On Friday, August 22, the 10th Cohort of the Editors & Publishers Community Leadership Program officially graduated. Representing seven newspapers from Grand Marais to St. Peter, the 11 participants have been developing community leadership skills since April. The program, founded in 2005 by the Blandin Foundation and the Minnesota Newspaper Foundation, is modeled after the Blandin Community Leadership Program and gives editor and publisher pairs leadership, vision and mobilization skills to take back to their communities. The program has since been taken over by the Minnesota News Media Institute, the nonprofit training arm of MNA. Nearly 150 individuals from dozens of MNA member newspapers have graduated from the program over the past 10 years. The program is generously funded by the Blandin Foundation.
Front Row (L-R): Jake Benson, Adam Hoogenakker, Kevin Anderson, Sam Swanson
Back Row (L-R): Sarah Bauer, Rhonda Silence, Jennifer Martin-Romme, Suzy Rook, Lisa Hills, Stephanie Hill, Terri Lenz, Shawna Tetrault, Mirja Hanson
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Meet Cohort 10:
Sam Swanson, Publisher/General Manager
Aitkin Independent Age
Sam Swanson started out in sales in 1980 at WJJY-FM in Brainerd. In 1984, he went into television with WCCO/KCCO/KCCW-TV, where he spent 20 years as their northern Minnesota sales rep. In 2004, Sam made the move into newspaper. Spending 3 years with the Brainerd Dispatch, then 4 years at the StarTribune. He returned to the Brainerd Dispatch in 2011 to become the Vice President of Revenue. Just recently, he became the Publisher/General Manager of the Aitkin Independent Age.
Sam and his wife (Anne) live in Baxter, Minnesota. Their daughter (Brandi) is currently attending the University of Minnesota-Duluth. Sam enjoys hiking, golfing, and horse racing.
Zenith City News, Duluth
Jennifer Martin-Romme is editor of the Zenith newspaper in Duluth, which she co-founded with her husband in 2007 after mentoring under a reporter with 30 years’ experience. During that time, she learned the basic skills of newsgathering and formed a commitment to citizen journalism.
At the Zenith, she has trained about 50-75 first-time reporters in collecting and analyzing information, interviewing sources, and developing their stories. Her favorite part of the job is watching people from all walks of life gain a sense of empowerment from understanding that they don’t have to wait for someone else to report the stories that are important to their community. With guidance, they can find and share the answers to their own questions and hold our leaders accountable themselves.
Before discovering newspapers, Jennifer was an investigator with child protective services for 10 years in three states. She has a Master’s degree in social research statistics from the University of Utah and, in October, will celebrate 10 years of marriage with her husband, Taylor, who is a professional actor. She and Taylor met through theater, which they continue to enjoy, along with travel, camping, their three cats, and eight nieces and nephews.
Jake Benson, Publisher
The Floodwood Forum
Jake Benson is publisher of The Floodwood Forum. He also owns the Hermantown Star and since 1977 the Publisher of the 109 year old Proctor Journal. The Journal has had an on-line presence since 1994. Benson was destined for the newspaper business. His parents meet on a reporters picket line and he was conceived a newspaper. Born, bred, bruised in Proctor he managed to graduate from his high school despite objections from his journalism teacher. He began his newspaper career as a printers devil when he was 13. After getting drafted during his third year of college, he enlisted and was a photojournalist for the U.S. Army for three years. He was assigned to the Recruiting Command in public relations and was later deployed overseas writing for various military publications.
Benson is a past president of the Minnesota Newspaper Association and serves on the Legislative Committee and the Journalism Education Committee. He also publishes the Proctor Journal and Hermantown Star. Benson has served as Proctor Mayor and is a current city councilor. He serves on a number of Boards and is a member of the Moose, Lions, Chamber, VFW and the American Legion.
Marvin Pirila, Editor
The Floodwood Forum
I am the new editor for The Forum and am in the early learning process of what it takes to run a paper. Over the previous 13 months, I wrote separate articles each week for the Floodwood Forum and Portage News. At the same time, I wrote content for the several websites I manage with the Fishing Webmaster LLC (including First Place Technologies).
I have written the book, “Secrets of the Moral Manager” that I have yet to market. I have also written a children’s book, Gorgo Visits Earth, and a comedy, The Sarcastic. All have been listed on Lulu. I also have a BBA degree in finance (minor in Economics) from the University of Minnesota, Duluth.
Rhonda Silence, Editor
Cook County News-Herald, Grand Marais
Rhonda Silence has served as editor of the community newspaper in Cook County for 14 years, first for the Cook County Star and then for the Cook County News-Herald after the two local papers merged. Silence came to the role of editor serendipitously, having started her professional writing career as a correspondent, with no journalism training. Before that Silence worked a variety of jobs as she traveled with her military husband for 22 years—customer service representative, secretary, medical records clerk, and library aide. Whatever the position, Silence found a way to incorporate writing into her job description. In addition to serving as editor and reporter, Silence maintains a weekly blog of her newspaper column Unorganized Territory.
Kevin Anderson, Publisher
Mille Lacs Messenger, Isle
Kevin Anderson, owner of MessAge Media, which includes the Mille Lacs Messenger and Aitkin Independent Age newspapers, Bargain Hunter TMC and various niche publications. After attending St. Cloud State University, Anderson joined the Mille Lacs Messenger in 1985 as salesperson and bookkeeper. In 2001 he became publisher after buying into the business with Dick Norlander. In May 2011, Anderson bought out Norlander and formed MessAge Media, Inc.
