-30-

The headline is the traditional end of a newspaper story back in the old days when news stories were typewritten on single sheets of letter-sized paper, and then manually typeset back in the press room.

I chose this headline not because it’s the last headline I wrote for the late Marketplace Magazine, but because I am saddened by this news (from Madison.com):

The wife of a longtime Monona and McFarland newspaper publisher died Tuesday — hours before her husband also passed away — after she hit her head in an ambulance that braked abruptly while transporting her husband to a Fitchburg hospice, police said.

Laurel Huibregtse, 85, of Madison died at UW Hospital from injuries she suffered Monday while accompanying her husband to Agrace HospiceCare, said Fitchburg police Lt. Chad Brecklin.

Her husband, Donald Huibregtse, 86, former publisher of the Monona Community Herald and McFarland Community Life, died several hours later at the hospice.

There is great irony, at least to those of us with the black humor of journalists, that instead of reporting the news, Don was the news. (Journalists think in such a warped fashion, you see.)

Don Huibregtse (pronounced “HEW-brets”; it’s Dutch and one of the few names harder to spell than “Prestegard”) was my first journalism employer. I was a college student working at a Mexican restaurant (not named Taco Bell, though similar). I had applied for a part-time sportswriting job there earlier in 1985 and not gotten it. The guy they hired, though, was allergic to photography. (However, he ended up covering the Packers, so journalism worked out fine for him.) For whatever reason, Don called me in August 1985 and offered me a job, giving him two part-time sportswriters for one weekly newspaper. (Except that the second of the two also got to cover Cottage Grove village and town government, back when each was much more rural than now.)

So for nearly three years, I was paid $3.75 per hour to put in 15 to 20 hours a week covering the sports of my alma mater, Madison La Follette, shooting La Follette and Monona Grove sports, covering the Cottage Grove governments, and doing whatever else was required. That eventually expanded into layout, headline-writing, feature-writing, sports column-writing (the Herald was pretty much half sports and half everything else), and even such oddities as covering a senior-citizen fashion show, having just come from UW Marching Band practice and dressed for same.

Don owned the Monona Community Herald (from which he lopped off “Monona” when he started covering the La Follette High School attendance area), McFarland Community Life, and Good News shopper. It was sort of appropriate that the Herald hired me, because I had been in it at least twice before, when I won the 1977 and 1979 Madison city spelling bees. (The reporter who interviewed me both times later purchased a newspaper in northern Wisconsin with her husband.)

This was back in the days when desktop publishing as it’s known today didn’t exist. (While I was at the Herald Don purchased an Apple Macintosh computer. It had a four-inch black-and-white screen.) Stories were typed into Compugraphic machines, which saved the story (unless you accidentally deleted it, which was known to happen) onto a five-inch floppy disk. That disk was taken to another machine, which (to make a long description shorter) printed the story onto sheets of photosensitive paper six inches or so wide. That paper then was cut up and run through a machine that applied hot wax onto the back side (assuming you put it in correctly or didn’t cut it so small that  it got caught in the rollers). The story, or headline, or cutline (“caption” for you non-journalist readers), was put onto layout sheets that had photo blue lines, which didn’t print when the newspaper was printed.

Photos were taken with the Canon AE-1 camera I had purchased with high school graduation money, on black-and-white 35-millimeter negative film. Once the film was developed, you would put the film onto a light table and use a lens to choose the shots you wanted to develop. You hoped you had chosen one that was not blurry, or had odd facial expressions on it. In fact, you hoped as you waited for the film to develop that you had any usable prints at all. (Sometimes there weren’t because of photographer error or insufficient light, particularly when shooting sports outdoors at night.) Shots were developed as “halftones,” with little dots allowing the photo to be printed.

Compared with today, the preceding two paragraphs seems like an arduous process. And we haven’t even gotten to the part about learning what questions to ask and how to convert those answers into a story usually starting with the inverted triangle lead (most general information first, more specific stuff later). For a while I taped interviews, but I stopped doing that because I found writing the story took more than twice as long as doing the interview. I think it made me a better writer because I had to learn it the hard way. It certainly made me a better headline writer (which is quite helpful for Twitter) because you had to get the headline to fit mostly through writing, not merely changing kerning or leading or width of the character.

