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MATTERS AT HAND: FAQs for pending retirees: Any regrets? What’s next?

Mike Jacobs

The first entry on the list of frequently asked questions for pending retirees seems to be this one:

Any regrets?

Well, yes. I’d like to recover all the ink and aggravation that was spilled over the UND Fighting Sioux nickname and logo.

Other than that, my remorse is slight, and I’m not dwelling on it.

Instead, I’m relishing my long acquaintance with the community and the region and with so many extraordinary people.

Some of you are curmudgeons, and that’s a good thing. Without an occasional disagreement, newspapering would be a pretty dull business. In fact, without daily disagreement, there would be very little news.

It is the give and take of public controversy that provides the bulk of material in newspapers. Sometimes it seems as if there are only a handful of news stories, and all of them involve disagreements. That’s true even of sports.

It is not the disagreement that is rewarding, though, but the resolution.

So many times in a long career, I’ve marveled at how a solution suddenly emerges, whether the disagreement is a dike line or a tax levy. Strong communities find ways to move ahead.

A newspaper person’s job is to watch, understand and report this process. That’s what I did as a reporter and editor at the Herald.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that being publisher is an easier job than being either a reporter or an editor. The editor is faced with a raft of ethical dilemmas nearly every day. And that’s before the problems of working with ambitious and strong-willed staff.

The publisher’s job, basically, is “ongoing publications enabler.” The publisher makes sure that the money coming into the budget is enough to pay the salaries and satisfy the owners. All that’s necessary is the wonderful clarity of the bottom line — and good people selling advertising and delivering newspapers.

Reporting takes stamina, curiosity and a kind of naïve enthusiasm. Sometimes, reporters become jaded, expect the worst of situations and reach conclusions before they find facts.

My own decision to move away from reporting came in 1980, when I realized that I’d become too familiar with goings-on in state government and especially with the characters in the state Capitol.

Probably every state Capitol is a universe by itself. That was certainly true of the first that I covered, in Bismarck. I transferred to St. Paul, and I found that it was true there, too.

So, my career changed focus. Rather than reporting on the world of politics and state government, I drilled down into community affairs, assigning stories about the small city that I’d grown to appreciate and finally to love.

That city, of course, is Grand Forks, and I am thrilled to have had a small role in the city’s history. Much of that was as the person responsible for its newspaper, and I’m deeply grateful for that opportunity.

But there also were countless meetings, often before dawn, at which I had discussions about business conditions or social needs. One year, Suezette and I helped the local United Way raise a lot of money. This involved asking people to give. That’s hard work. It turned out to be the most satisfying work that we’ve ever done.

Every community provides these kinds of opportunities, of course, but I found mine right here in River City. I’ve told audiences in more than half the states that the Herald’s Pulitzer Prize was the gift of the river.

The opportunity Suezette and I found here was the gift of the community, and I am deeply grateful to the community and to the individuals who are part of it.

The second question on the FAQ list for soon-to-be-retirees seems to be this one:

What’s next?

For us, the answer is more of Grand Forks and the region. We’re not moving, and we don’t have any big travel plans. Instead, we hope to explore the area, visit our neighbors, tend the garden, watch the birds and enjoy the weather, whatever it is.

Sure, it’s not a big ambition, but I like the feel of it.

Thanks for the ride.