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ANN BAILEY: Chuck Haga's apprentice

Before Chuck Haga retired from the Herald last week, he wrote a column in the Sept. 29 paper about some of the many stories and columns he had written and the people he had interviewed. On that same page, his colleague, Ryan Bakken, wrote a colum...

Ann Bailey

Before Chuck Haga retired from the Herald last week, he wrote a column in the Sept. 29 paper about some of the many stories and columns he had written and the people he had interviewed. On that same page, his colleague, Ryan Bakken, wrote a column in which he expressed his admiration for Chuck's writing and reporting.

Reading Chuck's and Ryan's columns piqued my own memories of working under, and later, with, Chuck.

I don't think Ryan will mind if I also write about Chuck. After all, you can't really over-emphasize Chuck's expertise in journalism.

In the beginning

Chuck was my first city editor at the Herald when I started working there in 1983. I recall sitting beside him as he read my stories while he explained to me why he made the changes in them he did. Chuck's editing and coaching taught this English major how to write for the newspaper.

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Chuck also taught me to be curious, ask tough questions and not to make any assumptions when interviewing sources. Most importantly, Chuck taught me, by his example, about being an ethical journalist. He had high standards and he expected his reporters to at least meet, if not exceed, them.

After being my city editor for a few months, Chuck changed newsroom jobs and began writing a column (I don't think his changed positions had anything to do with me, though, I know my writing probably made him furrow his eyebrows and pull at his beard more than once.).

One of the earlier columns he wrote was about my dad, Adrian Bailey. My dad was one of the many ordinary people Chuck wrote about. The column, with a headline that read "A slightly beefed-up beaver tale," was about my dad roping a young beaver that found itself facing down a herd of angry cows in the corral behind the barn on my parent's farm. My dad and Gary Rankin, then the game warden, were unsuccessful at chasing the beaver into a cage, so my dad roped it.

My dad talked about the column for years afterwards and especially liked the part about Chuck comparing the bovines to county commissioners. Here's what Chuck wrote after he quoted my dad saying that chasing 30 angry cows away from the beaver wasn't hard.

"City slicker that I am, I can believe that. With the possible exception of county commissioners at election time, no creature is so open to suggestion as a cow."

My dad was proud of that column and my mom cut it out of the paper. I found a copy of it a couple years ago among my parents' things when we were cleaning out their house after my mom died.

Goodbye, hello and goodbye

When Chuck retired in 1987, I offered to host a going away party for him at my parents' farm. Herald colleagues, their wives and children gathered to say good-bye and to wish him well.

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I was 27 at the time, one of several young writers in the newsroom. I was proud to be a part of sending him off, but sad to see him go, knowing that I would never again have another mentor quite like him at the Herald.

For much of the next 20 years I worked for the Herald's farm magazine, Agweek. By the time Chuck returned to the Herald several years ago, I was one of the veteran reporters in the newsroom.

Though I was in my late 40s, I still felt I was the pupil and Chuck was my newsroom teacher and I asked him for advice on some of stories.

Now, at age 54, I am twice as old as I was when Chuck left the Herald in 1987, but I still am much in awe of his reporting and writing skills. His final column is a work of art and proof that it's not a given that reporters will lose readers' attention if they write long stories. This column of Chuck's, like his other stories, left me wishing he'd written more.

Ryan is right. The Herald will never have another Chuck. I'm grateful that I had a chance to learn from the one and only.

Reach Bailey at annb08@dishmail.net or (218) 779-8093.

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