Once upon a time, long, long ago, in a city far, far from here, I used to read a newspaper called the Minneapolis Star-Tribune (Strib for short) which contained an amusing column called “The Backfence”. Years went by, the newspaper changed, and the column was shortened to a mere paragraphlet and renamed “The Quirk”. In the meantime, the author of said column, James Lileks, started a website with much amusing content including a blog called “The Bleat” (link is on the right in the blogroll). I used to read the website occasionally, but last I summer started checking it more often when feeling homesick on one of my pre-move extended UK visits. I am now a devoted fan of the blog, read it over my morning coffee most work days, and enjoy other bits of the website on occasion. The blog is apparently popular the world over, winning “Best Individual Blog” in the 2006 Weblog awards with over 11,000 votes and giving a substantial national and international following to the author. On the blog at the bottom of the page there was always a link to the newspaper column, usually explicitly noted by the author, which I sometimes clicked on and read. It became increasingly painful to read the newspaper column; the newspaper wanted readers to be registered and the access to the articles was thus dependent on my mood and willingness to fuss with their silly website. (Why do newspapers do this? Unless they are going to charge for content, thus shooting themselves clearly in the foot compared with the plethora of free news services on the web, why annoy potential readers with this registration bit?)
This week the news broke that the paper had discontinued the Lileks column and wanted him to report on straight news only. The commentary in both the traditional media and from the blogosphere (both in the US and abroad) was blunt and brutal. No one can seem to figure out why the paper would shut down its biggest star; after reading all the commentary I continue to be puzzled and mystified myself.
As an expat abroad, I am certainly unlikely to encounter the print version of the newspaper. I was probably only ever on the Strib website through the link from the Lileks site. I did, however, occasionally stay on the site and read more news than just the Lileks column. (I was for some strange reason particularly taken with reading the reviews of new restaurants which I may never get to visit!) How many other people are out there like me, nostalgic for the old town, no longer in the state or even country where this newspaper exists, and who would never otherwise visit the Strib website without the Lileks connection?