News Tribune’s Georgia Swing calls it a career — we thinkRobin Washington column: Visit the News Tribune’s newsroom a week from tomorrow and for the second time in 36 years, you won’t find Georgia Swing.
By: Robin Washington, Duluth News Tribune
Visit the News Tribune’s newsroom a week from tomorrow and for the second time in 36 years, you won’t find Georgia Swing.
Normally, you can’t miss her. As managing editor, she has her own office but rarely uses it, instead deploying herself to a cubicle among the reporters. She almost never takes lunch (unless eating and breathing news counts) and as far as I can tell, wouldn’t dream of limiting her workday to a measly eight hours.
So when she retires Friday and heads to Arizona with husband Virgil — also a retired DNT staffer — well, let’s see how long it takes her to find a story to report or edit.
“She doesn’t want to work full time,” Virgil Swing said, though he recalls another time when their plans for a life of leisure got interrupted by journalism.
That was in 2004, after she had been teaching at Marshall School for 13 years following an earlier stint at the DNT.
“We bought a motor home,” Virgil said. “We were going to wander the country” — until she got a call from former Managing Editor Andrea Buck about a city editor job.
She took it. They ended up selling the motor home.
“As soon as I got back in the newsroom, I knew I was home,” Georgia said. “People there laughed at the same dark humor and viewed events with the same skepticism I did, and they wanted as intensely as I to be the first to know what’s going on and then tell someone about it.”
One of those dark events was the Congdon murders, which happened her second week on the job in 1977 during her first tour of duty. Other big stories for her were Mayor John Fedo’s indictment, the killing of six hunters in Rice Lake, Wis., in 2004 and the flood of 2012 — which hit while I was out of town. Though I rushed back immediately, she had every angled covered, and there was little left for me to do.
She recalls her start in the post-Watergate era as a particularly rewarding time for the press, which was credited with saving democracy.
Colleagues found her inspiring as well.
“Georgia probably doesn’t know this, but she taught me just about everything I know about how to conduct a telephone interview,” said Laurie Hertzel, a former DNT reporter now at the Minneapolis Star Tribune and author of “News to Me: Adventures of an Accidental Journalist.”
“I used to eavesdrop on her phone interviews because they were always such genius,” Hertzel said, explaining Georgia would disarm subjects with a spontaneous laugh.
“I heard her say to sources, again and again, ‘I don’t understand,’ or ‘Can you explain that further?’ or even, ‘I still don’t understand what you’re saying here.’ … Eventually, the source would realize that he had met his match; he could not snow Georgia Swing; he might as well come clean and answer her questions.”
Bob Ashenmacher, another colleague from decades ago now with the College of St. Scholastica, recalled a similar tenaciousness.
“She would press a point or a source or a reporter until it made sense in clear English or by simple logic, or was revealed to not make much sense,” he said. “To me, good newsroom leaders have a charisma that comes from a kind of drawn, pinched, flattened-out courage of a sort. She had it.”
That hasn’t changed, says sports reporter Rick Weegman. The occupant of the cubicle next to hers, he kidded her about an error in a story recently.
“I said something like, ‘Oh, Georgia, you’re a short-timer, why would you care?’ And she replied that it was in her DNA or something to care about getting it right,” he said. “And I think she’s strived for that her entire career.”
DNT Multimedia Editor Jimmy Bellamy echoed that, saying she does “the work of two-plus people and helped exceed the expectations of our resources and excel to award-winning levels.”
Those awards aren’t just metaphorical. Long stored in boxes or gathering dust about the newsroom, they include several national honors and were recently mounted on our walls. One last assignment I asked Georgia to do is to write a narrative to go next to them.
Her name won’t be on that and isn’t on all the awards. But if not for her, very few of them would be there.
Have a great retirement, Georgia. Oh, and Virgil: I wouldn’t buy another motor home.
Robin Washington is editor of the News Tribune. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.