OPINION: Another pub may pick up Heff, but it just won’t be the sameThe humor and geezer factor was dismissed from the Duluth News Tribune last month. After 42 years with the paper, 34 of those years as a columnist, Jim Heffernan was told that they needed his Sunday morning space for what Executive Editor Rob Karwath calls “different voices.”
By: By MIKE SIMONSON/For The Daily Telegram, The Daily Telegram
Editor’s note: The Daily Telegram today is adding a monthly media review column by Mike Simonson. This is his first installment.
The humor and geezer factor was dismissed from the Duluth News Tribune last month. After 42 years with the paper, 34 of those years as a columnist, Jim Heffernan was told that they needed his Sunday morning space for what Executive Editor Rob Karwath calls “different voices.”
“We wanted to do something different in that space. Jim’s been with us many, many years, and we certainly appreciate all he’s done. I thought it was time to make a change. I want to get a number of different voices speaking in that space on Sunday,” he said.
Heffernan retired from the News Trib at the end of 2005, when it was a Knight-Ridder property. But he continued writing his column from his Hermantown home. Forum Communications of Fargo, N.D., currently owns the News Tribune, Duluth Budgeteer, several area weeklies and the Superior Daily Telegram.
Heffernan’s column often made attempts at humor; many of those attempts hit the target, a few fell flat. But it was local, very local. Hailing from Duluth’s West End, he didn’t refer to it as the politically correct “Lincoln Park/West End”, a title tagged to that section of town to improve its image, if not its crime problems.
The Karwath move doesn’t appear to be a way to cut costs. They pay the revolving band of citizen-columnists $50 a pop, so financially, it’ll be a wash.
But there is a cost. Karwath knows that any changes made in a newspaper can draw the wrath of readers, especially columnists, since they develop a special relationship with people over the years. Sometimes that relationship is love/hate, but hate wouldn’t fit Heffernan’s column.
His “space” was perfect for the breakfast table of people getting ready to head off to church, or the unchurched heading off to nowhere in particular on quiet Sunday mornings.
Karwath says they’ve had a few readers react, but less than a dozen calls, e-mails and letters to the editor. Heffernan says he’s had more than 100 e-mails since his last column June 22. He says that’s gratifying. He’ll answer each e-mail.
My guess is he’ll be published somewhere else. He’s got prospects, but he says nothing’s firm yet. He may publish a book of his columns, which columnists are often condemned to do. Actually, it would be fun to see a collection the “Best of Heff,” just like it’s interesting to see Outdoor columnist Sam Cook put his experiences in a book.
But even if Duluth-Superior magazine or the Budgeteer picks up Heffernan, it won’t be the same. Reading about the Swedish/Norwegian feuding (those uppity Norwegians versus the long-suffering Swedes) in the News Tribune is different than anywhere else. Local dailies are the paper of record. They are stored for posterity sake in the library, to be opened a century later by someone trying to learn about the way we are today.
So, Jim Heffernan’s overweight/chain-smoking/surly and thus politically incorrect wife Blanche, and the tensions between the Norwegian and Swedish Lutheran churches down the block, and his stories of Charlton Heston, Louis Armstrong, Gregory Peck and Elvis Presley passing through town won’t be in the paper. Times change, and with it columnists, reporters and editors change. Too bad they couldn’t have found space for both the different columnists, the new voices, and kept the old geezer too.
KRJR should apologize
The Minnesota News Council slapped the wrist of KBJR-TV last month. The Northland’s News Center (alright, time out. I hate self-aggrandizing titles given by the people who use the title. But if I were to tag KUWS-FM with something, it would have to include our talent as well as our good looks — now back to our show) ran a story about Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome of return soldiers from Afghanistan and Iraq.
That’s admirable to take on a relevant, tough topic about the intangible toll that war is taking on some of our treasured young men and women. But November’s airing of “The War at Home” used Iraq War Vet Adam Sheda in the PTSD story. Station Manager Dave Jensch, who didn’t call me back about this, sent out a news release denying they connected Sheda with PTSD.
Sheda was murdered in Duluth last summer during a confrontation at a party soon after returning home from Iraq.
Reporters and editors have to look out for the common good. Inevitably, if we’re doing our job, we will trip a few landmines that will hurt people who don’t deserve any more pain than they’ve already experienced. For instance, in coming weeks, the U.S. Pipeline Safety office will release its findings on the Enbridge Energy explosion and fire that killed two workers from the Superior area. That story will be painful for families and friends. But it must be reported in hopes that similar tragedies won’t happen again.
But the Minnesota News Council called the link between Sheda and PTSD unfair. Stepping on toes is part of journalism. Hurting families for ratings (November is one of the biggest sweeps months of the television year) is inexcusable. We’re still waiting for an apology from the Northland’s News Center to the Sheda family.
Mike Simonson began his professional career in 1979 at KDAL-AM, worked as a reporter in Augusta, Ga., and Charlotte, N.C., for seven years. He returned in 1990 to work as the first Wisconsin Public Radio reporter at KUWS-FM (91.3). He wrote a media column from 1997 to 2007 for the Senior Reporter magazine, and he also teaches journalism part-time at UW-Superior.)