September 13, 2010 Leave a comment
By Christa Lawler
Duluth News Tribune
It had been 16 years since Laurie Hertzel last walked through the double glass doors of 424 W. 1st St.
“Where’s the linotype machine?” the former staff reporter asked, looking around the News Tribune lobby during a recent trip back to the place where she got her first whiffs of news ink. “It was right here.”
Already a relic during Hertzel’s tenure, the clunky piece of print equipment that once revolutionized the world of journalism had been on display in the lobby. It’s gone now — one of many things that have changed in the newspaper’s offices — not to mention the entire industry — since her time here from the mid-1970s through mid-1990s.
Hertzel, who is now the books editor at the Minneapolis Star Tribune, wrote about that time in her memoir “News to Me: Adventures of an Accidental Journalist,” released in late August. It is the
224-page story, published by the University of Minnesota Press, about her ascension through the ranks of the cigarette smoke-hazed newsroom, the trip to Duluth’s sister city in Russia that she cajoled out of her editor, a fellowship out east, and her eventual move from her hometown.
The Charlotte Observer called it “charming and wistful,” and said “Hertzel is a powerful storyteller with an eye for the radiant details that conjure an entire way of life.”
While writing about the events, the people, and the news that came from this space and time, Hertzel worked from recall, rather than nostalgic trips through crannies of the places she worked for years. It was better this way.
“I knew it would be similar, but different and it would blur my memory,” she said.
‘QUIET, SHY, BOOKISH’
1When she started at the News Tribune in May of 1976, Hertzel’s job description included answering phones, writing obituaries, compiling the marine log, picking up court records across the street and the ignominious task of making coffee.
She moved on to working in the library — in fact, her handwriting is still on top of plenty of files, Hertzel noticed during her visit. She moved to the copy desk and eventually became a reporter.
“She was very quiet, shy, bookish … and I wouldn’t have expected to find her as outgoing as she has become,” said Paul Brissett, a former city editor who is mentioned in the book.
“News to Me” is a blend of the headlines from the era, including the Congdon murders — the kind of story that Hertzel said hooked her on newspapers. There are also crusty old-school characters one would expect to find in a 1970s newsroom: cowboy boots, chewing tobacco, sexual innuendo and barked orders. There are typos in headlines and drinking at the Pioneer Bar, the Anchor Bar and the Pickwick.
“And the parties … oh, the parties,” Hertzel wrote. “We worked hard together all day, and then got together to drink and talk all night. You would think we would be sick of each other, but no. We dated each other, fought with each other, broke up with each other, drank some more.”
And there are the headlines from her own life: A young, short-lived marriage that resulted in a super-sized hyphenated byline, a life-changing trip to Russia, and writing her first book, “They Took My Father: Finnish Americans in Stalin’s Russia” with Mayme Sevander. For anyone who reads Twin Cities-based publications, this is no spoiler alert: Hertzel moved on to Minnesota Monthly magazine before joining the Star Tribune.
Bob Ashenmacher, who makes a couple of cameos as a young reporter always rushing off with his raincoat flapping like a cape, said that many of the memories ring true for him.
“Knowing some of the same folks, being in that same environment,” he said. “There’s a poignancy in what was the robust power of newspapers. … She covered good anecdotes. A lot of funny things, and people I remember.”
‘MEMORY IS A SLIPPERY THING’
As her father used to say, memory is a slippery thing, Hertzel notes in the acknowledgements.
The book had an innocent genesis online. She was occasionally telling old journalism tales on her blog, which she started because she felt like she was forgetting how to write. The posts received a good response from readers. When she pitched a friend’s book to an editor at the University of Minnesota Press, she went in packing some of them. While editor Todd Orjala didn’t nibble on the former, he was interested in the latter.
Hertzel wrote before work, after work and on Sundays. She created multiple writing nooks in her home, and ultimately wrote most of it at the kitchen table. She knocked out a chunk last fall while on vacation. She worked from memory and old letters her friend Pam Miller — a former News Tribune copy editor — had saved.
“I’m glad I didn’t come back here,” she said, sitting in a conference room that didn’t exist when she worked in the newsroom. “It would have confused me. I know I’m right.”
Retired News Tribune columnist Jim Heffernan said he and Hertzel got together to talk about the paper’s history while she was writing.
“She was checking her memory against mine of those years,” said Heffernan, who was an arts-and-entertainment writer in those days.
There were also some back-and-forths on Facebook with Brissett, who left the DNT in the 1980s but continues to review local theater productions for the paper. He gets a shout-out in the acknowledgements.
From start to finish, the book took about a year. Hertzel said she expected a longer editing and rewriting period, but that it came out pretty clean on the first draft. This is just the way one of her former editors, John Krebs, remembers her — an efficient reporter who got her assignment, and did her job well. He didn’t have to hit her copy very hard with his editing pen.
“A lot of reporters have come and gone,” the retired Krebs said. “Laurie, and a handful of others, I remember well.”
This story appeared in the Duluth News Tribune on September 12, 2010.