When the student becomes the mentor

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On a blustery April day in 1979, I walked into the newspaper office in the resort town of Detroit Lakes, Minnesota, and sat down at my desk to begin what is now a 38-year career in journalism. I had worked for a couple of summers at my hometown paper down the road, but this was my first “official” job after college.

I’m not sure why I’ve been thinking about that time in my life. It might be because I at some point “liked” a Facebook page that posts clippings of old newspaper stories that were published in the Detroit Lakes Tribune and the Becker County Record. The newspaper still had two names when I worked there from 1979 to 1981, and just two years ago changed the name to the singular Detroit Lakes Tribune.

The newsroom was mostly young people when I was there. I was just out of college, and the youngest of the bunch. We were an eager crew, ready to do whatever it took to gather and write the news of the day. Of course back then we did much more than just write. Reporters took their own photographs, processed their own film and printed pictures. Far before the digital age we laid out the paper by hand, running columns of type through a hot-wax machine so it stuck to the pages. That’s all ancient history now, but I still long for the days of standing around the light tables, hand-cutting border tape and piecing together the pages.

Our managing editor, Fran Froeschle, was a seasoned newswoman in her early 60s who wore her spectacles on a chain around her neck and her gray hair tucked neatly in a bun. She was old school, but still had an undying passion for the news.

Fran gave spelling tests during our twice-weekly staff meetings to keep us on our toes. She’d roll over in her grave if she could see the misspellings of journalism graduates these days. Sadly, online spell-check programs have turned spelling into a lost art. Fran loved to use big words in her weekly column. “I love it when I send people scurrying to the dictionary,” she told us more than once.

Years after I left Detroit Lakes I realized what a mentor Fran had been to me. When I produced my first full-page feature about a woman lineman for the local power company, she praised my work and photos — that’s why I still remember that particular story.

She also quietly pulled me aside when I inadvertently misused the word “bazaar” and instead had written about a church “bizarre.” One of Fran’s greatest strengths was knowing when to advise, when to encourage and when to step aside and let the reporters find their own way.

As I now have that same kind of role in the Inter Lake newsroom, I can better understand the talent she had for getting the very best out of her staff. Other than our managing editor and sports editor, I am the longest employed veteran in a sea of mostly entry-level writers. I am the one with the institutional knowledge, the one who now quietly points out the misuse of a word or an egregious spelling error.

Technology in the newspaper business has transformed the way readers get the news, whether it’s via our e-edition, Facebook, or a hard copy on actual newsprint. But the mission will ever remain, to present the news as factually and objectively as possible. Here at the Inter Lake we constantly tap the newspaper’s archives for all kinds of topics when we need a historical perspective. What we write every day becomes part of a community’s history and ongoing story; that in itself is quite a privilege.

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

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