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Rapid City Journal Cans Frankenfeld for Frank Criticism of Corporate Decisions

For a moment there, I thought the Rapid City Journal had traded up. I'm not sure which columnist the Journal was replacing: Janette McIntyre (who apparently prefers Gordon Howie's Potemkin blog village, where her ill-thought, knee-jerk, but flimsy conservatism will escape most people's attention) or volatile ex-mayor Jim Shaw. But this summer, the Rapid City paper brought on columnist Don Frankenfeld, who knows a thing or two about hard-hitting rational argument. Starting August 7, Frankenfeld banged out four columns, tackling Civic Center expansion, non-partisan elections, gay rights, and education.

Alas, in line with the erection of its new paywall (that's why I can't link you Frankenfeld's columns) and its new pay-to-play letters to the editor policy, the Rapid City Journal has taken one more step to reduce intelligent public discourse: they've canned Frankenfeld. The budding columnist made the mistake of criticizing his new part-time employer in a comment on RCJ's Mount Blogmore:

I had lunch years ago with the late, great Peg Sagen, editor of the RCJ, who complained that she disliked the Internet, and particularly disliked that she was expected to compete against herself by providing free online news content for which print subscribers had to pay. I suggested that there was no reason to give Internet readers a free ride. Now the Journal is finally trying (clumsily) to do the obvious thing. I hate it when that happens! And with the RCJ charging folks for publishing political letters to the editor, I suppose the next step is to slap a heavy fine on columnists...

I am grumpy about the new policies and unsure as a reader what to do about them. Probably I will drop my subscription to the print version in favor of digital only, although I am confused about the cost of this option. And I agree that Blogmorites collectively have voluntarily contributed something of value; it irks me to think this site, already less user-friendly than before, may disappear behind a paywall. forsaking reasonably interesting content, created for free and distributed for free, the Journal may put itself into a self-reinforcing negative spiral. Or maybe accelerate an existing negative spiral.

I depend on the RCJ, and will be sad if it continues its prolonged fade... [Don Frankenfeld, comment to Kevin Woster's "Pay Wall, Pay Wall, Who's Got the Pay Wall? We Do!" Mount Blogmore, September 25, 2012].

The higher-ups at the Rapid City Journal consider criticism of their business and employment thereby incompatible. In response to what they characterize as Frankenfeld's "hostility" toward the paper, RCJ will no longer publish Frankenfeld's columns.

(By the way, I hear RCJ still hasn't paid Frankenfeld for his four columns. Not that Frankenfeld's hurting for cash, but one would think that with paywall revenues now surely swelling the Lee Enterprise coffers, issuing checks for services rendered would not be a problem.)

RCJ publisher Shannon Brinker is free to hire, fire, and drive her paper into the ground as she sees fit. But she also demonstrates that even the press can place corporate control and brand management over the First Amendment.

Oops, looks like I shouldn't bother applying for that open columnist spot, either.


  1. Bill Fleming 2012.09.29

    Blogmore is on the rocks I think. So is the RCJ. Sad.

  2. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.09.29

    Indeed, Bill. The RCJ was a leader in political discourse when it let Bill Harlan and friends start Mount Blogmore. It drew great comments and arguments from interesting people. As David Montgomery shows at Political Smokeout, a newspaper can use a blog as a way to get people in the door, build the brand, and read other articles. The additional effort journalists put into turning a portion of their paid work into blog posts can easily pay off in additional traffic and ad revenue on both the blog and the main newspaper site. Add in RCJ's $15 fee for political letters to the editor, and it looks like Lee Enterprises' cash flow desperation is clouding their civic sense and their business sense.

    By the way, I've removed Blogmore and Take It Outside from my RSS feeds. I don't feel comfortable giving regular links to paid content. I want information on this blog to flow freely.

  3. Bill Fleming 2012.09.29

    Exactly Cory. The RCJ never quite got it about information. networking. Harlan was a pioneer whose employers never understood or appreciated. Instead of making more and more connections, they tried to corner more and more of what was already a monopoly market. Lee's corporate greed has crushed what has been for decades the heart and soul of the Black Hills information community.

  4. Jerry 2012.09.29

    Take a look at who is on the advisory editorial board for the Journal. When you have the likes of one Robert Fischer face peering at you, what can you expect but censorship. The Journal is really living up to its calling now, a right wing newspaper that parrots Fox News. All the slanted news you want to read and see.

  5. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.09.29

    Hey, Jerry, can you point us toward a full roster of that board?

