Does anybody have a handkerchief to use?

Published 9:17 am Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Pothole Prairie by Tim Engstrom

Forrest, my eldest child, is against moving away. The 7-year-old has many friends in Albert Lea, likes his second-grade teacher and loves the town. Still, we are going to move away. He’s taking it well.

If you haven’t read by now, I received a promotion last week to publisher of the Fergus Falls Daily Journal, a sister newspaper about four hours and 15 minutes away. I worked up there for three days last week. Like Albert Lea, it’s a beautiful community with a real sense of pride. The staff there has been welcoming, and I am looking forward to my journey.

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The hardest part is leaving. I love Albert Lea.

I have been the editor of the Albert Lea Tribune for nine years — I started Feb. 13, 2006 — and know so many members of this community. I was in the Noon Kiwanis Club for those nine years, with one as its president. I served six years on the Albert Lea Parks and Recreation Advisory Board. The combination of the two gave me a special role in the creation of the basketball courts near the city pool.

I ran disc golf leagues, and I assisted in the expansion of disc golf. It was once a city with just a nine-hole course with homemade baskets and grassy tee pads. It now has three 18-hole courses, all with concrete tees. Two of the courses have PDGA-sanctioned baskets. Our humble little disc golf club was working on raising dough for quality baskets at the Riverland Community College course. Hopefully, that goal will be achieved.

I also coached youth tee-ball and, later, coach-pitch baseball. Great memories.

Through all these activities and through the course of my work as editor, I have met thousands of people in the Albert Lea area, from Bricelyn to Hollandale and from Wells to Kensett. I have been to the Capitol in St. Paul on behalf of our readers and to Williams Arena in Minneapolis. I was the first journalist on the scene in the wake of June 2010 tornado outbreak, but I forgot my pen and a local farm wife gave me one.

I have seen three city managers, two county administrators, three sheriffs, three mayors, five 27A state representatives … well, you get the picture. There has been controversy to write about. My investigation into paying to play on a local Junior A hockey team shut down the Albert Lea Thunder. Sorry about that, hockey fans.

We sent reporters to places like Fort McCoy, Wisconsin, and to Camp Buehring, Kuwait. We had reporters on the inside at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul while the two big papers in southern Minnesota were stuck outside. It pays to get the press request filed early. We sent reporters to Vikings, Timberwolves, Gophers, Wild and Twins games.

And we sent reporters to places such as your homes, right here in town. Thank you for letting us in.

Through it all, there was one lesson I taught every reporter. You aren’t out there on behalf of the sources. You are there for the readers. They are the reasons we have to ask the hard questions. They are the reasons we have to push for answers and do our best to detect and get rid of spin or nonsense. No one gets into journalism just to regurgitate what government officials tell them.

They also heard me talk about the newspaper’s role in public safety. An informed public is a safe public. The more they know about crime, the more people can do to prevent it and to keep themselves away from trouble. You might not always like seeing crime stories, but they are necessary for making wise decisions as a community.

See, we aren’t just trying to attract eyeballs to look at paper. A newspaper is a community-oriented business. We take pride in this place.

It works both ways, too. This place takes pride in the paper. They want a strong publication with real stories and unabashed opinions. They don’t want a wishy-washy, scaredy-cat paper. But they also want to get their scrapbook items in — check-passing photos, sports league winners, new members in a service club, weddings, engagements, stuff like that.

I hope I was able to provide that and more. I know the paper will be in good hands under Publisher Crystal Miller, the most non-bossy boss there ever was. And a dear friend.

And farewell to the rest of the crew at the Tribune. My eyes well up knowing I won’t be part of the team anymore. You are outstanding. Now I have to compete against you for Better Newspaper Contest awards.

To Forrest, I am sorry. To my wife, Lisa, thank you for supporting this marathon we are about to run. To 2-year-old Jasper, well, you probably won’t remember any of this.

Farewell, Albert Lea. I will miss you.


Tim Engstrom is the publisher of the Fergus Falls Daily Journal. Jan. 20 was his final day as editor of the Albert Lea Tribune. This is his final Pothole Prairie column.

About Tim Engstrom

Tim Engstrom is the editor of the Albert Lea Tribune. He resides in Albert Lea with his wife, two sons and dog.

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