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17 million words (or so): that’s all she wrote

| December 12, 2021 12:00 AM

Well, dear folks, the time has come for me to put down my pen — back away from the computer is more like it — and head into retirement.

I am ready.

Dec. 31 will be my last day at the Daily Inter Lake. On Jan. 1 I’ll wake up with a new year and a new beginning that doesn’t include deadlines and the never-ending hunt for story ideas.

It’s the end of a 26.5-year run with the Inter Lake, and a 47-year career in journalism that began on June 3, 1974, when I stepped into the Hawley Herald office just a week after high school graduation. The publisher had asked me if I wanted a summer job, and I said yes.

I’ve been poring over old keepsakes and photos, urged by daughter Heather to post some vintage tidbits on Facebook when I retire, and I quite surprisingly found my first paycheck stub from the Hawley Herald. I worked 86 hours at $1.65 an hour. After taking out $8.30 for Social Security tax, my take-home pay was $133.60. It probably seemed like a lot of money at the time.

I also found my diary entry for that June day that sealed my fate. I wrote simply: “Started work today at the Hawley Herald. I kind of like it.”

With that rousing endorsement, I went on to earn a journalism degree and kept writing. I covered the student senate for The Advocate student newspaper at Moorhead State University and worked summers either writing for the MSU alumni newsletter or the Hawley paper.

After college graduation I got my first job as a reporter at the Detroit Lakes Tribune. I wrote features and covered all kinds of news, from sitting through school board meetings in Waubun, Minnesota, to crime stories such as a sting operation by the local police that involved them setting up a fake pinball gallery to catch some thugs. The reason I remember that story is because I misspelled gallery in the headline. No spell-check back then.

I headed to Williston, North Dakota, to work for the Oil Patch Hotline in 1981 during the height of one of their oil booms. Those were wild times, some of which I’ve shared in past columns, like hiking over badlands terrain and dodging rattlesnakes to get exclusive photos of a huge oil well fire when officials had closed down the roads.

After Tim and I got married in 1982 I moved to Sidney, where I spent close to a decade working for community newspapers before we moved to Whitefish in 1991. Then I spent four years at the Hungry Horse News before heading to the Inter Lake in June 1995.

NOW I’M the last of the dinosaurs in the newsroom, the one who remembers a time before the 24-hour news cycle when we could simply write our stories by deadline and take a breather before the next day’s news. Not so anymore. Newspapers these days are posting online continuously. There is no shut-off valve, and it’s exhausting.

I’ve had the pleasure of working with some very talented journalists through the years, and I’m grateful for the time we spent together in the trenches.

There are so many stories I’ll never forget, a couple of which are always top of mind. I remember driving to Essex with a hospice worker who videotaped a dying father’s last words to his children. I bawled like a baby when I got back to my car that was parked in Columbia Heights. A wise editor told me it’s good to cry, to feel the emotional connection to those stories. It’s when you no longer are able to cry that it becomes worrisome.

I remember sitting at the kitchen table and crying with an elderly couple who agonized over having to put their developmentally disabled son, then in his late 40s, in a group home so he’d have a stable environment after they passed on.

It is you, dear readers, who have kept me going. I have poured out my heart and soul to you in my columns, to the point where I feel I no longer have a thought in my head that you haven’t read about.

You were with me the many years my family struggled with Mom’s battle with Alzheimers, and when my dad, the guy who could fix anything, couldn’t make sense of the pieces of a Model T he was restoring for a neighbor as old age got the best of him. You’ve read endlessly about my upbringing in rural Minnesota, and often tell me you like those old stories the best because you can relate to a similar upbringing on the family farm.

I’ve tucked many of your comments in an email folder labeled “Encouragement.” I’ve also saved dozens of thank-you notes and personal stories from you. It may sound sappy, but you have been that proverbial wind beneath my wings.

It’s been quite a ride, literally and figuratively. On the literal side my job has taken me for rides in hot-air balloons and one-horse open sleighs. I've hopped on snowmobiles, helicopters, horses, and even got to sit through an interview in an extraordinary revolving house here in the Flathead.

The figurative ride is more difficult to describe.

There is a photo of the late Hungry Horse News Publisher Mel Ruder in the book, “Pictures, a Park, and a Pulitzer,” by Tom Lawrence that shows a very weary-looking Ruder sitting on the Columbia Falls school bleachers after a basketball game, camera in hand, a bit of garbage strewn across the gym floor. That photo has always struck a chord with me, because there he was, still on duty even after the crowd was gone.

As community journalists, we give ourselves over to those we serve. After a four-hour City Council meeting, we still have to write the story about it. It’s our job to inform our readers accurately and objectively, all the while with deadline pressure hanging over us. The importance of community journalism has never been lost on me.

You’re perhaps wondering about the 17 million words (or so) in the headline. I really don’t know how many words I’ve written over 47 years, so I took a conservative daily average number of words written and did the math. It doesn’t include the thousands of reporter notebooks I’ve filled with handwritten notes through the decades.

People keep asking me if I’m planning to write a book after I retire. For now, that’s a “no.” I need a few months to decompress before I figure out my next act. You’ll see me out and about in the Flathead. My Meals on Wheels delivery route starts in January.

Thanks to all of you who so faithfully read our newspaper, and thanks for the opportunity to tell your stories. It has been my honor and privilege to be a part of your lives.

News editor Lynnette Hintze may be reached at 406-758-4421 or lhintze@dailyinterlake.com.

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