and Garry Krause became my improbable ally when we served on the School Board. Now they are running against each other for City Council. Am I supposed to take sides? I donít think so.


Besides, Iíd much rather write about the pit Iím digging under my house in order to become a world class snob of really cheap wine or about the time the Synchronized Swim team invited me into the Girlís locker room to give me a duck.


Welty is a small time politician who lets it all hang out at: www.snowbizz.com  


After the column came out I received this clarification of the Granite-KDLH purchase/massacre