I am absolutely convinced that working at a weekly newspaper is the best way to get into print journalism. (For those who really want to …) You do a lot of different things, because you have to. Journalism students I knew worked at one of the UW student newspapers, the Daily Communist — I mean Cardinal — or the Badger Herald. (I did a bit of writing for the latter.) The difference between working at a weekly and working at a student newspaper is that you are both paid and professionally judged at a weekly.

Through working at the Herald (the second in a streak of newspapers named Herald for which I worked — after the Badger Herald and Community Herald, the Grant County Herald Independent and the Tri-County Press, formerly the Cuba City News–Herald) I learned about the joys of getting paid twice for the same work. Toward the end of my UW days I took a public affairs reporting class with Ray Anderson, a reporter for the New York Times. That class required me to do several government stories, including covering meetings, and a profile piece. Pretty much all the stories I was required to write became Herald stories, or vice versa — coverage of the aforementioned village and town board, a three-part story about a proposed landfill expansion, a feature about the  local state senator. I also was assigned to cover a Dane County Board meeting for a group of Dane County weeklies, for which I got a nice additional check.

I was given a lot of rope at the Herald, or got a lot of opportunities to learn from my mistakes from the Herald and Life editors, the reporter who worked for both, and the other adults at work. I was once castigated by a candidate for a town board because, he claimed, I had taken out of context something he said. (Even though I believe I quoted him accurately.) I never heard from him again, because he lost the election. I also learned that in at least one case, a member of the American Legion did not appreciate being called a member of the VFW. A baseball coach (a former teacher of mine) did not appreciate my talking to his team during a game they lost 19–0. (Given the conditions of 40 degrees, wind and rain, I didn’t appreciate being there either.) I had to not only talk to people who claimed mistakes in things I had written, I had to write the corrections. And then there was the reader who did not appreciate my use of the term “old fart” to describe myself marching in a La Follette Homecoming football game.

Don was, surprisingly to me, hands-off about the editorial side of the papers. I didn’t particularly understand the publisher role vs. the editor role, but he did occasionally say he liked something, or didn’t like something, but always after it appeared in the paper. He was, for lack of a better term, Dutch gruff. Early on he got on me for wearing cutoff shorts to work. He also woke me up one morning when I had put names in a cutline for a photo that weren’t in any order. That taught me the importance of attention to detail without getting fired for it.

Even though I had gotten bylines in other publications (The Lance, the La Follette student newspaper, and the aforementioned Badger Herald), it was still a thrill to see “by Steve Prestegard” in newsprint, accompanied by actual paychecks. And then, as now, I’d be covering a baseball game in glorious spring or summer weather, or covering a fantastic finish in a basketball game, or talking to someone doing something really interesting, or look at the ideal combination of story, photos and headlines on a page as the result of my work, and think to myself, I’m getting paid to do this.

I said before that the Community Herald was half sports and half everything else. We indeed covered the hell out of La Follette and Monona Grove sports, along with summer baseball and swimming, and whatever else came our way. (The funniest story we elected to not cover was a 15-year-old singer, accompanied by her mother, on what was being called the Shopping Mall Tour. You may have heard of her: Tiffany.) We wrote a sports column, one time suggesting that one of Madison’s daily newspapers was covering Monona Grove boys basketball well because the son of the editor was MG’s point guard. The editor was not amused. (And in retrospect we weren’t clear enough that we were joking and not complaining. As people who use social media discover, the meaning of something in print doesn’t necessarily get read as you intend.) My great-aunt was a cooking columnist for the Little Falls, Minn., newspaper, and she exchanged recipes with our typesetter/cooking columnist.

