News to Me: Adventures of an Accidental Journalist. Laurie Hertzel. Minneapolis, MN: University of Min-nesota Press, 2010. 224 pp.
In her memoir, News to Me: Adventures of an Accidental Journalist, Laurie Hertzel makes short work of her first husband.
No, he wasn’t the subject of one of the many homicide stories published in the Duluth News-Tribune during Hertzel’s eighteen years on the staff. He is, rather, a very minor character in this coming-of-age story about Hertzel’s life at the mid-sized northern Minnesota daily.
Hertzel is the first to acknowledge that when she was married in her mid-twenties and divorced four years later, she was, in fact, not married to a man but to her job. The legal marriage didn’t work for many reasons—one of them being that she worked nights during most of it and had a social life separate from her husband’s. And the only reaction the unsurprising news of her divorce drew from her colleagues was a cool observation from one female reporter that she could finally rid herself of the cumbersome hyphenated last name she had adopted for four years.
News to Me is the story of that newspaper marriage, and it is also an account of the growth of a city and the antics of the characters who populated the Duluth newsroom. Those people made up Hertzel’s family for nearly two decades, and they had a great influence on the way she viewed the world of work and the world in general. She began at the paper as an editorial clerk in 1976, during a time of upheaval in society and in the press. Much of the book consists of her reflections about change in both those venues. It is also an account of how she matured and grew along with the times.
The News-Tribune of the 1970s was a politically incorrect place—a blessing and a curse, according to Hertzel. The book is filled with characters straight out of Damon Runyon, only they were real. And the late 1970s gave them license to exercise their, uh, quirky personalities. Cigarette butts flew through the air, men could post clips of the borderline misogynistic comic “The Lockhorns” (noting how it mirrored their own lives), and stories routinely described the physical appearances of women but not men. Many of the guys may have been sexist pigs by today’s standards, Hertzel notes, but they were her sexist pigs, and most were warm-hearted and went out of their way to help her if they could.
The book could be used as supplemental reading for a course on memoir, or a beginning or mid-level undergraduate journalism course; while it is not a history of newspaper journalism, it does illustrate the role and workings of newspapers during the era in which Hertzel worked: the late 1970s until the present.
Some of the stories, while certainly amusing, may be too “inside baseball” for the layperson who has never worked in a newsroom. Still, in the bigger picture, News to Me could be the story of anyone who enters the workforce at a young age and gets a load of on-the-job training in how to deal with office politics, people, and the disappointments that come with the daily grind.
Hertzel is particularly attuned to the pivotal role of chance in life, and in her reflections she indicates that it was frequently luck or providence—not necessarily a plan—that led to life-changing opportunities. She is also keenly attuned to the passage of time, a phenomenon observed by anyone born before the Clinton Administration. Once the youngest person in the newsroom—the kid—she wakes up one day to find many of her friends gone, and new, very young kids taking their place.
But she continued to thrive, and after eighteen years, left her beloved Duluth and the News-Tribune to move to the Twin Cities, where she is now book editor of the Star Tribune in Minneapolis, and no doubt continuing to observe the rapid changes taking place in today’s media environment—and in life.