Although Anderson’s background and training is in business, he served a short stint as editor. “I have always had a strong belief in the power of newspapers and the integrity of journalism. I found a new appreciation for the workload and headaches by being editor,” Anderson said.
Anderson served on the MNA Board of Directors, serving on the Advertising and New Media Committees for many years. He has served as chair of the Minnesota News Media Institute. MNI’s mission is to train those involved in newspapers. Anderson has also served on the Minnesota Newspaper Foundation and Minnesota Free Paper Association. He has attended the American Press Institute. This is Anderson’s second time through the Editor and Publisher Leadership Program. Anderson makes his home on Mille Lacs Lake.
Mille Lacs Messenger, Isle & Aitkin Independent Age
Started professional career writing for Renco Publishing in the Olivia and Renville areas of southwest Minnesota. Worked as the staff/sports writer for seven-plus years before recently taking a similar position at the Mille Lacs Messenger in Isle. Attended several MNA banquets in Bloomington but this is the first Blandin Leadership Program I have attended.
Shauna Tetrault, Editor
Mille Lacs Messenger, Isle
Shauna Tetrault is the new editor at the Mille Lacs Messenger. She has the distinction of being the first female editor in the paper’s 100-year history. Shauna moved to the Mille Lacs area in January of 2013 when her husband, Chris Tetrault, became the conservation officer for the Isle area. They have two and a half children, a girl, Skylie, 4, a boy, Abel, 2, and they are expecting another girl in June. Skylie is in Just for Kix and both of her children go to ECFE classes in Isle. Shauna has a degree in mass communications with an emphasis on journalism and a minor in marketing from Minnesota State University, Mankato. She began working for the Messenger as a freelance writer last August. The White Pine Logging and Threshing Show was her first assignment and one of her early duties was covering the Garrison City Council meetings.
The Tetraults came to Isle from Anoka where she worked for a mortgage company. “This is a lot different than the mortgage business,” Tetrault said. “This is what I went to school for — what I’ve wanted to do since I was in junior high.” She likes the fact that things are slower up here and there’s no traffic to speak of. “The small town, small community is nice,” Tetrault said. Shauna doesn’t hunt or fish, but says she enjoys spending summer evenings on a launch on the lake. In addition to children, she and Chris have dogs and they would like to have chickens.
Terri Lenz, Publisher & Editor
The Kenyon Leader
Some things we are trained to do and some we are drawn to. My introduction to journalism falls into the latter category. I’ve always been an analyzer, thinking and distilling words down to express what I see as important. I love writing, reading, horses and people. Personality tests place me firmly in the creative category and I thrive on variety. An Animal Science major in college (U-W River Falls), I spent 10 years working in the agricultural feed industry and then 12 more as a professional equine photographer. After building my photography business up to a national level I realized that I needed a change and wanted to be active in my community.
A part-time reporter job at the Kenyon Leader turned into full-time publisher and editor after a year. As many of you who work for dailies will know, sometimes we wear many hats. I am publisher, editor, reporter, ad coordinator, photographer; you get the idea. I have been in this position now for nearly two years. Covering everything from school board to city councils to features and breaking news, I have learned a great deal about how boards and governments function. I also have the unique perspective of being involved in many cross-sections of the communities I serve. What still amazes me is how little the average person contributes to steering local issues.
Stephanie Hill, Publisher
St. Peter Herald, Le Sueur News-Herald, Le Center Leader
I have spent my entire newspaper career working for Huckle Media, LLC. Shortly after my college internship at the St. Peter Herald, I was hired as a reporter. I learned about sales and advertising when I took a break from the paper to work at a radio station. Missing the smell coming from the wax machine on Monday mornings, I returned to the paper, this time at the Le Center Leader as the staff writer. A short time later I was promoted to publisher of the Le Sueur News-Herald and have been at that position for 14 years.
At a very early age I knew how much a newspaper could bring a community together. I love the printed product and the ink on my fingers. At the same time, I am extremely excited about how technology is changing the industry.
I live in St. Peter with my 11-year old daughter and soon-to-be 5 year old son. In my “free” time, I serve as a member of St. Peter Lions Club, the secretary of the St. Peter Girls Fastpitch Softball Association and am an assistant softball coach for my daughter’s team.
Suzy Rook, Editor
St. Peter Herald, Le Sueur News-Herald, Le Center Leader
I began my career in journalism in 1998 after working as a graphic artist. What started as a part-time job splitting the education beat in Wake Forest, N.C., quickly became a full-time gig as the education and crime reporter. As a long-time resident of the town, it was easy for me to understand the ins and outs of the city’s government and schools, and I enjoyed learning to write journalistically. I remained at The Wake Weekly for nine years, the last two and a half as its editor, until moving with my husband to New Prague in Scott County.
I never planned to get back into the newspaper business, looking for something more 9 to 5, but family circumstances soon necessitated I find a job — any job — and reporting was what I knew how to do. I landed at the Northfield News and in a matter of months uncovered a wealth of career-making stories, including a mayor with questionable ethics and a city with a serious heroin problem. By then there was no turning back. In July 2012 I was promoted to managing editor of four of Huckle Media’s weeklies: Le Center Leader, Le Sueur News-Herald, St. Peter Herald and Waseca County News.
When I’m not working, I enjoy spending time with my husband, our three children, and two daughters-in-law. Later this month I’m returning to North Carolina to meet my first grandchild, Sam.