Words of wisdom from a wordsmith

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September 27, 2010
By: Sarah McKenzie
Sarah McKenzie

// Star Tribune books editor Laurie Hertzel reflects on her early days in the news business //

Laurie Hertzel’s new book, “News to Me: Adventures of an Accidental Journalist,” appropriately enough also came about by accident.

She had started a blog reflecting on her early years as a journalist working for the Duluth News Tribune. She didn’t intend for it to become the basis of a book, but on the urging of an editor at the University of Minnesota Press, she developed a memoir chronicling her most memorable moments from more than three decades in the news business.

Hertzel, books editor for the Star Tribune, got the idea for the blog when she realized that some of the younger journalists in the newsroom didn’t know some basic things about the history of the profession. She had also stumbled upon a blog written by a British journalist looking back at his early newspaper days.

“Reporters should know their own history and traditions,” she said.

In her memoir, she recounts some of the highlights of her 18-year career at the News Tribune, including her trip to the Soviet Union to document the sister-city negotiations between Duluth and Petrozavodsk. She was at the paper during other major events, too, including the establishment of the BWCA and the Congdon murders.

When she got her start at the newspaper in the mid-1970s, men dominated the newsroom and women were primarily relegated to the features department. Shortly after she got hired, the News Tribune hired its first female sports reporter who went on to become a city editor and later work for Bloomberg.

During her tenure Hertzel and other women, like Jacqui Banaszynski (now a professor at the Missouri School of Journalism), had a hand in expanding the definition of news to include more stories on social issues.

Hertzel started as newsroom clerk and went on to wear several different hats at the newspaper, including librarian, copy editor, beat reporter, feature writer, news editor and columnist.

Although she grew up in Duluth and for years resisted leaving the area despite seeing so many of her colleagues leave the city for larger newspapers across the country, she ultimately took a job at Minnesota Monthly after nearly two decades with the News Tribune. She then moved to the Star Tribune to become the projects editor.

She’s been the books editor for two years — a role that gives her the opportunity to influence the reading habits of people all over the region.

When asked what advice she’d give young people considering a career in journalism, she hesitated and acknowledged that so much has changed since she started in the industry. Her career path has been unique.

“The philosophy I’ve actively followed in my life is when a door opens, walk through it — even though the doors were very scary sometimes,” she said. “Because I couldn’t imagine shying away from things.”

Throughout her career, Hertzel has invested a lot of time and energy into improving her writing skills. She’s attended many workshops and dabbled in fiction writing, too. She’s earned many awards for her work, including the Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize.  

“Writing is something I’ve worked very hard at — very deliberately and consciously,” she said. “For journalism, good writing doesn’t exist without good reporting. You need a wealth of material to work from.”

As for the future of the news business, Hertzel is optimistic.

“I don’t think journalism can go away in a democracy,” she said. “You have to have journalism or you don’t have a democracy. … What I hope doesn’t go away is the storytelling part of it because I think people need stories in their lives.”

Storytelling has always been part of Hertzel’s life. Her first foray into journalism came as a preteen. She launched her own paper dubbed “Newspaper.” She had a circulation of 10 copies and tried to sell each issue for a nickel.

Soon she faced some competition. Her brothers Tony and Tommy decided to create a competing publication, “Magapaper,” a half magazine, half newspaper concept that included lots of color, short stories and pictures. It was sort of a USA Today ahead of its time, Hertzel noted in her book.

Her brothers soon tired of the publishing life, but she carried on, ultimately finding her way into the News Tribune newsroom.

“I don’t think back all that often to the days of scanner paper and old guys in fedoras, but when I do, it is with great fondness and with a feeling of enormous gratitude,” she writes in the book. “… It has been a fortuitous career all the way through — begun by accident and continued through enormous amounts of energy and passion, and a huge amount of luck.”

As for what she hopes people get out of reading her memoir, she’s got a few goals. For one, she wants to convey how much fun she has had working in newsrooms over the years.

“I hope it rings true for people in Duluth,” she said. “For women, young women especially, I hope they stop and think about how far we’ve come.”

Learn more

To learn more about Laurie Hertzel and her book, “News to Me: Adventures of an Accidental Journalist,” visit lauriehertzel.com.