Tell us Your Story: Sara Aeikens

The Minnesota pro chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists salutes former journalists who have moved on to new adventures.  In this ongoing series, we invite newsies to reflect on their time in the news business.  Our latest entry is from Sara Aeikens, who wrote for the Albert Lea Tribune and now contributes occasional columns to the newspaper.

Sara Aeikens has written a column for the Albert Lea Tribune for many years.

Sara Aeikens has written about her travels in a column for the Albert Lea Tribune.

The trail of my writing began with seeing my mother’s journal by her nightstand and knowing that she wrote in it daily.  I recall that after leaving home to attend college, my father typed me weekly letters, as he had continued to do with his own parents as long as they lived.  I wrote for my high school newspaper as well as those of the colleges I attended.

When I married and moved to my present home in Albert Lea, Minnesota, I began writing for the local paper and was paid by the column inch.  As I raised our child with my husband, I chose to write less often and on a volunteer basis, deciding to write a column published about every other month, as I’m doing now.

Since joining the Peace Corps immediately after college graduation, I continued my writing with letters to my folks for two years, from rural Venezuela.  The Peace Corps experience inspired me to travel to a foreign country yearly, which gave me tons of topics to share in my newspaper articles.

My travels often influenced my selection of a theme and I sometimes could insert something about a Peace Corps connection.  I’ve written in my local newspaper column about the CEO of the National Peace Corps Association contacting me with a personal visit to Albert Lea.  Because of technology he tracks Peace Corps experiences nationwide, including my columns.  His visit resulted in a newspaper photo with him and a discussion of Peace Corps history and experiences with several former Peace Corps volunteers.

The next day I abruptly changed my plans and two of us women went to a statewide Peace Corps picnic near Fort Snelling in the Twin Cities that the CEO was attending.  At the picnic I ran into author Patrick O’Leary, originally from Freeborn County, who was writing a book about his Peace Corps adventures called “From Freeborn to Freetown.”  I was amazed to reconnect with him.

My next pathway to follow was to phone the National Peace Corps office to relate how relevant, as a former volunteer, I considered his book.  I also happened to mention that I had a goal of supporting a National Peace Corps Day and was greatly taken aback when I was informed that President John F. Kennedy had already pronounced March 1 as that special day.  I figured I must have forgotten that several decades ago!

Wouldn’t it be great to look at our phone or computer calendars and have that date pop up to remind us to honor those several hundred plus who lost their lives while in the service of their country, as well as the rest of the 250,000+ U.S. Peace Corps volunteers serving in other countries since the program began?  Looks like I have got another goal–using my writing to promote PEACE.

Sara Aeikens lives in Albert Lea.

Minnesota SPJ supports House bill on public correspondence retention

The following is the Minnesota SPJ pro chapter’s statement on H.F. 1185, a bill related to the definition and retention of public correspondence:

The Minnesota Society of Professional Journalists strongly supports H.F. 1185, a bill introduced at the Legislature that calls for a three-year period of retention of correspondence with regard to government records and more clearly defines the meaning of “correspondence.”

Our member journalists across the state know well the difficulty in making public information requests when different agencies and public bodies have various rules for retaining records and definitions of what constitutes “correspondence” (such as emails or letters).  Further defining the time for retention and the nature of correspondence will facilitate a more even-handed enforcement of the law.

H.F. 1185 makes clear that the public has a right to access correspondence that involves government business, but the bill does not unnecessarily require the retention of every insignificant email.  The three-year retention period is reasonable given that some court cases involving government entities go on for longer periods of time.

Clues to government development plans that, for example, go awry years down the road may be found in correspondence five or 10 years in the past.  Indeed, three years of retention in some cases may not be long enough.  However, with no current uniform standard for retention, three years is a good start.

Ben Garvin, Minnesota pro chapter president
Jenna Ross, president-elect
Joe Spear, secretary

For media inquiries, contact Joe Spear at 507-317-8073.

Minnesota Sampler: Free Press shares story of injured Truman boy’s remarkable recovery

Kristine Goodrich of the Mankato Free Press recently wrote about the recovery of a Truman boy who was told he would be paralyzed after being shot with an archery arrow.  The second-grader, Curtis Bressler, is now jumping and climbing stairs, the paper reported.  Free Press photographer Pat Christman contributed photos for the story — the February installment of the Minnesota Sampler.

 Read the story here.

Page One Awards: Deadline extended to 3/5

We’ve heard from several of you that you could have used just a few more minutes to get those last Page One Award entries in — and we’re happy to oblige.

We’re extending the deadline to March 5 at 5 p.m. CT.

Any entries submitted between now and then will be judged against the full set of entries, so don’t delay.

