Rummaging through a closet recently, I discovered what is likely my first bylined news story. Appearing above the fold of the University of New Mexico Daily Lobo — fondly renamed by my father the "Daily Low Blow" — I laid out in painful redundancy the fact that the English Department building had no working fire alarms.
In riveting detail, I took readers through how the lapse was discovered (by an alert English prof, of course!). I included quotes from the unimpressed campus safety coordinator, who assured the populace that, aside from a few tables and chairs, "the building won't burn."
Well, apparently, it never did because, after my story ran, the alarms were replaced. And I, a theater major turned English major turned French major turned linguistics major turned poli-sci major, became a journalism major.
Still, I never could have imagined at the time — 1978 — that I was on my way to what can only be described as a spectacular professional career.
As I write this, my final column as a full-time journalist, my gratitude spilleth over. OK — it spills over (I'll change it now before the copy desk gets to it).
After nearly 45 years in the news biz — 23 of those years here at the grand Mother Ship, aka Star Tribune — I'm not retiring exactly. My friends and I of a certain age prefer words that better reflect our intentions: refiring, recharging, reinventing, reframing, rewiring.
Truth is, the nudger inside my head has been growing louder over the past few years — years working alone from home (an extrovert's nightmare) with more quiet time to think, to realize just how much I miss the frenetic energy of a daily newsroom that will take years to fully return to normal capacity, if ever.
It has become clear that if I am to shift gears, the time is now. I'll redirect (hey, another one!) my attention to mentoring young journalists and giving much-needed focus to an educational nonprofit I founded in 2019.
I also want to zero in on a new passion project who arrived in our world about three months ago. There's nothing quite like the arrival of a grandchild to make you want to jump in headfirst and fix … well, everything.
I want to march on her behalf, door-knock, put up political signs, openly support causes I care about — all activities that working journalists are strongly advised against and, in some cases, prohibited from doing to avoid real or perceived conflicts of interest. You may not have known that.
But you do know — because you often tell me when I meet you in the community — that you're as worried as I am about my cherished profession which faces tremendous challenges; financial, certainly, but more worrisome to me, existentially, as we continue to combat false and offensive claims of "fake news" while opportunists and agitators find too much open road to disseminate falsehoods through expanding social media channels.
When I have the privilege of teaching college journalists, I present them on our final day together with a laminated copy of the Society of Professional Journalists' Code of Ethics. It is remarkable in its scope, wisdom, vision, decency and heart. If you need a reason to believe again in the essential nature of the Fourth Estate, please spend a few minutes reading it.
My residency with the Fourth Estate was exhilarating and diverse. The Star Tribune allowed me to re-create myself (another "r"!) over and over. I served as editor of an award-winning feature team, one of the first relationships reporters in the country (horrifying my kids when I attended a sex convention), a social issues columnist for a decade, partner to the extraordinary photographer Jim Gehrz on our 10-year Duets project, even an advice columnist for a while.
One long-running project took me to Vietnam with photographer Judy Griesedieck; another feature I wrote about my father during World War II became inspiration for a Christmas play at Westminster Presbyterian Church.
I threw out a ball at a Minnesota Twins game — forever grateful to T.C. Bear, whose impressive wingspan made that catch a sure thing. I even won our company-wide Minnesota State Fair T-shirt contest a few years back — a baby onesie reading "I'm a Big Dill." (Get it?) There was no cash award but, wow, are those bragging rights great! I do hope, though, that you don't consider it my best work.
I was tremendously proud to represent this company at major events at Orchestra Hall and the State Theater, including introducing the heroic chef Jose Andres and interviewing Lindsey Vonn as she moved from the ski slopes into philanthropic work.
And running the Inspired section? Well, that was a match made in heaven. I'm delighted, and relieved, to see a growing number of major media companies along with the Strib embracing hope-filled, solutions-focused news, for the good of society and our collective mental health.
I've long believed that the deeply entrenched man-bites-dog (aka "If it bleeds, it leads") model of journalism is not only outdated, but is growing increasingly harmful to humans. The 24/7 news cycle pummeling us from every angle with the direst "breaking news" is leading to polarization, alarming misinformation, mistrust in our cherished institutions and plummeting mental health in every age group.
I encourage you to continue reading Inspired in its new home in Saturday's Variety section. And look for more solutions journalism that will keep you informed and out of the fetal position. Some of my favorite news sources are The Solutions Journalism Network; Upworthy; the Washington Post's Optimist; The Optimist (Minnesota); The Good Men Project; Reasons to Be Cheerful; Good News Network and MN Good.
I'm grateful to them for reminding us that these stories are as true, and as common, as anything else you consume.
Mostly, I'm grateful to you — who have invited me into your homes and lives to tell your stories for so many decades, often when you were at your most vulnerable. I realize that over so many years, there were times I misstepped, getting the facts wrong or misrepresenting your thoughts and causing you pain, and I tell you, those errors are hard to shake. All in all, though, it was an incredibly positive, humanity-affirming run.
I will never tire of hearing you tell me how much you treasure your daily newspaper — the tactile experience of holding it in your hands, or the stories read digitally that have touched you or motivated you to action.
Soon, I'll be joining you, a content fellow subscriber complaining (because that's the age I am) that I just don't like accessing the news on my phone. And get it to land on the steps next time, woncha?
I depart fully supporting my capable colleagues as they continue to afflict the comfortable. But I hope they find room to also comfort the afflicted with stories about hope and what is working. Because there are so many of those.
Our building, while always at risk, is not burning down. Together, we can keep it protected and safe.
Thank you and please be in touch.
After 45 years as a journalist, Gail Rosenblum is retiring to focus on a nonprofit she founded in 2019 to nurture a generation of informed, empathetic and engaged young adults. You can learn more about her first project at milkweedthemovie.com. Her book of essays, "A Hundred Lives Since Then: Essays on Motherhood, Marriage, Mortality and More," updated in 2022, is available at shop.startribune.com. Gail hopes you will keep in touch with her at firstname.lastname@example.org.