Sarah Stultz: Wetterlings an inspiration both near and far

Published 8:59 am Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Sarah Stultz is the managing editor of the Tribune. Her column appears every Tuesday.

More than 650 newspaper professionals from across the state gathered last week for the annual Minnesota Newspaper Association Convention.

There were several highlights of the convention, including listening to four Pulitzer Prize winners talk about writing good stories and learning ideas from a design specialist.              

Email newsletter signup

While I appreciated the many valuable tips I learned that I can apply to our newspaper, one of my favorite parts of the convention came from a speech given by Jerry and Patty Wetterling Friday during the lunch banquet.

I must point out that I did not live in Minnesota when the Wetterling’s son, Jacob, was abducted in 1989, but I have been captivated by their story ever since I found out about it. Their son’s case has changed the face of Minnesota and the nation.                                                                                                                                      

The Wetterlings walked us through the painstaking days before and after the remains of Jacob were discovered and identified last fall.

It was heartbreaking yet inspiring to hear their story and how they reacted to news that their son, who had been missing for 27 years, had been found after a confession from his killer, Danny Heinrich. We rode on the rollercoaster with the two parents as they explained how it felt to hear at one minute that authorities thought they had discovered where their son was, only at the next to discover that they may not have been correct after all.

Coming into this story partway, it was always clear to me that the Wetterlings had a special relationship with the news media. While some shy away from it, the Wetterlings relied on the media — and particularly newspapers — to share Jacob’s story over the years in hopes that one day he would be found.

During their speech, I learned about even closer connections that the Wetterlings had in the newspaper industry.

They thanked Mike Jacobson, MNA president and owner of the Paynesville Press, for his newspaper’s role in covering the abduction. Heinrich was from Paynesville, and the Wetterlings referenced the value of the newspaper’s archives, which identified other victims and ultimately helped solve the case.

They also thanked other newspapers such as the St. Cloud Times, which was another one of the first to cover the abduction.

Patty Wetterling thanked those she has interacted with in newspapers over the years for being gentle with them in their interactions.

It was an inspiration to be in that banquet room on Friday to not only hear their story of courage and strength but to be reminded of the value of print media.

Newspapers can and do make a difference. It’s one of the reasons I got into the journalism industry in the first place, and I believe it is still true today.

Thank you to the Wetterlings for placing your trust in us.