Journalists working for all print, broadcast and online news outlets in Minnesota (or news outlets in neighboring states that cover Minnesota) are eligible to enter. All work published or broadcast during the 2016 calendar year is eligible. The fee is $22 per entry.

Contest winners will be honored at MN SPJ’s Page One Banquet, an annual spring event celebrating excellence in Minnesota journalism. The date and location for the banquet will be announced later.

Important Links:

Please contact MN SPJ with any

Tell us Your Story: David Hawley

Hawley (3)

David Hawley’s journalism career included stints at The Associated Press and the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

The Minnesota pro chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists salutes former journalists who have moved on to new adventures.  In this ongoing series, we invite newsies to reflect on their time in the news business.  Our latest entry is from retired St. Paul Pioneer Press reporter David Hawley.

I never took a journalism class, never worked for a school newspaper, and I wasn’t an avid follower of the news.  But I happened to walk into the office of a small-town newspaper publisher on the morning he decided that the next guy through the door was going to get a job.  So a lifetime career as a newsman was launched.

Some crusty ink-stained veteran once said there were only two things you needed if you wanted to become a newspaper reporter: You needed to know how to type and you needed a job at a newspaper.

During my career I successfully applied for jobs at two newspapers and at The Associated Press.  Each job interview lasted about 10 minutes.  During one interview, the newspaper’s managing editor, a florid-faced Irishman, asked me if I’d ever gotten drunk with one of my previous bosses.  I said I had.  “Did you do it more than once?” he asked, and I admitted I had.  He paused for a moment, then asked, “Can you start work next week?”

Times have changed.  Qualifications and interviews have become much more intense and newsrooms have gotten much drier.  What once was called a trade is now considered a profession.  Whether the quality has improved is a subject of debate.  After all, the old ways were always better, except when they weren’t.

I’ve been “retired” from the newspaper business for a decade after walking out the door with a buyout instead of being pushed out in a round of downsizing.  And I miss being part of what one of my friends called “a refuge for creative underachievers.”

I also miss being an anointed expert.  For instance, after the first week on my first job, I was told I would be expected to write one editorial a week.  My qualification: I worked on Saturdays and the Saturday reporter had to write an editorial for the following Monday.  I also had to write a column called “About Education,” which dealt with leading educational topics.  My qualification: The newest reporter always covered education.  At The Associated Press, I was assigned to write a weekly state-wide column on agriculture.  My qualification: I had previously worked for a small-town paper in farm country and therefore was the closest person they had to husbandry.

At my second and final newspaper job, I applied to become the paper’s classical music and theater critic, thinking my college degree in music and my short experience as a failed actor might be put to some use.  But the editor who gave me the job said my education and experience didn’t matter.  Instead, he figured I could file a coherent review under late-night deadline pressure because of my experience at the AP.

Some years later, after I’d gone back to being a mere reporter, an editor said he wanted me to write a column on legal gambling — giving advice to gamblers.  Though I’d never gone to a casino, I was anointed an expert, with a weekly column titled “You Betcha.”  After a year hanging out in casinos, I wrote a book on the subject.

All these experiences involved on-the-job training, though the person doing the training was me.  And that, for me, was the allure of being a newsman — the chance to be curious, to talk to perfect strangers, to find out stuff and tell the world about it.

And to be paid to do it.

On the first day of my first job, one of the old hands in the newsroom watched me stare forlornly at my typewriter (back then we used those things) as I tried to figure out how to make a scintillating story out of my first interview with the new head of the local Chamber of Commerce.  The old hand took me out for a cup of coffee and gave me a piece of advice.  “If you can tell a story, you can do this job,” he said.

He was right.  You’ve just read one.

David Hawley worked as a reporter for the Worthington Daily Globe, The Associated Press and the St. Paul Pioneer Press during a 35-year career.

Journalism students: Apply for a $2,500 scholarship

Attention college journalists: The Minnesota Society of Professional Journalists (MNSPJ) is now accepting applications for its 2017 student scholarship. This year, MNSPJ will award one $2,500 scholarship to a student pursuing a career in broadcast, print or visual journalism.

Applicants must either be enrolled in a post-secondary institution in Minnesota or have graduated from a high school in Minnesota and be enrolled in college elsewhere. Preference will be given to Society of Professional Journalists members.

Click here to submit an application form –- the first step. Email the additional application materials to Here’s what’s required:

Application form, which can be found here
College transcript
Letter of recommendation
Essay (limited to 500 words): Why have you chosen journalism as a career?
Up to six samples of work via a link to your portfolio, a PDF of clips or story URLs

Applications must be received by March 31, 2017. No late submissions will be accepted. The scholarship winner will be announced in April and will receive the award at MNSPJ’s annual Page One Awards banquet.

Questions? Email