Though author Laurie Hertzel bills herself an “accidental journalist” in her latest book entitled News to Me, the tenacious individual portrayed in her charming memoir serves as evidence that today she is certainly a true reporter of the finest quality.
The book reads as an extended coming-of-age tale in the world of print journalism, beginning with the author’s humble beginnings as a clerk in the office of the Duluth News Tribune in the 1970s.
Only 19 when she was hired with the News Tribune, Hertzel said entered the smoky offices as one of a few “bright young women” who had begun entering news rooms across the country.
In the first few chapters of her book, Hertzel chronicles her climb among the ranks of the fedora-clad men at the News Tribune. She relates her transitions from clerk, to copy editor and finally to a reporter, all the while encountering characters that read straight out of a Hollywood movie: the gruff, muscular, tattooed reporter who covered the harbor and longshoremen, grumbling old men who sat hunched under desk lamps hurling paper wads to the floor around the wastebasket, and her formidable female compatriots in the business whose sharp wit always left her with a great story to tell.
Hertzel’s new book presents a fluid memoir tracing the metamorphosis of an, as she refers to herself, “accidental journalist,” relaying harrowing tales of the KGB in Russia’s sister city, to Duluth, to her current life as a book editor for a major metropolitan newspaper.
In retelling her own history, Hertzel proves that good journalism and good writing thrive in harmony. “You might be a brilliant writer, but if you haven’t done your research, then you will have nothing to say,” Hertzel said in a recent phone interview. “And likewise, without good writing, your hard work and research will be for naught – few people will read what you write.”
Hertzel stressed the importance of objective, quality research, explaining that the worlds of good writing and researching skills conflict only when a person is hoping to write a different story than the one the facts tell. “It’s important not to skimp on the research in fear that the truth will wreck your story,” Hertzel warned.
News to Me carries with it a sense of an ethical crusade in its romantic detailing of the old days of journalism. Hertzel cleverly weaves a cautionary tale that reflects consequences of working in today’s fast-paced digital society where 24-hour news cycles and blog-oriented journalists dominate a media-saturated society.
Hertzel said she hopes her book will not only amuse and delight her audience, but that it will also remind people of what things used to be like. “I hope it will strike a chord in those who lived through those times, and those who love Duluth,” Hertzel said. “I also hope it will make people feel optimistic about journalism’s importance and ability to morph with the times.”
It is this optimism that Hertzel passes on to her readers as she commemorates a career she says has been based on energy, passion, support from loved ones and admittedly, the luck of an "accidental journalist."
Click here to read about Hertzel's visit to Saint Scholastica and watch a short clip below of Hertzel speaking about the purpose of recording her early journalist traditions and the importance of keeping these memories alive.