press card

In about a week, I’ll turn in my press card.  After more than 30 years, my time as a working journalist will end.  I’m excited and scared, happy and sad, proud and humbled. I will miss it, but mostly how it once was, not what it has become.

I had worked at a small daily — the Fort Dodge (Iowa) Messenger —  for a little more than a year, so the Star Tribune was my second professional job. On Sept. 10, 1984, I arrived in the Minneapolis newsroom young, eager and scared. I was hired as a copy editor, one of the first hires after the traumatic merger of the Star and Tribune two years earlier.

We worked on Atex terminals and sized photos by hand with a cropping wheel.  (I still have mine, along with my pica pole, in my desk.) I would jump every time A1 editor Hal Sanders bellowed “COPY!!!” to summon a “copy boy” to carry or fetch something. We did layouts with paper and pencil and sent them via pneumatic tube to the composing room on the second floor. The cranky old printers would shake their heads at our stupidity if the pages didn’t work out quite right and call up on the “squawk boxes” to tell us what we did wrong.

Leo was the best ­– and crankiest – of them all. He’d find an error and give me that “you-are-so-young-and-stupid” look of his…We eventually arrived at mutual respect because I came to realize that those sharp-eyed printers saved me from embarrassing errors many times, and he came to realize that maybe I wasn’t so stupid after all.  However, one night he wore a camouflage T-shirt that had images of women’s bodies interspersed in the spots. I was offended and complained.  He was given a talking to and figured it was me who had gotten him into trouble.  After that, the relationship was awkward again for a while.

Around that time, I lost one of the closest friends I will ever have.  Teddy Sherwood was hired as a photo editor when I was regularly designing the Metro section.  Our desks were across from each other, and we were immediately friends. I couldn’t wait to talk with her, and we often chatted early in our shifts, before the hectic hours.  She would often edit the wire photos during this time.  Of course, in those days they arrived on paper, and she’d have stacks to sift through.  On the day of the Tiananmen Square massacre, she overlooked that famous photo of the man standing in front of the tanks.  The next day, we were one of the only papers in the country that didn’t use that picture, and she was beside herself, ready to submit her resignation.  I always felt I was to blame for that because I was probably rambling on about something as she was trying to work. Among other memories I have of Teddy is her excitement when she told me one day that she was going to get a Mac for her desk and be able to edit photos on it!  That didn’t happen before she died of ovarian cancer at age 40 in 1992. I still miss her and will move the photo of her that I have kept on my desk all these years to my new desk. I know that she is proud of me for having taken this leap.

There are so many historical events I helped tell readers about. Some that stand out in my mind:

• The 9/11 attacks, which brought many long, exhausting days. I bought the book of the New York Time’s victim profiles, but I have yet to open it. I wonder if I ever will.  Over those awful days, I looked at so many photos that were heartbreaking beyond description and read so many terrifying stories. I avoid the anniversary stories and photos. I remain traumatized.

Hurricane Katrina, another disaster that brought a cascade of sad and terrible pictures.

• The tsunami that killed more than 200,000 people in southeast Asia in 2004. This happened on a Sunday, and I remember calling Roger Buoen, the manager in charge that day, and saying that this looked like a huge story and that we needed to go up pages and call in some help.  (This was before a manager always had to be in the building on weekends.)

• The Gulf War, Operation Desert Storm.

• Eight presidential elections, from Reagan’s second term to Obama’s second term.

• The Northwest Airlines/ Delta merger.

• The death of Pope John Paul II.

• The giant earthquake and tsunami in Japan that killed thousands and set the world on edge over the damaged nuclear plant.

And two that most personally touched me:

• The death of Sen. Paul Wellstone in an airplane crash. I clearly recall hearing the news while getting the kids ready for school.  After they got on the bus, I sat and cried for a long time.  Then I went to work.

• The school shootings at Red Lake that left 10 dead. This broke while I was already at work.  The TV near my desk reported the grim numbers, and my heart was breaking for these children and parents.  I was reacting as a parent first. Editor Anders Gyllenhaal was standing nearby watching, too, and heard me whisper, “Holy shit!”  He gave me the oddest look, which I never understood.  Was he feeling the same way or judging me for my lack of journalistic detachment?

And that right there is the hardest part of being a journalist:  Keeping that detachment amid the stress of deadlines and the sleepiness of the late-night hours. So many stories make me want to cry:  Abused and murdered children, senseless wars, devastating natural disasters that strike with no warning.  My heart aches.

And that is what I have tried to communicate to readers all these years.  Journalism is about the people, folks like us, whether they live in Japan, Red Lake or north Minneapolis. I wanted readers to see their faces, feel their losses or triumphs, understand, smile or cry.

And, even as I use a digital medium to share this, I will always believe that print is the best medium for telling these stories. An excellent photograph, a headline that makes it impossible to not stop to read a story, words you come back to read again because they are so well written … No digital medium can be as satisfying or challenging.  I’m among a dying breed.

I loved the Star Tribune. Working in a newsroom is exhilarating, frustrating, exhausting, intense. Crazy fun and crazy making. It’s demanding, and it takes a toll.

As I started cleaning out my desk, I came upon a note from my oldest son Drew. There was no date, but he was probably around fifth grade when he wrote it. It said, “Mom, I finished my 3D puzzle today. Putting on the flags was hard. Be sure you look at it. I didn’t see you today. I love you, Drew.”  He didn’t see me that day — and many other days — because even though I worked part time, there were many days our schedules didn’t overlap.

The price is no longer worth paying.  I’ve been working Friday, Saturday and many Sunday nights for a long time.  Now, as the empty nest is upon us, I didn’t want to be sitting home alone during the day with Jamie sitting home alone in the evenings. I want to be able to go on the spur of the moment for a weekend visit  with Drew in Madison or Griffin in South Bend, go to the next family celebration in Wisconsin without counting out my precious PTO days, see Joseffa at Blugold marching band performances.

So, a new path stretches out before me. I’ll be working as Stewardship and Development Associate at the Church of the Ascension in north Minneapolis, our home parish.  I’m not going to say I’m not scared:  What if I don’t like the new job? What if we can’t make it on the reduced income?  What if…  the list goes on.

But then I steady my nerves and know it will be OK.  Better than OK.

Some random pages I’ve done over the years: