Former editors look back on their time at downtown’s community newspaper
What can I tell you about editing The Journal?
Well, not as much as Tim Lyke, David Brauer and Sarah McKenzie can. All three former editors spent much more time steering the paper then my two-plus years.
For this final issue, I asked Tim, David and Sarah to reflect on their time with paper and its place in the local mediascape. They represent three different eras of this publication, long known as Skyway News before it was renamed Downtown Journal and, later, The Journal.
Both David and Sarah, my former boss, have been indispensible sources of advice and guidance for me in my first editing gig. But the inspiration for this piece was Tim, who I hadn’t met until he emailed in November, one of a number of former staffers who have reached out since the paper’s closing was announced.
I think I can speak for all of us when I say it’s been an honor serving you, our readers.
— Dylan Thomas, editor 2016–2018
Tim Lyke, editor 1985–1990
Since stepping down as Skyway News and Freeway Newseditor 28 years ago, I haven’t given the position much thought.
Until last month.
Three events converged in November to cause me to reminisce, fondly, on my time at the community newspapers that for almost a half-century have served the Twin Cities downtown and suburban areas.
One was trivial: Sen. Amy Klobuchar bragged to Stephen Colbert that she’s a former Miss Skyway.
Another, heartbreaking: My Skyway News“Lyke ’n’ Mike” co-columnist, Laurie (Michael) Kumerow of Lake Elmo, died of a brain tumor at age 56.
The last was disappointing: News that after Dec. 13, no moreThe Journal, successor to the newspaper entrepreneur Sam Kaufman founded in 1970 to serve the second-story downtown community.
By the time I joined the Skyway crews in 1985, Sam had grown his publishing empire to include Tuesday and Thursday downtown Minneapolis editions, as well as downtown St. Paul and suburban papers on Wednesdays.
Our news staff of seven edited and wrote for four papers weekly, not to mention the gargantuan 120-page Aquatennial behemoths we produced each July.
In 1985, the papers largely were filled with lightly edited news releases, local columnists and syndicated features.
By 1990, canned copy, photos of bikini-clad women and biweekly columns by a restaurant reviewer whose puffery focused on her PR clients were replaced with bylined news stories that occasionally scooped the crosstown Goliath on Portland Avenue. We wrote gossipy in-the-know columns and interviewed celebrities who came to town. We offered a Thursday A&E section, with editor D.L. Mabery junketing off to Hollywood every other weekend — at studios’ expense — to interview movie stars.
We had Olympic gold medal gymnast Bart Conner stand on his head for a photo; retired President Jimmy Carter told us why he still needed Secret Service protection (fear that an enemy could kidnap him and hold the U.S. hostage); and we set aside 20 minutes to interview Fred DeLuca, who insisted that his new downtown Minneapolis sandwich shop would blossom into the world’s largest chain of franchises. (Actually, Subway is only No. 4).
During my half-decade of fun, Sam and son Steve Kaufman sold their franchise to Clint Andrus, who bravely gave us the green light to redesign and re-conceptualize the papers before they were bought by Todd Klingel, a positive spirit with boyish charm who was then publisherof Twin Cities Directory.
We had fun back then, moving downtown from Park Avenue to 5th Avenue, covering Police Chief Tony Bouza firing a confetti cannon over Nicollet Mall, sharing a beer with Joan Baez at a downtown block party, watching a live elephant wave his trunk at Peavey Plaza passersby, earning kudos from media luminaries such as WCCO’s Dave Moore and the Strib’sBarbara Flanagan and, yes, awarding Murray’s steaks and a month of Jazzercise classes to a future U.S. senator.
But now, Laurie, Sam, Steve, D.L. and Todd are all gone. Not so the memories of a great paper produced by people with great respect for their readers and advertisers.
Like its successor, The Journal, Skyway Newscreated connections that were no less vital to our community than the series of second-story bridges that link the network of otherwise isolated office buildings.
David Brauer, editor 2001–2005
In 2001, I’d been enjoying life as a national freelancer when Janis Hall and Terry Gahan approached me: Would I like to edit Skyway News?
It was a ridiculous notion. I was a City Pages guy; Skyway News was the product of three-martini lunches, cheesy boosterism and the cheesecake of “Miss Skyway.”
No, no, they said. Turn Skyway News into a community paper for a place that doesn’t know it’s a community yet. Condo-dwellers had just started to arrive, and we grafted on the Southwest Journal model: indefatigable coverage of neighborhood meetings and ward-level City Hall coverage; arts coverage that didn’t pander; voices of real people.
