The new pawn shop payday lending magnate Chuck Brennan talked up in his Christmas card is now in the news. Brennan gets that Sioux Falls paper to promote his new Badlands Pawn, scheduled to open next Thanksgiving.

Brennan tells Jodi Schwan that he plans to spend $15 million to open not just a pawn shop but a 40,000-square-foot entertainment complex across from the new Sanford Premier Center as a response to what seems to be Brennan's gut feeling that plain old capitalism is a drag:

Somewhere [the pawn business] got to the point where it started to become a financial transaction and the showroom started losing its fun and people were just pawning stuff because they needed money, and they weren’t going for the pawnshop experience [Chuck Brennan, quoted in Jodi Schwan, "Entertainment Complex Coming near Events Center," that Sioux Falls paper, 2014.12.25].

Brennan's right: capitalism has no soul!

To make business more fun, the "Largest Pawn shop in the Midwest" will include a gold foundry, a gun shop, a shooting range (free for cops!), its own FM radio station with live DJs simulcasting on 30+ stations, a house band led by Metal Cowboy Ron Keel and auditioning professional players and back-up singers now, a tattoo shop offering free Badlands Pawn ink, and a ticket broker providing all your scalping needs in one convenient location within easy walking distance of Sioux Falls' new concert venue. Brennan promises to fly the largest American flag on the largest flagpole (yes, that's phallic) in South Dakota. Brennan also plans to hire nearly 100 workers.

I don't know if Pawn of America will "restructure the tourism routes in the Midwest," but Brennan's pawn shop does sound like fun. And since Brennan is diversifying his portfolio into entertainment, he'll feel even less pain when we cap interest rates in 2016 and drive him out of the usury business. Everybody wins!

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Last weekend, usury boss Chuck Brennan warned that we'd be party-poopers if we dared to pass an initiative to cap lending rates at 36% and effectively put him and other payday lenders out of business.

It turns out that was just a political head fake. Brennan announced yesterday he's having to postpone "Chuck's Kegger," his proposed Ribfest-challenging chili-and-music festival, not because of political pressure, but because he couldn't get his groups in a hoop:

Brennan said the inaugural Chuck's Kegger would be delayed and attributed the delay to scheduling problems with performers.

"Everyone is on board with the project but artists' schedules are hard to predict and the stars have not quite aligned yet," Brennan wrote in a statement posted Thursday on the event's website. "We appreciate the avalanche of support that we have gotten on the kegger and I'm sure there will be more news to come."

Planning for the event had been underway for around six months and included a website, logo, ticket prices and informational packets.

It's unclear when Chuck's Kegger will now occur, if ever.

Brennan did not return a call for comment Thursday [David Montgomery, "Week After Announcement, Rock Festival Delayed," that Sioux Falls paper, 2014.12.19].

Oh, yeah, announce your music festival before you ink the musicians—brilliant.

Poof goes one empty threat from the nervous usury industry. Keep your eyes open for more as the interest-rate initiative gets rolling in 2015.

Tangentially related update (12:57 CST): No kegger, but more Keg: Keg Chicken is returning to Sioux Falls.

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Last month, after Gannett axed several good reporters from that Sioux Falls paper, content strategist Patrick Lalley was bragging that remaining journalists Jonathan Ellis and David Montgomery were "unparalleled in this market."

David Montgomery, who in the past six years has reported for the Pierre Capital Journal and the Rapid City Journal as well as his current employer, just won a promotion right out of Lalley's market:

It’s with both excitement and sadness that I can announce I’ve accepted a job as a political reporter at the Pioneer Press newspaper in Saint Paul, Minn.

This is a step up for me — a bigger city and a bigger audience, just like my past moves.... I’ll be stepping into some huge shoes: the spot I’m taking is being vacated by Bill Salisbury, a 37-year veteran of the Pioneer Press and the dean of the Minnesota Capitol press corps, who is retiring on Jan. 5.

Though it’ll be tough, I’m looking forward to the challenge and the competition in the bigger Twin Cities media market. (I’ll also enjoy covering a legislature in the city where I live, instead of having to spend months in a motel room every winter.)

It’s going to be a fast transition. My last day at the Argus Leader will be Friday, Dec. 19, and I’ll start at the Pioneer Press a few days later on Monday Dec. 22....

I’m sorry to be moving on but am definitely richer for my time here in South Dakota. Thanks for six great years! [David Montgomery, "My Next Step," Madness and Truth, 2014.12.05]

David Montgomery attended a blog party at my hacienda in 2009. I was pleased to meet him then, and have been pleased to read, learn from, and build on his work here in the South Dakota blogo-newsosphere. Montgomery provided swift reporting, keen analysis, and wonderfully wonky spreadsheets. I will miss his contribution to our understanding of South Dakota politics. I wish him nothing but the best.

Coming on the heels of Gannett's vicious downsizing last month, Montgomery's departure makes me wonder: was he shopping for a new boss in case the Sioux Falls axe fell on him? Are Gannett's changes creating an environment where a serious political journalist feels he cannot fully and freely practice his craft? Or is it just what it is: a great career move to a bigger market (and one more brain that South Dakota's low-tax, low-wage economy couldn't keep)?

