History-making music group for UMM - morris mn

History-making music group for UMM - morris mn
The UMM men's chorus opened the Minnesota Day program at the 1962 Seattle World's Fair (Century 21 Exposition).

Thursday, January 17, 2013

U of M deals with brickbats from the Wall Street Journal

Eric Kaler speaks at the 2012 UMM graduation. (B.W. photo)
"That's the press, baby. The press! And there's nothing you can do about it. Nothing!"
- Humphrey Bogart as crusading editor Ed Hutcheson in "Deadline - U.S.A." (1952)
It could have been worse - it could have been "60 Minutes." It really could have. There was definitely a story there. The Wall Street Journal is perceptive on these things.
The WSJ did an expose on (much of) higher education recently. It hardly stayed in its back yard to find a case study. It came out to "the frozen tundra," as the late iconic radio personality Steve Cannon called us.
Beth Hawkins of Minnpost equated the WSJ to "The Grinch" who right after Christmas "paid a visit to University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler." The period between Christmas and New Year's is usually pretty dead. Kaler would wish it were so. Now the U is scrambling to get direction from outside consultants to see how it might remedy or soften problems identified by "the press."
The Wall Street Journal basically asserted in a lengthy piece that the U is being dragged down by disproportionate administrative costs. I imagine most people wouldn't be shocked reading that. The WSJ placed its article on the front page. Online the article appeared behind a subscription paywall. The U of M has an advantage here to the extent it chooses to joust with the WSJ. The paywall can only limit the number of eyeballs getting access to the article. Meanwhile, Kaler and those aligned with him can deliver a return volley with quotes on numerous websites that are free access.
As an aside, it's possible many advocates of the U might think the WSJ's expose is a good thing. The truth shall set you free.
The WSJ thinks its prestige is so great, it can apply the paywall and come out a winner. I disagree. Newspapers have basically been in retreat on these things. You used to have to log in to read a New York Times columnist like David Brooks. I remember having to actually pass when I wanted to read Brooks, a conservative who is nevertheless able to understand varying points of view (LOL). The log-in requirement was dropped. I later read that the protests of the writers themselves were largely responsible for that.
Writers want readers. As for the company, you might think they'd need or want the money from online "subscriptions." It's not that simple. Yes you can get money from subscriptions, although I can't believe people are beating the door down wanting to pay to read news and commentary online. Removing any paywall or log-in procedure opens you up to more readers which increases your visibility and prestige, and that in turn maximizes advertising sales opportunities. And as any knave readily knows, advertising is the mother's milk of the media.
Rupert Murdoch, owner of the Wall Street Journal, is simply old school in his approach. He feels media entities must simply charge readers. In the short term it might work because the WSJ still invests enough in its reporting to give it distinctive value. But it's tenuous ground.
Murdoch's "dead tree" properties are hardly the flagship of his business ventures now. Young people don't associate any special mystique with the Wall Street Journal. It's almost lost in a sea of media that has something for everyone, almost all of it free. Is that unfair to "journalists" who we have always felt need to be paid for their work?
If you take a probing look, you'll realize that journalists have never really been paid directly for their journalism, rather they've ridden piggy-back on the gravy train of the historic monopolistic newspaper business model, in which newspapers established monopolies in their distribution areas. The Internet has dealt a frontal assault on that.
"What about Woodward and Bernstein?" you might ask. My first response is that it was an anomaly. But most importantly, the Washington Post didn't unleash its reporters out of idealistic zeal or to "make money." Rather, this whole phenomenon unfolded because Washington D.C. is a "company town" and the Washington Post had a vested interest in how D.C. is perceived as the host of government and the "military industrial complex."
No one expected the U of M's Kaler to be happy with the WSJ article (dated 12/28). Perhaps he was a little too bombastic in his rebuttals. I wish he hadn't fallen back on the old cliche of a newspaper just wanting to "sell papers." But he did this in an interview with Minnpost's Hawkins.
Newspapers don't really try to "sell newspapers," they try to sell advertising. Maybe supermarket tabloids try to sell copies in the manner as suggested by the U president.
I have been able to read the WSJ article without dealing with the subscription paywall. It appears to have been re-posted in its entirety on a blog site. That blog is called "The Periodic Table" and it focuses on the University of Minnesota. Gee, "can they do that?" It's my understanding they can, based on a judge's ruling in one of the Righthaven legal cases. Judges are steered in the direction of wanting the Internet to be free and open. In my opinion the "subscription paywall" is really folly.
Kaler felt he could massage the English language in seeking to assail the WSJ. Rather than say the WSJ was wrong or inaccurate, he mostly said that what they wrote was "challenging." He told Hawkins he felt the reporter "had a real hard time collapsing it into a 2000-word article." I hardly think 2000 words is minimalist. Maybe at the U where superfluities apparently abound, it is.
The latest word is that the U is tapping a consulting firm to guide it on trimming alleged waste. So, the allegation is that the U is top-heavy with "management" and yet there apparently isn't enough "management" to handle the task of restructuring the U. I suppose the fear is that no manager would want his ox to be gored.
I wonder if this consulting firm is the equivalent to the "military base closing commissions" we've seen in government. No individual politician wants to have to answer or squirm over the decisions that ultimately must be made.
How did we get here? The Wall Street Journal, which really cites the U of M as just illustrative of prevalent trends, tells us "like many public colleges, the University of Minnesota went on a spending spree over the past decade, paid for by a steady stream of state money and rising tuition. Officials didn't keep close tabs on their payroll as it swelled beyond 19,000 employees, nearly one for every 3 1/2 students."
I assure you, private business doesn't operate like this. Private industry has natural incentives to be efficient. Institutions supported entirely or largely by government have no such incentive. They in fact like to thump their chest by growing bigger, at least for as long as they can get by with it.
It appears the U of M is finally at a crossroads.
Anyone familiar with my writing knows I have long been skeptical about the future of the bricks and mortar model for higher education. Consider that a disclaimer if you like. I don't hesitate dispensing Internet triumphalist Kant.
Another national financial crisis like in 2008 might tip us over the edge. It will force us into efficiencies. There are natural corrective forces in a free market economy, although we have the power sometimes to delay those corrections.
Minnesota will always need its U of M. The form it will take is open to question.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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