I commented earlier this week that it was Don’s fault that I’m still doing this, because he didn’t fire me. In fact, sometime after I started, my parents and I ran into the Huibregtses at the late Burke Station restaurant, where he told everyone at the table what a great job I was doing for the Herald. When I got the offer to go to the Herald Independent, he talked to the editor about promoting me to full-time, but was informed he wasn’t likely to agree to pay me what I was getting paid to head west. (Don was frugal. I didn’t understand that until I owned a newspaper myself.) I ran into him at a Wisconsin Newspaper Association convention a few years later to pick up the Tri-County Press’ Most Improved Newspaper award, and he was clearly glad to see me in the editor/publisher world. I hope he gets a nice tribute at this year’s WNA convention.

All the preceding led me to my first full-time journalism job, which led me out of the world of suburban journalism into the world of rural journalism. I wouldn’t say I went to Lancaster by any means a finished product, but my Community Herald experience did allow me to hit the ground running at the Herald Independent, particularly in headline-writing. The places I’ve worked from the Community Herald onward have developed my style as a writer, whatever that is, as well as the stylebook between my ears that covers how whatever is written in a publication that has my name in it should and should not appear.

I had forgotten that Don had sold the newspapers the same year I left, 1988. (The Community Herald apparently was combined with another newspaper to form, ironically enough, the Herald Independent.) Another Dane County weekly owner bought him out. A year or so later, I interviewed for the Herald editor position, but was unenthused about taking a pay cut to move up from reporter to editor. A different newspaper group now owns the Herald Independent.

There are two reasons why weekly newspapers, and increasingly daily newspapers, are owned in groups. The first is that being in business is increasingly expensive and complicated, and the smaller you are, the worse it is. Grant County used to have seven weekly newspapers with six different owners. Grant County now has six weekly newspapers owned by the same company. (Fortunately, that company believes in weekly nameplates; other owners would have combined them into one or two or three newspapers.) Group ownership allows office functions like billing and circulation to be combined, allowing resources to be put into editorial; it also allows group ad purchases.

The other reason is that weekly newspapers are decreasingly family operations. Ralph Goldsmith owned the Boscobel Dial for 36 years. His children worked at the Dial at one point or another, but none of them apparently wanted to own the newspaper. Rex Goldthorpe owned the Tri-County Press for 27 years, after he purchased it from the estate of his father, who owned it for 64 years. Rex’s kids also worked at the Tri-County Press, but didn’t want to buy it either. Richard Brockman owned The Platteville Journal for 31 years, eight fewer than his father owned the newspaper. There was no next generation there. At least one of Don and Laurel’s children worked at the Herald/Life/Good News.

I suspect children of newspaper owners like Ralph and Rex saw how hard their parents worked — nights, weekends, late nights, holidays, etc. — and noticed as well how often their parents were criticized for not doing enough, or not covering something well enough, or not covering something at all because they couldn’t be in more than one place at a time, and decided there was no way in hell they wanted to do that for their working lives. (On the other hand, one of Ralph’s sons became a graphic design professor.) Being a small-town newspaper editor is a job you never really stop doing as long as you have the job — that is, if you’re doing the job the right way. Your workplace is wherever you are within your newspaper’s circulation area, whenever you’re there, daytime, nighttime, weekdays or weekends or holidays.

6 thoughts on “-30-

  1. Thanks Steve, Don would be proud to be part of your own personal journalism journey. You speak well and clearly about your memories of him. He was a great guy, who always took time to take some of us “younger” guys under his wing for a word of advice.

    Your comments:

    “Being a small-town newspaper editor is a job you never really stop doing as long as you have the job — that is, if you’re doing the job the right way. Your workplace is wherever you are within your newspaper’s circulation area, whenever you’re there, daytime, nighttime, weekdays or weekends or holidays.”

    THEY REALLY NAIL IT!

    Being a small town editor or publisher is truly more than a job, its a passionate affair with one’s community—with the oopportunity to experience all the greatest joys, and at times, the greatest disappointments.

    A lot like life itself……

  2. Well said, Mike, and nice job, Steve! Reading your description of production during “the good old days” reminded me of the thrill or disappointment thinking you might have caught a “moment” on the football field that could be front-page worthy and souping up your film to see if the photo was as good as you suspected. Nine times out of 10, for me anyway, it was a confusing blur that wasn’t worthy of any page.

