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YourLife pulls aquarium column

Media critic Mike Simonson had his next column in YourLife magazine all mapped out. He says he planned to praise the magazine for printing the column he had just finished. But his plans have changed.

Media critic Mike Simonson had his next column in YourLife magazine all mapped out. He says he planned to praise the magazine for printing the column he had just finished. But his plans have changed.
That initial column, slated to run in YourLife's January issue, criticized local media, particularly the Duluth News-Tribune, for its response to the controversy over educator Andrew Slade's exit from the Great Lakes Aquarium.
The column also criticized Allete (formerly Minnesota Power) and its CEO Ed Russell. Critics have alleged that Russell used his company's influence with the aquarium to force Slade out after Slade wrote an editorial in the News-Tribune critical of an Allete power line project.
"A big part of the column was taking issue with what Ed Russell did, his actions, and the chilling effect that it could have on public opinion," said Simonson during a Wednesday phone interview.
"And ironically, it was so chilling that my column was killed."
YourLife decided not to run the January column, and Simonson, who works primarily as a reporter for Wisconsin Public Radio, has decided not to write any more columns for the magazine.
"I wish YourLife magazine all the best, but this was a stupid move," Simonson said.
Simonson (whose wife Jennifer Simonson is a Budgeteer News reporter) has written a column for YourLife and its predecessors for about three years. He alleges that the column was pulled because AdMax, the company which purchased YourLife predecessors NorthLife and The Senior Reporter from Larry Fortner a year ago, feared lost business from Allete. Simonson said that to his knowledge, Allete was not contacted in regard to his column, nor was it involved in any decisions about running it.
Simonson says Fortner, who remained editor of YourLife following the sale, fought to run the column. "I'm confident that he went as far as he could, short of resigning," said Simonson.
Fortner, a former editor at the News-Tribune, declined comment when reached by phone Thursday.
Liz Hylla, who with Jay Ott serves as publisher of YourLife, also declined comment on who made the decision to hold the column, noting only that she, Ott and Fortner are "equal partners."
Hylla denied that YourLife pulled the column over business considerations and offered a very different version of how the magazine arrived at the decision.
Hylla said the magazine always reserves the right to review content to see that it fits a given issue of the magazine. In this case, she said, Simonson's January column did not fill its media criticism role in the magazine.
"It was less about 'media watch' and more about a particular issue, which was a Minnesota Power issue," said Hylla Thursday. She said much of the column had nothing to do with the media.
A copy of Simonson's column, sent to the Budgeteer News, shows Simonson did critique the News-Tribune in detail, noting what he perceived as a delay in coverage.
"Pretty poor reporting, pretty poor response since Slade is their columnist and the info ran in their newspaper," he wrote of the News-Tribune's initial article, which he says ran more than two months after Slade's column appeared, "buried in their local section."
However, the column launches considerable criticism at Russell and Allete, as well. Simonson criticized Russell for his public decisions regarding the aquarium controversy. He also criticized Russell for withdrawing from the United Way board over that group's decision not to fund the Boy Scouts because of its position banning gay scouts. Simonson even criticized Allete's name change from Minnesota Power.
Simonson also offered suggestions for remedying the aquarium situation, among them rehiring Slade and giving Russell sensitivity training.
Thursday, Simonson defended his attacks on Russell, saying the article "definitely looked at media coverage, but it also looked at the action of one who would influence media coverage."

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