Thursday, July 05, 2007


The June 29, 2007 Fargo Forum had an article about the new focus on combating drug trafficking in Cass County under the leadership of Sheriff Paul Laney.

We are taking drug trafficking enforcement efforts to a new level, explained Laney. This includes restructuring the sheriff’s department’s patrol division, requiring drug interdiction training of officers and ensuring they have the tools to curb drug trafficking. Laney recently applied for a grant to add a narcotics search dog to the department.

“It’s definitely something I feel very strongly about,” Laney said. “And I want to make a difference.”

The sheriff’s actions brought to mind the Windows Theory of Crime described in the book The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell.

Conceived by Criminologists James O. Wilson and George Kelling, this theory puts forth that crime is the natural outcome of disorder. For example: if a window is broken and left unrepaired, people who walk by will conclude that no one cares, that no one is in charge. More windows get broken and the sense of anarchy will spread from the building to the street on which it faces, sending a signal that anything goes.

This is an epidemic theory of crime that says crime is contagious--that it can begin with a broken window or experimentation with a new drug from somewhere else—and then spread throughout a community.

Gladwell wrote: “The Tipping Point in this epidemic isn’t a particular kind of person…. The impetus to engage in a certain kind of behavior is not coming from a certain kind of person but from a feature of the environment (a rundown neighborhood or a drug-friendly highway system running through a county). An epidemic can be reversed, can be tipped, by tinkering with the smallest details of the immediate environment.”

New York City tested this theory with stunning results in the 1980’s and 1990’s.
To change this environment, they enforced the smallest violations and changed the context of the community. First New York City transit police began to arrest those who engaged in fare-beating—an estimated 170,000/day didn’t pay for their subway ticket. Police previously ignored this crime because the value of a ticket ($1.25) was small; police felt it was a waste of time. They discovered a high percentage of fare-beaters had outstanding arrest warrants for serious crimes (1 of 7). Five percent carried illegal weapons. Making these arrests proved worthwhile and crime in the subway system went down dramatically.

New York City police then began enforcing minor quality of life crimes: graffiti, squeegee men, public urination, public drunkenness, and minor property damage violations—all went to jail. The serious crime rate fell dramatically and the environment changed.

If our police ignore small acts of drug use and minor violations of the law, if our family law judges ignore violations of court orders and cases of spousal abuse, if schools ignore acts of disrespect and bullying, if business leaders turn away from small ethical transgressions, then people believe that no one cares, that anything goes, and we go down the slippery slope to more serious issues; we have a culture of non-accountability. Conversely the proactive enforcement of laws for small crimes changes the context and environment of the community and we have a culture of accountability.

Sheriff Laney wants to close the window on drugs: “Don’t come through Cass County, because you will be caught. It’s not if but when. We’ll make room in the Cass County jail for drug traffickers.”

I look forward to future reports from Sheriff Laney.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007


Marti Buscaglia, 54, publisher of The Duluth News Tribune, Duluth, Minnesota since 2002, was slated to be the new publisher at the Orange County Register and Tribune in Santa Ana, California.

That is until it came out that she had misrepresented her educational background. Five previous newspaper employers and at least one recruitment firm failed to check out her background.

“Credibility is a hallmark of Freedom and our products,” N. Christian Anderson III, current publisher of the Register and president and CEO of Freedom Orange County Information, said in a news release. “We agreed that this breach would make it impossible for her to fulfill her responsibilities”

Elsewhere in Minnesota, the publisher of The Minneapolis Star Tribune spent last week in court—his credibility under attack. Par Ridder jumped ship from the St. Paul Pioneer Press where he was publisher and went to the larger cross-town arch rival Star Tribune in March of 2007.

Ridder took two senior managers from St. Paul with him to Minneapolis.

The issues in court were:

Are the noncompete agreements Ridder and the other executives signed when at the Pioneer Press still valid? If they are, the three would be prohibited from working at the Star Tribune for one year. And did Ridder break the law when he took computer files with him from St. Paul to the Star Tribune that contained confidential information about Pioneer Press advertisers, finances, and personnel?

Ridder’s testimony, as reported in the Star Tribune, lacked credibility to this former Secret Service agent and former executive at the Star Tribune (I worked at the Star Tribune from 1976-94 and my dad for 42 years before that). To say he took financial reports to show the formatting to executives at the Star Tribune is just not credible. While he denied using the reports for advertising competitive advantage, he did acknowledge using compensation reports to negotiate the salary of one of the managers he hired away from St. Paul.

Mr. Ridder and his colleagues should have gotten their releases in writing from the Pioneer Press.

Mr. Ridder should have cleaned his laptop and had it verified by Pioneer Press people before he went to Minneapolis. Taking it and then saying he did not use it to harm the Pioneer Press or only used it to show the format of reports is just not credible (any publisher spending his time on report formats is not a publisher). The damage to his credibility was done when he took the information.

A leader’s greatest asset is credibility as Orange County’s Anderson said. Leaders are responsible to create visions for growth and adaptation to the environment before an industry or organizations slides into decline. Leaders in the newspaper industry failed to provide this leadership over the past decade and the industry falls into decline and its leaders lose their credibility a bit every day. Mr. Ridder’s ethics further erode his ability to lead.

Star Tribune business columnist Neal St. Anthony said, “Par Ridder has become the local business ethics case of the year.”

When I left the Star Tribune in 1994, Cowles Media CEO, David Cox, told a group that my leadership in the Circulation Department had changed the company forever. That leadership was based on what we called “value-driven leadership.” Nothing is forever and since that time the Star Tribune has slipped into decline. Mr. Ridder’s actions hasten that decline. He should resign just as Ms. Buscaglia withdrew at Orange County.

In the end it is always all about leadership.