Feature: Laurie Hertzel revisits time at DNT in ‘News to Me’

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.

Bits: ‘Eclipse: The lost chapter’

After a passionate night of not lovemaking, Bella rolled over and pretended to sleep. Fully clothed. Her loins throbbed like a round Bud Light blinky button worn at a sports bar. Somehow she had landed the biggest prude at Forks High, and was so frustrated she didn’t even acknowledge Edward as he stole away to perform his nightly ritual: The Cure’s “Disintegration” on his iPod, and a very long, very intense full-body self-massage with Victoria’s Secret Limited Edition Body Twirl Shimmer Lotion.

Once she was sure he was fully immersed in “Pictures of You,” she crept out of the Cullens’ mansion and into the night, blue balled and alone. Bella knew she wanted to shed her clunky V-card. And she knew her soul mate was too busy bowing at the temple of Morrissey-style asexuality to give her the beans. But across town and through the woods in La Push, she sensed her bestie beastie Jacob could make her drool, pant, and eventually howl. It was a risk, certainly. Edward would be able to smell him on her when she returned, the Purina breath captured in her boyish tresses. She couldn’t worry about that now: She was hungry for the wolf.

Bella found Jacob in the garage, working on a dirt bike with an Abdominzer Belt cinched at his waist.

“Jake,” she sighed. A certain breathlessness she had learned from Neve Campbell after she rented Season 1 of “Party of Five” from Netflix.

“Quiet, Bella,” he said. Humor crinkles at the corners of his eyes. “I’m about 30 jiggles from unearthing another ab muscle. Then I’ll have a complete set.”

“Edward will always have my heart,” she said into the morning mist. “But Jacob will always have my right shin.”

“There,” he said. “Now. What brings you to La Push? How did you shake the bloodsucker?”

Bella sighed theatrically. She shuffled her Converse low tops. She looked up at her friend with doe eyes.

“I need a favor,” she said, unzipping her navy blue hoodie.
“A big one,” she added, yanking down her Gap Boyfriend jeans.
“A hard one,” she said, finally pulling her University of Alaska Anchorage T-shirt over her head.
“A live one who won’t leave a trail of glitter on my cleavage,” she stammered, slipping out of her boxer shorts.

“Oh, Bella,” he growled, still a man. A man two years younger than her and 93 years younger than her beloved. He moved toward her. “Are you sure?”

She nodded.

At the gesture, Jacob threw his head back. His skin rippled and bucked as he spontaneously grew a coat of brown fur. His hands and feet rounded into paws. His snout erupted from his face, his tail went erect. His ears twitched. It didn’t matter to Bella which form of Jacob took her, it only mattered that he took her. She could see her friend in the animals brown eyes, and in the glistening canines, wet with saliva.

He moved toward her on all fours. Walked a circle around her, then nuzzled at her begging to be pet. At her touch, he grew bolder. Jacob was about to feel something he’d previously only experienced with stuffed animals. And once he’d done some experimental sniffing with the pack’s leader Sam. He nudged Bella down, onto the floor. He straddled her shin, then lowered himself. He shook up and down, humping her leg victoriously. Finally, he yelped. Finally.

Bella let herself out of the garage as the sun came up. She’d kicked herself free of Jacob, who had fallen asleep at her feet. “I’m still a virgin,” she thought to herself. “But sometimes when you need a favor, it’s just as satisfying to do a favor for someone else.”

Originally posted July 22, 2010 at Schadenfreude.