    Anyway, great tribute to Don and to community newspapers. You really nailed it. Thanks!

  3. I was the reporter who twice interviewed Steve when he won his Spelling Bee honors. I worked for Don for five years in the mid/late 1970s, serving as Editor of the Community Herald and Community Life. Growing up in a newspaper family, this was my first job after I got married and officially moved away from home. I was incredibly fond of the Monona area, the people I worked with and the issues and events I covered.

    Funny, I remember my first day when no one told me when to break for lunch, so I just worked through. That became more common than not and continues to this day as my husband and I own and I serve as editor of the Tomahawk Leader newspaper in northern Wisconsin. By my estimation I probably haven’t had lunch or a regular dinner hour or a full night’s sleep in the 37 years since I started at the Herald. I worked long hours for Don and never expected any extra pay (I started at $100 a week, which was probably 60 hours long! The pay may have gotten better over the years, but the hours have only gotten longer.)

    I will never forget Don’s most wonderful gift to me: I had worked there about three years and even put in a full day at the office the day I gave birth to my first child. Hours were long and I don’t think I ever took vacations (I did go home at 5 p.m. that day, however). Don surprised me by giving me my six weeks off “with pay.” I always appreciated that.

    Laurel was extremely proud of her work in Food Service at the local schools. I remember her distaste for the term “hot lunch program.” School lunch or lunch program was what she insisted it be called. To this day I do not use that term in the stories I write.

    This tragedy stunned me, but I can’t help feeling it’s a love story, too. Don and Laurel struck me as very close during the time I spent with them.

    I wish the families well and know that Steve and I and many others learned a lot about journalism and the life of a journalist from Don.

  4. A high school classmate tipped me off to this post; he felt I might find it interesting. He was right. I started my print journalism career with the former Journal-Republican weekly in Columbus, Wis., in 1974. (Quick aside for Kathy’s benefit: I’d applied for a position at the Tomahawk Leader right out of J- school — this was when Ken Keenan owned the Leader — but its response was among the many “thanks, but no thanks” I received).

    My title at the J-R was news editor, but like Steve, I did everything; I was the only full-time local news and sports reporter/writer and photographer. The J-R’s office was in a building on West Mill Street (now a chiropractic facility, I understand) that shared space with an office supply store operated by the newspaper’s publisher emeritus, Jim Larsen, a kindly gentlemen who would avail himself for counsel if I ever needed it.

    Jim was there for me — as was the then-incumbent publisher Marshall Bernhagen — when the School Board didn’t like my package of stories (which included a straight main story and a sidebar analysis piece — which I labeled an analysis) that ran after the first board meeting I covered. At that first meeting, the board happened to be talking about embarking on a major construction project, so I felt the coverage and in-depth look was warranted. Board members complained to Marshall, but he had my back (though Marshall, as purse-strings monitor for the paper, was a bit more skittish about it than Jim, who was very calming and reassuring).

    I remember all the production details Steve detailed above. I did them all for a year at the J-R, which included weekly drives early in the week to the Daily Citizen plant in Beaver Dam where the paper was physically composed and printed. As much of a grind that it could be, I enjoyed it. And I, too, loved the sports stuff, especially. There was so much of my imprint on each publication — stories, pictures, columns, headlines, captions and layouts — that there were some weeks when the anticipation of seeing the finished product was too great to wait until the office formally opened Wednesday morning. Papers were printed late Tuesday night in Beaver Dam then dropped off at the office in Columbus in the overnight hours, and there were weeks when I’d be so eager to see a copy that I’d run the eight blocks or so from home to the office in the middle of the night to squeeze a copy from one of the dropped-off bundles.

    I left Columbus and Wisconsin only because I got a chance to work at a daily newspaper — and to be reunited with a college newspaper colleague — in a Mississippi River town in Iowa. After three years in Iowa, I spent 33 more in Indianapolis.

    I treasured those 13 months in Columbus. They were, I felt, a key component in the foundation of my lifelong newspaper career.

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