A reporter’s farewell

Another long-time scribe has left Minnesota journalism.

Steve Brandt has covered Minneapolis neighborhoods, schools, and government since 1976 and if he doesn’t hold the record for longevity at local newspapers, he’s got to be close.

His last story this week is one he called the most fascinating of his career, an effort to map prejudice.

News organizations don’t let their people have a last word anymore, even if they wanted one.

Instead, he posted his farewell via the Minneapolis Issues Forum email list.

This morning I got up and went to work for the last time as an employee of the Star Tribune, completing 40 years and one month of employment here.

I would like to use this forum to thank the many of you out there in this fine city who patiently answered my questions over the years, and also gave me critical feedback. I also want to apologize for the stories left undone.

I came to this city as a college freshman, met my wife here, raised our children here with her, and now find that I have grown old here.

The city has changed markedly since my arrival on campus from St. Paul by way of Roseville. The Twin Cities were so isolated from each other back then that I can remember going to Minneapolis only three times before I started at the U in 1969. I still remember the experience of driving to Minneapolis for the first time on I-94. Once we got here, promptly we turned around and drove back. The Foshay and First Bank towers were still the preeminent features of the skyline.

I still believe that newspapers are important, whatever form they take. I downloaded the last 30 years of my stories onto a flash drive last week, and the 10 years before that are now searchable. That’s a long ways from the newsroom in which I started, with the racket of dozens of typewriters and phones, and the thump of copy hurtling through pneumatic tubes to linotype operators. I remember how 425 Portland would tremble slightly and the lights flicker when those massive presses accelerated into a cinematic tidal wave bearing the day’s news.

You folks out there who want an advocacy press, I understand that urge and there’s nothing wrong with that. But I still think there’s a place for a dispassionate vetting of facts before publication. Although the internet has brought us wonderful things, it has also atomized our discourse in a way that seems to be undercutting our sense of a common community of interest. Whatever the failing of newspapers in the days of the Cowles, most everyone read them and used a common pool of information from which to develop diverse conclusions.

I know that there’s no putting that genie back in the bottle; nor should we. But I miss the presence of civility in public debate and lament that the most strident voices get the most attention.

This city does many things well in the realm of public services, others not as well. It has much work left to do with income and racial equity if it is to become a great city. I hope that we tackle that job with good will and intelligence.

I relish the opportunity to be civically and politically active without journalist restraints for the first time since college. I can have a lawn sign, door-knock for a cause, give a campaign contribution, and go to a precinct caucus for the first time in my adult life. As a former boss said after she retired, it’s a big world out there.

I’ll remain on this list. Should anyone need to find me, my email starts with sbrandt51 and ends with gmail.com. I’m in the phone book, assuming you still have one, on Pleasant Avenue.

Godspeed, everyone.

(h/t: Brandt Williams)

Related: Times editor John Bodette to retire after 42 years (St. Cloud Times)