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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


The Minnesota Professional Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists (MN SPJ) recognizes the best in Minnesota journalism each year with its annual Page One Awards.

A few changes have been made to the awards this year — including exciting new categories that were much requested by Minnesota journalists. The new categories are:

  1. A special award for Best Beat Reporting, open to a reporter in any medium who works a beat and can demonstrate why her reporting stands above the rest.
  2. Two new categories for newspaper reporting: Best Arts Criticism/Review and Best Meeting/Planned News Event feature.
  3. A new category for Television: Best Meeting/Planned News Event feature
  4. A new category for Radio: Best Meeting/Planned News Event feature
  5. Two new categories for Online: Best Arts Criticism/Review and Best Meeting/Planned News Event feature.

In addition to these new categories, Minnesota SPJ has instituted a small price increase for this year’s Page One Awards, raising the prices from $20 per entry to $22 per entry. This price increase is a direct result of declining support for MNSPJ’s silent auction, which funds student scholarships. In order to continue to offer student scholarships, MNSPJ has instituted this small price increase to replenish the scholarship fund.


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. Entries must be submitted by Friday, February 24. 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: Dave 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 third entry is from Dave Aeikens, who worked in Minnesota newsrooms for more than two decades:

Dave Aeikens, a spokesman for the Minnesota Department of Transportation, worked as a journalist in Minnesota for more than 20 years.

Dave Aeikens, a former journalist at the St. Cloud Times and other media outlets, works for the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

What I miss the most: The uncertainty and surprises that can happen every day.  You just never knew what would happen from day to day, who you would meet and who might be on the other end of the phone.

I miss meeting new people and sharing their stories.  I once got a call from a woman who told me that her daughter had been killed by her boyfriend. She called us before the police.  I was stunned by how matter-of-fact she was. We covered the homicide.  That call led to an investigation into the practices of the agency that oversees people on supervised release.

A former college football player and his father once walked into the office saying that the player’s coach had played a practical joke on him, requiring him to drive to the airport to pick up an international football player.  That player did not exist. We used open records requests to detail the discipline brought against the coach.

Life as a journalist was always full of surprises.  That is what I miss about being a journalist.

Dave Aeikens worked at newspapers in Albert Lea, Willmar and St. Cloud and at KSTP-TV in Minneapolis-St. Paul.  He served on the National SPJ board from 1999-2009, including one year as the board’s president.  He has worked in communications and engagement at the Minnesota Department of Transportation since August.

Have a reflection to share?  Send it to the Minnesota SPJ at

‘In the Dark’ panel discussion slated for Tuesday at Murphy Hall

Reporters Madeleine Baran and Samara Freemark of APM Reports spent a year investigating the case of Jacob Wetterling, the 11-year-old St. Joseph, Minn., boy who was kidnapped in 1989 and whose disappearance remained unsolved for 27 years.  The culmination of their work, “In the Dark,” was named as one of the Top 10 podcasts of the year by the New York Times, Entertainment Weekly, Vulture, and iTunes.

Baran and Freemark will share their experiences Tuesday, Jan. 10, at Murphy Hall on the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities campus.  The panel discussion will be moderated by author Nora McInerny Purmort, host of the podcast “Terrible, Thanks for Asking.”  The Minnesota pro chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists is organizing the event with support from the Minnesota Journalism Center.

What: “‘In the Dark’: Shining a new light on the Jacob Wetterling case.”
When: Tues., Jan. 10.  Reception at 5:30 p.m.; discussion at 6:30 p.m.
Where: Murphy Hall, Room 100, 206 Church Street SE, Minneapolis, MN 55455.
Register here.

The event is free and open to the public.  Appetizers and a cash bar will be available.  Ample parking space should be available at the nearby Church Street garage or the Washington Avenue ramp (school is not in session).

Tell us your story: Emily Gurnon


Emily Gurnon, a former courts reporter for the St. Paul Pioneer Press, works for PBS Next Avenue, a Website based at Twin Cities Public TV.

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 second entry is from Emily Gurnon, who worked as a newspaper reporter for two decades:

After 20 years working as a newspaper reporter, I left my last job in the field two years ago.  I was the courts reporter for the Pioneer Press, and I loved it.  I also hated it.  I loved having a beat, getting to know attorneys and judges and even defendants.  I loved developing that expertise and being known for it.  I loved the challenge of finding a scoop, or finding a new issue that was important but nobody else was reporting on.  I loved bringing a voice to people who didn’t normally have one.

And I loved the challenge of writing every day, the deadlines, the feeling that we newspaper types (or at least most of us) don’t have the luxury of gnashing our teeth over every single line.  Just get the damn thing in the paper.  That’s the goal.

What I didn’t like was the constant pressure, the feeling like we were a bunch of monkeys on an assembly line. The feeling that no matter how hard I worked, there would be more things to cover, more really important issues and cases that I felt it was my duty to get in the paper.

At my new job, I still have some of the positive things.  I now work as an editor and writer for PBS Next Avenue, which is a website for the boomer generation, based at Twin Cities Public TV.  I’m still in journalism, and I still have the opportunity to write about things that matter to me.

What’s more, I now work for an organization that is not run by a hedge fund.  There’s a lot to be said for that.  I actually feel treated well and valued as an employee.  At the Pioneer Press, because of all of the contract give-backs and shortened work weeks and furloughs, I made about the same salary when I left after nine and a half years as I did when I started.  This year, at TPT, I got a raise.  That felt good.

I don’t write as much, but I’ve gotten experience editing other people’s copy, and I’ve learned new digital skills.  So that’s cool.

What do I miss the most?  We have a small team, just 10 people, on the Next Avenue website.  Just a handful of us are writers.  Many of the other staff at TPT are clueless about what we do.  The organization is made up of people in lots of different silos.  There’s no one product we’re all putting out every day.

That was the great thing about the paper, and every other newsroom I’ve worked in.  You’ve got one goal, and everyone has their part in it.  You’re also surrounded by people who are as cranky and cynical and yet idealistic as you are.  And they’re all crazy smart.

So to everybody still fighting that good fight, I know it’s exhausting and I know you’re not getting rich and there’s not a week that goes by when you’re not taking shit from someone.  But what you’re doing matters.  Don’t ever doubt that.  Thanks.

Have a reflection to share?  Send it to the Minnesota SPJ at