James Eli Shiffer

Stories in words and pictures since 1967

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Secrecy Rules: A continuing series in the Star Tribune in 2017

March 25th, 2017 · Uncategorized

Secrecy is emerging as a reflex at all levels of government in Minnesota and across the nation. Mounting demands for corporate confidentiality, individual privacy and security have dramatically restricted the public’s right to know. Lobbyists representing local governments, law enforcement and businesses are chipping away at Minnesota’s public records law. State legislators have added hundreds of exceptions to the public disclosure law, raising the number of secrecy provisions to at least 660. Read more about my Star Tribune project, which debuted on March 12, 2017 and continues through the year.

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Now available: The King of Skid Row

March 4th, 2016 · Uncategorized

coverJust published by the University of Minnesota Press, my new history of Minneapolis’ vanished Gateway District. It launched April 7, when I read at the opening of an exhibit of Gateway photographs at the Mill City Museum. Learn more about the book, watch the video and see media coverage here.

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Recognition for the “Full Disclosure” column

July 6th, 2015 · Uncategorized

My Star Tribune column, Full Disclosure, marked its one-year anniversary in May 2015, and I was pleased to be recognized by the Minnesota Society of Professional Journalists by receiving the Peter S. Popovich Freedom of Information Award. As I told attendees at the awards ceremony last month, I’m grateful to work at a news organization that gives me this weekly venue to fight for freedom of expression and an open society, and against government and corporate secrecy.

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Extremely advanced publicity for “The King of Skid Row”

June 25th, 2015 · Uncategorized

robertwilcoxEarlier this year, Coffee House Press’s tumblr, In the Stacks, published an interview with me about the research for my upcoming book, “The King of Skid Row,” which is currently in production at the University of Minnesota Press and is scheduled for publication in the spring of 2016. I’m grateful to Jay Peterson for showing an interest so early in the game.

Left: Photo of Johnny Rex’s Sourdough Bar by Robert Wilcox, courtesy of Hennepin County Library.

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Farewell to Whistleblower, hello to Full Disclosure

April 27th, 2014 · Projects

ManandskylineAfter six years, dozens of stories and more than 7,000 tips, I have retired Whistleblower, the Star Tribune’s grassroots, consumer watchdog column that I have overseen since creating it in 2008. Starting next week, I will become a  Metro columnist and blogger. I see “Full Disclosure” as the next experiment in quick-turn investigative reporting. I’m hoping for a more conversational style with an occasional dash of outrage. I will not hide my bias in favor of transparency and accountability, but I have no intention of writing screeds. I left those behind when I gave up the editor’s chair at the Wesleyan Argus back in 1988.

Minneapolis Daily Times photo of city skyline, 1940 (Hennepin County Library, Minneapolis Collection)

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“When nurses fail” – a Star Tribune investigation

November 17th, 2013 · Uncategorized

My latest project is editing Brandon Stahl’s investigative series on how Minnesota disciplines nurses who violate standards of practice. The project features a searchable database of the more than 1,000 disciplinary actions that were the core of Stahl’s research. The series has already triggered a Legislative hearing and state action against up to 107 nurses whose criminal records were missed by the state’s flawed background checks.

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“Young and Armed” – a four-part series in the Star Tribune

March 31st, 2013 · Projects


I spent several months guiding a wildly talented team of reporters, photographers, web, graphics and data visualization folks to produce this series, which was published this month in the Star Tribune. It’s among the most rewarding projects that I’ve taken part in.

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Plenty of rooms as long as you don’t stay

January 27th, 2011 · Travels

Hotel Marshall, Chicago, Illinois, January 24, 2011

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I wrote a letter to William Seeman

January 3rd, 2011 · Mysteries



I wrote a letter to a man who may no longer be alive. I last heard from William Seeman, the author of “Down Goose Creek,” about five years ago, and I have written him again to tell him how this remarkable chronicle of a canoe journey in 1930 will play a role in my own book project, which is under construction. It’s a strange thing to write a letter to someone under these circumstances. Every major event is supposed to be known immediately now; the concept of being lost, of missed connections, is no longer relevant in the age of Facebook, GPS and Accurint. I do hope William Seeman is still alive, and sentient. I need his help.

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Mr. Dave

October 27th, 2010 · Travels

Mr. Dave, Dunn County, Wisconsin, July 3, 2010

Mr. Dave gave my father-in-law and me a lift in his truck so we could canoe down the Red Cedar River. He did not know I was taking this picture. I don’t know whether he would have objected.

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