Everyday is Earth Day for Minneapolis Media Focused on Sustainability
Unlike many cities where Sunday newspaper readership has tanked, plenty of Minneapolis residents still treasure delivery of a chunky Star Tribune as part of their weekend routine.
“It’s our meal ticket,” Business Editor Thom Kupper said of the 580,000-circulation Sunday edition during a 3BL Media event for sustainability communicators.
Those pitching Minnesota’s largest daily need to understand that the “digital first” mantra adhered to by print outlets in some markets does not apply for his team.
Kupper, whose business reporting team numbers 17, is continually seeking ideas for 1,000-word Sunday enterprise stories dealing with meaty topics. Some, like a piece on 3M’s focus on sustainability as a human resources strategy to recruit Millennials, have come from savvy PR pros.
“The best stories always have some conflict or tension in them,” said Kupper, adding that Sunday’s longer business feature stories usually generate more online clicks, tweets, Facebook comments and social sharing than the breaking news and other content generated by his team.
With no Star Tribune reporter assigned to cover corporate social responsibility or sustainability as a distinct beat, Kupper said pitches should go to the staffer specializing in industry sectors: Kristen Painter for food, Tom Meersman for agriculture, Mike Hughlett for energy, and Dee Depass for manufacturing, for example.
Business columnist Lee Schafer should be considered for pitches on corporate citizenship topics, said Kupper, though he cautioned that Schafer’s take on a topic doesn’t always jibe with a brand or agency’s preconceived story flow.
“Some people are afraid of that because you don’t know what his opinion will be,” said Kupper.
Joining Kupper at the 3BL Media event was a familiar voice on Minnesota Public Radio newscasts, climate change reporter Elizabeth Dunbar, who left little doubt about what she likes and what’s off limits for pitches.
“I couldn’t care less about your earnings and profits,” she cautioned, backing off just a tad by saying she’d reconsider if companies begin disclosing sustainability gaps and gains alongside their financials in their quarterly reports.
“Don’t even think about pitching me an Earth Day story,” she cautioned. “For environmental reporters, Earth Day is every day.”
The Minneapolis-based Dunbar is a former Associated Press reporter whose MPR environmental beat is also staffed by Dan Kraker in Duluth and Dan Gunderson in Moorhead. Their reporting on water is partly underwritten by a McKnight Foundation grant.
Earth Day is not alone in the list of pet peeves for Dunbar, who says “invented days” or months dedicated to a particular cause are “like the worst news peg ever.”
Similarly, companies receiving awards for their achievements in CSR or sustainability may want to seek on-air congratulations elsewhere. Dunbar says it is hard for a journalist to truly vet the significance or underlying process behind an award.
Despite strong opinions of what not to pitch, Dunbar urged communicators to engage around policy issues.
“It’s not always about your story. It’s about sharing your expertise,” she said, playing an audio clip from an MPR story she produced about Ecolab embracing the circular economy.
Many brands have found success producing their own sustainability stories and sharing the digital content via their online and social platforms, and the 3BL Media network.
“We use 3BL a lot,” said Catherine Gunsbury, director of sustainability and transparency for General Mills, describing the blogs she and her team distribute through 3BL Media to reach a global audience.
“Stakeholders want to know more about who we are and what we stand for,” Gunsbury said as she outlined the General Mills philosophy around sharing content supporting the $18 billion Minneapolis-based company’s purpose: “We serve the world by making food people love.”
Brands seeking to communicate progress on complex environmental and social topics often experience more engagement when the stories are produced jointly with the nonprofits and NGOs doing the work, said Gunsbury.
“The one thing I can’t say enough about is the importance of partners and collaboration in this space,” she said, pointing to Partners for Pollinator Habitat, a $4 million project General Mills is undertaking with the Xerces Society and U.S. Department of Agriculture.
(Photo Caption: From left, Star Tribune Business Editor Thom Kupper, General Mills Sustainability Director Catherine Gunsbury and Minnesota Public Radio climate change reporter Elizabeth Dunlop.)