    Bill: networking! Exactly! And the RCJ is tearing out the nodes of that network.

  6. Donald Pay 2012.09.29

    Our daily paper in Madison, WI is also a Lee product. It has gone steadily downhill with the corporate meltdown that started by the company taking on too much debt. But I think most local papers are in the same boat, maybe for different reasons. The result is an incredible timidity to take on any story that might lose whatever readership they have and whatever advertising still exists. Essentially, these papers will come to a point where they aren't worth reading, so they lose more money.

    What's happening here is that alternative weekly papers and alternative on-line sources of information are taking the place of the local daily newspaper.

  7. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.09.29

    That does help, Mark! You'd think the paper would give us a nice simple list instead of making us click through a bunch of photos. Here's the roster:

    --Jim Aberle, exec. dir., Black Hills Vision
    --Christen Silvia, exec. dir., SD Stockgrowers Assoc.
    --Don DeVries, mayor, Hot Springs
    --Bob Fischer, pres., Fischer Furniture
    --Sam Kooiker, mayor, Rapid City
    --Pat Kurtenback, pres. Sturgis Ec. Dev. Corp.
    --Bruce Long Fox, exec. dir., Rural America Initiatives
    --Rick Messer, sr. VP, Pioneer Bank & Trust
    --Tim Mitchell, supt, RC Schools
    --Kay Schallenkamp, pres. BHSU
    --Charles Hart, pres/CEO, Regional Health

  8. Mark 2012.09.29

    That "cross-section" seems to be to loaded with establishment newsmakers and lacking in news consumers, doesn't it? But then, readership of dead-tree editions is steadily going down. Papers are less responsive to regular readers --- and this seems to correspond with the trend for corporate ownership and the rise of alternative media.

    It's getting harder to find a decent paper that's locally owned.

    As newspapers are trying to cope with internet competition, they're losing their real focus. If they don't find a way get back on track, they'll eventually be completely obsolete, which would be unfortunate for news consumers, society as a whole, and the news business itself.

  9. Mark 2012.09.29

    Having the mayor on the editorial advisory board might make things interesting around election time, too. Now, about that endorsement...

  10. larry kurtz 2012.10.01

    Jim Kent:

    "Editorial Note*: The Rapid City Journal refused to publish this work, Jim's weekly column, on 9/27/12 re: Native American boarding schools - hinged on the award-winning film "The Thick Dark Fog". Its editorial board noted that the boarding school issue –though painful – took place decades ago, questioned references to genocidal federal practices prior to the 19th century as well as their use at boarding schools, questioned references to Gen. Philip Sheridan, and stated that publishing the column “would further divide Native Americans and whites without justification.”"

  11. larry kurtz 2012.10.01

    Cory: when you get a minute, could you have a talk with Sam Hurst?

  12. Jerry 2012.10.01

    The Rapid City Journal has shown its backside once again. They are not worthy to be called a news source at all and seem to me corrupted by their boards. If I were part of that mix, I would do like Tom Shortbull did with the Regional Hospital, resign to avoid the stench.

  13. Don Frankenfeld 2012.10.02


    Thanks for some interesting and provocative comments. I will defend the membership of the Journal advisory board, which is a little light on female representation, but still pretty diverse. I know and respect a lot of these folks, but I doubt very much whether they play a significant role in the Journal's editorial policy or anything else, for that matter. It is mostly an honorific, I suspect. And while Bob Fischer and I don't see eye to eye on a lot of issues, he is not only a political activist, but (I am sure) the Journal's largest advertiser, and thus someone to be cultivated. No reason he shouldn't be included as long as he avoids a Citizen Hearst mentality.

    One or more of my recent posts to Blogmore on this topic have been killed, during a time when Kevin Woster was tending to other duties. But Kevin has returned, and he posted my recent comment. The significance of my own firing, and the spiking of Jim Kent's column, has less to do with us as individuals than with what seems like an emerging paranoia on the part of the Journal. Given its quasi-monopoly position, I believe it is both an obligation and a business opportunity for the Journal to expose its readers to a great diversity of opinion. The New York Times employs an in-house critic, a public editor, who is allowed to write anything she wants without editorial interference. They seem to have weathered the storm pretty well. Likewise, the Journal would be a stronger and more interesting newspaper if they were a bit less timid about criticism and controversy.

  14. Bill Fleming 2012.10.02

    Yikes! Frankenfeld! Oh well, there goes the neighborhood. LOL.

Comments are closed.