For me, it was a great chance to influence local news again. We ended up winning a statewide public service award for exposing contractor influence on the Minneapolis Park Board; regularly scooped the competition on downtown development deals (projects first emerged at neighborhood association meetings); and generally raised havoc when we could get away with it, as countless angry phone calls from City Council Member Lisa Goodman attested.
We indulged in April Fools issues, re-bannering as “Slyway News.” We lampooned then-Gov. Jesse Ventura’s paranoid tendencies with a front-pager that he’d ordered the skyway system dismantled. (We used a photo of a skyway being erected.)
The all-timer was an announcement that ABC was remaking “Three’s Company” with a senior couple just in from the suburbs forced to share a downtown condo with a millennial. KSTP-TV was so excited Minnesota got national attention that it ran our joke as real news — no fact checking, even though KSTP is an ABC affiliate! Then the Star Tribune copied KSTP, also with no reporting. We’d parodied viral news before we knew what that was.
It wasn’t all fun though. I was especially proud of a profile we’d run on a downtown woman who was trans, who willingly told us her personal story and her harrowing life on the streets — the antithesis of the rosy “Miss Skyway” view of Downtown. But within a week, the reporter and I found ourselves sitting before a row of angry trans advocates, who told a couple of straight, white, cis guys we’d made our subject a target for violent transphobes, whether she knew it or not. It was a pointed education about privilege and that feeling personally virtuous is no substitute for fully understanding other realities.
I learned so much about downtown, a place I’d always loved, but my greatest joy was giving journalists a chance to shine: Scott Russell, our most experienced reporter, got a bigger platform to explain and expose the city; Sarah McKenzie, who I literally hired because she’d fought for editorial independence as a Minnesota Daily editor against the Daily board (no shock Sarah became the Downtown Journal’s longest-tenured editor); Sue Rich, a wonderful and supremely socially conscious managing editor; Robyn Repya White and Ellen Nigon, two of the hardest-working and nicest beat reporters an editor could hope to manage; Kevin Featherly, who pushed the envelope with me; Rich Ryan, our tireless photographer who created awesome images despite way too assignments.
And the paper wasn’t just reporters. There were Marcia Roepke and Brian Nanista, who made the paper look exceptional; Marlo Johnson, who got the paper distributed with a smile we didn’t always deserve; sales reps who got those condo developers to pony up; receptionists who often caught flack first while freeing us do our jobs.
I’m so glad Janis and Terry asked. And that I said yes.
Sarah McKenzie, editor 2006–2016
I have deep appreciation and gratitude for all the readers who have supported this newspaper since it made its debut in 1970 as the Skyway News.
I will miss seeing it around town and am grateful for the opportunity I had to serve as editor for The Journal and Southwest Journal for more than a decade before my longtime colleague Dylan Thomas took the helm in 2016. I led the papers at a time of transformational change in downtown Minneapolis and in the media landscape. Navigating those changes was both very challenging and rewarding.
The Journals have always been produced by a small but very scrappy and talented team of journalists who have filled the pages with informative and entertaining stories documenting life in Minneapolis. While I worked as an editor and reporter at the newspapers, I had the opportunity to cover a wide range of stories — from quirky profiles on unique characters like the late Ruth Adams, “the barking dog polka lady” at Nye’s, and a cuckoo clock collector in the North Loop, to in-depth reporting on critical issues like homelessness and gun violence.
Downtown Minneapolis became much more vibrant in the decade that I worked at the newspapers with thousands of new residents moving into new condo and apartment buildings, bringing new energy to the neighborhoods in the heart of the city. It continues to become more dynamic with dramatic changes on the east side of downtown and the arrival of the new stadium, The Commons and neighboring new development and the recent transformation of Nicollet Mall. The recent arrival of “Nimbus,” a massive and majestic cantilevered sculpture in front of the Minneapolis Central Library, is the perfect finishing touch for the new Nicollet.
It can be tempting to just focus on the negative while writing about the city. It’s an important function of newspapers to hold leaders accountable and point out problems that need fixing. While writing and editing The Journal, I was also intentional about celebrating the city and spotlighting all the wonderful people and places that make Minneapolis so special. That’s my biggest takeaway from my time working there — this city is filled with compassionate, innovate and creative people who care about making Minneapolis a better place.
Thank you to everyone who has been part of this newspaper for more than four decades, especially Janis Hall and Terry Gahan, who have served as the publishers since 2001. I learned so much from all the talented people I got to collaborate with over the years. A note of appreciation, too, for all the advertisers who have supported the paper as well.
Finally, keep supporting and reading newspapers. We need them more than ever.