Montgomery mentions the challenge his employer faces in replacing him. Montgomery can trade Pierre motel rooms and four-hour drives for a nice flat on Grand Ave and a twenty-minute trip to the Capitol on the bus (mass transit—Montgomery can write his stories while commuting!). Meanwhile, his boss Lalley has one month to find someone else willing to drop their plans and decamp for to one of the most remote (and hence corrupt!) state capitals in America.

If content strategy and audience analysis determine that the consumer experience won't be enhanced by Legislative coverage, South Dakota will be down to one full-time statehouse reporter. One man, Bob Mercer, telling us what's going on in our state government—Mercer's great, but even Mercer alone is bad for political coverage.

Let's hope Lalley recognizes that he has to consider more than a business case here: he has to consider the public obligation of the state's largest newspaper to fully cover the Legislature. Lalley, I hope you're speed-dialing Denise Ross.

(I check the classifieds: that Sioux Falls paper has two listings for a city/county reporter and a listing for two breaking-news reporters, diurnal and nocturnal. Perhaps Jon Ellis drew the short straw for a room at the Pierre Super 8.)

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Two weeks ago, South Dakota media eminence gris Doug Lund lobbed a blog blast at Patrick Lalley, content strategist of that Sioux Falls paper. Lund got the impression that, in the paper's November 19 100 Eyes podcast, Lalley showed no feeling toward his numerous colleagues whom Gannett canned in downsizing the paper. Lund also took umbrage at Lalley's claim that broadcasters don't do reporting.

Pat Powers picks up Lund's statement because it gives him a chance to slobber over what he passive-aggressively question-mark-calls a "slappy fight."

Pat Powers does not cite Lund's invitation to an intelligent discussion of the differing demands and merits of print and broadcast journalism, because... well, golly, what does Lund say that would keep Pat from mentioning that?

What Mr. Strategist knows and isn’t saying is that when his two pet reporters need more time for investigative reporting or to read Cory Heidelberger’s blog for ideas, they will have it and all the page space they need.

He also knows that stations like Keloland turn out five newscasts and one web newscast a day... while maintaining the top web site in the state. Reporters, including anchors, are expected to contribute daily packages that tell the story with facts and interviews while fitting it into the newscast time restraints... or going live from the scene when a situation warrants [Doug Lund, "The Only Good Reporter Is [a Sioux Falls Paper] Reporter," KELOLand.com, 2014.11.21].

There's a reason you don't see much original video here. Video is a pain. It takes much more time to rehearse, edit, and publish quality video than it does to pound research into good text. Give me a studio, a couple camera operators, a producer, and a maybe live studio audience (are you listening, KELO?), and I could put together some quality weekly infotainment that would tickle the masses. But that's more resources than I'm going to pull out of my backpack.

Every hour I spend wrestling with video software is an hour I'm not reading the Governor's budget or my EB-5 documents. If my job is to help other people get ideas, I probably do it better cranking out five text posts than I do one video post.

That equation does inform a distinction between the news content in our print media and our broadcast media. We get more news stories and more detail in most news stories in the paper than on TV and radio. But print and broadcast media are changing their content and their business models because of the Internet.

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Scott Ehrisman reports that that Sioux Falls paper has axed several veteran reporters. I read the paper's own Sunday description of its newsroom changes and find a distressing absence of specifics on actual news activities. President and publisher Bill Albrecht and executive editor Maricarrol Kueter call their new senior management team "talented journalists," but the new functions they highlight seem to have less to do with journalism and more to do with marketing:

  1. Patrick Lalley is now called the "content strategist." That means he will "oversee the newsroom’s expanded content generation effort." That's not journalism; that's management. And journalists don't produce content; they write news.
  2. Cory Myers is now called the "consumer experience director." Myers "will study digital metrics and use audience feedback to assist reporters as they refine their approaches to their coverage beats," which sounds distressingly like training reporters to engineer their output with search engine optimization tricks rather than focusing on digging for good information, challenging authority, and writing great reports whose quality speaks for itself and enlightens the citizenry. And hey: we're not consumers; we are fellow citizens, for whom the Fourth Estate performs a vital function.
  3. Jodi Schwan is now an "audience analyst." Along with editing the Sioux Falls Business Journal, Schwan will "analyze audience metrics and market trends and work with marketing and advertising staffs as well as with the local news staff to identify opportunities for new products and new coverage approaches." This position is marketing, not journalism.

I know you can't walk into a meeting with corporate and say your plan for the paper is to do the best darn journalism in South Dakota. That's the kind of nutty talk you hear from some blogger who just slogs away writing one punchy, well-researched blog post after another and doesn't invest in SEO or marketing. You've got to tell corporate you've got new titles and metrics and strategies that will boost profits and Tweet-Klout X.Y%. And alas, it looks like you've got to make room for all sors of new positions and marketing strategies while spending less on real journalists practicing real journalism.

You do your business model, Bill and Maricarrol. I'll do mine. I look forward to comparing journalism-to-marketing ratios.

