5Q: Writer Laurie Hertzel details the life of an ‘accidental journalist’Former Budgeteer editor Jana Peterson (now of the Pine Journal in Cloquet) interviews Laurie Hertzel, the Duluth native responsible for “News to Me: Adventures of an Accidental Journalist."
By: Jana Peterson, Budgeteer News
Writer Laurie Hertzel is now the books editor for the Star Tribune, but she hasn’t been a big-city girl all her life.
Nope, Hertzel was born and raised in Duluth, and got her newspaper training on the job (make that various jobs) at the Duluth News Tribune starting in the mid-1970s when Hertzel was a shy high school graduate and journalism was a predominantly male profession.
After nearly 20 years at the News Tribune — where she worked as newsroom clerk, newspaper librarian, copy editor, beat reporter, feature writer, news editor and columnist — Hertzel moved herself and her dog to the Twin Cities to work with Minnesota Monthly magazine.
“It’s been 16 years now since Toby and I drove away from my house at the edge of the woods,” she writes in “News to Me,” her new book. “In those 16 years I have slowly come to think of myself as a St. Paulite, although not exactly a Twin Citian, and Duluth still feels like home. No other place will ever settle in my bones the way Duluth has.”
Pine Journal: Of all the different jobs and newspaper beats you’ve held during your life, what were your top three?
Hertzel: It’s a Pollyanna-ish answer to say that every beat I had was my favorite beat at the time.
So I’ll pick three — but know that I really never had a beat I didn’t like.
1) Covering the Iron Range really opened me up to developing stories on my own, and to exploring the state. It was my first beat, the one where I learned the most, and it was a lot of fun.
2) Editing projects at the “Strib” (Star Tribune), which I did for about five years, was a terrific job. I worked with wonderful reporters on long, complicated and important stories that were months in the making. Even so, we always got down to that big deadline crunch at the end, working late into the night, fact-checking, reading proof — the best of both worlds. Can’t beat that adrenaline rush.
3) Books editor at the “Strib.” Plenty of autonomy, a great focused beat covering a topic dear to my heart and all the books I can read — and then some.
What do you think is easier to do: teach someone to be a good reporter or teach someone how to be a better writer? What do you think is the most important skill for an aspiring journalist?
Boy, what a great question. I think both can be taught, though it’s easier to teach the skills of how to get information than it is to teach the more nuanced skills of good writing.
I think that both good reporting and good writing are important: Without good reporting, you have nothing to say. And without good writing, nobody will read whatever it is that you have to say.
But I guess good reporting wins by a hair.
What made you decide to write this book?
A whole lot of things: I wanted to entertain and amuse. I wanted to throw myself into a big project.
I wanted people to remember (or learn) what the old days of journalism were like, before e-mail and Google and cell phones and laptops. And I wanted women, especially young women, to be reminded what the professional world was like for them not all that long ago.
There have been many changes in the world of newspapers since you started. How has it gotten better? On the flip side, what has changed for the worse?
It’s much more sophisticated. Much more timely. We have so much connection now to the rest of the country and the rest of the world that we have tons of context and influence, almost instantly.
Cell phones and laptops (or BlackBerries) make it so much easier to stay in touch when you’re out on assignment. Google and the Internet make gathering information a lot easier in many ways.
But for the worse, we tend to be much faster, which often means we are hasty about posting stuff on the Web before we’ve fact-checked or edited.
We’ll take stories down and correct errors on the fly, but we don’t always do a formal “setting the record straight,” which means that people who read earlier versions of stories may walk away with disinformation.
We are more scattered in the newsroom, with reporters and editors trying to post early versions of stories online, do video standups, etc., all of which take away from time that could be spent on reporting and writing.
If you were going to bring a new friend up to Duluth for the day, where would you take him or her? And what kind of weather would you hope for?
Oh, I would hope that the lake would work its magic and give us a little of everything — blustery cloudy weather, deep fog, a little drizzle and then brilliant sunshine.
While it’s raining, we’d go to the Kom-On-Inn to look at the Art Fleming murals. When it was blustery and cloudy, we’d go to Park Point and walk out to the airport and gawk at the white-capped denim-blue water. And then, when the sun came out and the wind died down, we’d go up to Chester Bowl and lie in the grass and read.
I love this question the most of all.
NEWS TO USE
Hertzel will be signing copies of her new book “News to Me: Adventures of an Accidental Journalist” at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Bookstore at Fitger’s. She will also talk at 4 p.m. Sept. 29 in Tower Hall at the College of St. Scholastica, which is free and open to the public.