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Kent Alberty is one of my people. But even I have to cock an eyebrow at his characterization of the Sioux Falls School District's successful invasion and annexation of a new housing development near 12th Street and Ellis Road.

The new Cherry Lake Reserve Subdivision is in the West Central School District, but most of the homebuyers want to send their kids to Sioux Falls. Rather than just letting the kids open-enroll, Sioux Falls got West Central to agree to give up the land under a twenty-year sliding tax-share agreement. West Central gets tax money from the land for now, but by 2035, all the property taxes from the land go to Sioux Falls.

Steve Dick, West Central School Board president, said he voted for the original agreement even though it could mean taking a financial hit in the long run.

Dick guesses his district eventually might lose more than $100 million in taxable residential property because of the boundary change.

“In a perfect world, we would keep the property,” Dick said. “It’s a lot of valuation that you would hate to see go away.”

The tax-sharing plan offers a balance, appeasing families without completely cutting West Central off from the financial benefits of a growing part of the city, Alberty said.

“It’s a win-win for both school districts,” Alberty said [Patrick Anderson, "S.F. District Might Absorb West-Side Area," that Sioux Falls paper, 2014.11.11].

Kent, my friend, win-win overstates the situation. Sioux Falls wins. West Central doesn't lose as much as quickly as it could have. Sioux Falls is gentler than Russia in the Crimea and Donetsk, but the Ukranians in West Central are still losing.

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Dakota War College lurches toward the weekend seeing two of its favorite Republican legislators losing Republican endorsements to their Democratic counterparts. Three high-profile former Republican legislators are endorsing District 10 Senate Democratic candidate Michael Schultz over DWC pin-up Rep. Jenna Haggar. Schultz's résumé is far deeper than Haggar's, including his time as mayor of Brandon. And the three Republicans picking his experience over Haggar's conservative cheerleader act are no lightweights: they are former Sioux Falls mayor Dave Munson, former U.S. Marshall and South Dakota Highway Patrol chief Gene Abdallah, and former teacher and principal Jan Nicolay. Munson, Nicolay, and Abdallah each represented Haggar's district in Pierre, and they say Schultz represents the "Strong—Stable—Effective" choice for District 10 today.

I reported last night that District 16 Senate Democratic candidate Ann Tornberg is posting endorsements from registered Republicans and high-profile Dakota Dunes neighbors of GOP Senator Dan Lederman. And hey, this morning, here come two more!

Friebergs for Tornberg 20141031

Wow—add to those endorsements to West River Republican Pat Trask's repudiation of Mike Rounds this week, and could we be seeing a trend of Republicans trading the Powers/Wadhams-style politics for smart, qualified candidates and good government?

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Mike Huether has waded into the snowplows-for-Jesus debate; I guess I have to, too.

The City of Sioux Falls let some school kids paint their snowplows. Naturally, some Lutheran kids painted happy Jesus messages (along with one improperly cited Bible verse). The Siouxland Freethinkers suggested religious messages on public equipment is inappropriate. The city lawyers said, "Ah, you may have a point" and asked the kids to repaint the plows.

Then Mayor Mike Huether comes barreling in for some wrongheaded grandstanding:

"I don't want to repaint over those snowplows," Huether said. "To me, we should repaint over all of them at the same time and that's at the end of the snow season."

Huether told me that he hoped to bring together the schools, the Siouxland Freethinkers and city officials to find a compromise.

But Huether seemed adamant that the plow blades wouldn't be removed.

"We are not going to be painting over those plow blades. We will not be painting over them unless I get some Supreme Court case that says that I have to," Huether said.

Heuther is also reluctant to suggest changes to the "Paint the Plows" program for fear of trampling on the First Amendment rights of participating schools.

"That's one of the things we're struggling with," said Huether. "How do we move forward and still allow people to have freedom of expression?" [Greg Belfrage, "Huether: 'We Are Not Painting Over Plow Blades'," KELO-AM Radio, 2014.10.28]

Mayor Huether, we are not talking about First Amendment rights of participating schools. No one has a right to paint messages on public equipment... although if that's what you're positing, don't let Ryan Gaddy and Annette Bosworth near City Hall. The city invites schools to decorate snowplows. The city has complete control of the forum and the content participants post, just as it asserts control over what people can say and when they can say it at City Council meetings. The city has an obligation (which it failed to fulfill in this case) to establish and explain clear criteria for the use of the privilege of decorating snowplows.

Imagine if some smart kids had painted "Vote for Rick Weiland" or "Hillary 2016" on the plows. The city would have shut that noise down right away. We have laws restricting the use of public resources for such politicking.

Better yet, imagine if some Muslim kids painted "Allahu Akbar!" on a plow. Let Greg Belfrage see that holy cry bearing down on him in his rearview mirror, and he'll get why some of us would prefer the city not be toting giant Jesus messages around on its equipment.

Mayor Huether, the city messed up. Instead of acting like Mike Rounds, how about 'fessing up to your error, owning the problem, and saying you'll do better at teaching kids about the First Amendment in full next time around?

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