Today, as you read this, I am in Des Moines, taking part in my “annual family reunion” otherwise known as the Iowa Newspaper Association Convention. A couple of our staff have sort of let the cat out of the bag about some of the awards we will be bringing home, but there’s another award that will be handed out tomorrow night that I am most proud to have been involved in.
Last year, about six months ago now, Geoff Schumacher, publisher of the Ames Tribune, called me up and asked if I would be willing to say something nice about a mutual friend, Bill Haglund. Some of you — particularly those who have worked in racing over the years — may remember him.
Most, I assume, do not.
I wouldn’t give up Jocelyn Sheets, our sports editor, for anything.
Let me repeat that: for anything.
But, before I even knew who she was — before we had advertised a need for a new sports editor — there was a very short list of Iowa journalists I thought could do the job.
Bill Haglund was at the top of that list.
Geoff asked if I would consider writing a letter of support for Bill’s nomination for the INA’s highest honor: the Master Editor Publisher Award. I didn’t hesitate to say I would, because I knew Bill met the criteria for consideration.
Thankfully, so did the other surviving past recipients of the honor. Bill will receive his Master Editor Publisher Award tonight during the INA Better Newspaper Contest Awards Banquet held in the Iowa Ballroom at the Downtown Marriott Hotel in Des Moines.
Everyone in the room will stand and clap. But no one will clap harder than I will. And, if you could indulge me just a few more moments of your time, I’d like to share why.
The following is my letter of recommendation:
To the members of the committee:
I have had the distinct pleasure of working alongside a good number of INA Master Editor Publishers in what I consider a relatively short newspaper career. It’s been a true blessing, and has helped me tremendously in my own walk in life.
There are still a few more who I think should be sitting among your ranks. A couple would require changes in the rules before I could nominate them. A couple still have some time left before their eligibility has expired.
So, I’ve focused instead this year on a man who exemplifies what it means — at least to me — to be a Master Editor Publisher. He’s just done it in what some may consider a very unconventional manner.
And I suppose, while sitting out a rain delay here in the media center at Iowa Speedway, it should only be fitting that I write about a guy who has worked harder than anyone I’ve ever met and thought soundly and served as my personal “kitchen cabinet” for nearly three years; who unselfishly gave of himself to provide a positive influence to many young Iowa journalists and lived about as honorable a life as anyone could ask.
I met Bill Haglund for the first time at the Iowa Newspaper Association annual convention in February of 2006, but I had known of Bill Haglund for quite some time before that as a fan of dirt-track motorsports in Iowa. In early fall of 2007, however, I really got to know Bill when I “dragged” him out of retirement to return as sports editor of the Dallas County News and its affiliated publications.
The idea was that he would buy me some time while I sought out a full-time, long-term replacement. But just three days in, I realized I need look no further than Bill. He was having a ball covering the kids again, and the nearly constant grin on his face told me all I needed to know: he was back in the game again.
Having someone of Bill’s caliber at the sports desk meant I could focus on hiring good, young journalists in the newsroom and not have to worry so much about the sports department. There are very few sports desks in Iowa that have as tough a job as the Dallas County News sports desk; Bill singlehandedly covered seven schools: A-D-M, DC-G, Earlham, Van Meter, Waukee, West Central Valley and Woodward-Granger.
Bill was usually at the office by 6 a.m., leaving shortly before noon, and then was out covering at least one — probably two — sporting events in the evening.
The Dallas County News was the first real opportunity I had to lead a newsroom. And while I have little doubt I was up to the task, I think it went far more smoothly having Bill working with me. We frequently had a lot of time alone together, where I could bounce ideas around with him before I implemented them as newsroom policy.
Pinocchio had a cricket. I had Bill. I’d take the latter any day of the week.
One of the burdens editors have when they purposely hire young, talented journalists straight out of college is that they have no idea what it’s like working in real-world journalism. Having someone like Bill on staff, who could provide insights from a much deeper well of experience than my own was invaluable.
And, he provided that experience to staff members even when I wasn’t around to ask. It was just second nature that one of his roles was to help nurture the young people working around him.
For the final 18 months of my time in Adel, Bill and I were the only members of the newsroom staff. Bill covered the sports, and I covered the news in one of the fastest-growing counties in the United States. As difficult as that may have sounded, Bill never cut corners.
When the personnel shifts that resulted in my leaving Adel were announced, I very quietly approached Bill and asked him — no, more accurately, I begged him — to take the editor’s job. I knew firsthand how hard the job was, and I knew of only a couple of people who could do it like Bill could.
Instead, he reminded me of a promise I had made to a former staff writer, that if an opening ever came up in Adel, he would be the first person I would call. Knowing the pay and hours would be better, he instead told me I needed to offer the position to the person they eventually hired to replace me.
The next-to-last day before my transfer from Adel to Clarinda was complete, my car broke down along I-80 just outside of Stuart, which is about a one-hour round trip from Adel. I called only to ask if Bill knew the number for a good towing company; instead, he called a tow truck, arranged for a garage to do the repairs, and came out to pick me up off the side of the road.
He refused to take any money for his gas. “It wasn’t any trouble at all,” he said.
Eventually, however, the editor’s job was Bill’s. And while I wasn’t around to witness the changes he implemented, I have a pretty good idea how they came about. I’ll leave that story for someone else — who has direct knowledge — to tell.
But I can tell you this: the Dallas County News is in far better shape today because Bill was in a leadership position at the most critical juncture in that publication’s long and storied history.
So, while Bill hasn’t followed the prototypical career path of a Master Editor Publisher, I think there can be little doubt that he exemplifies the award’s core values. I can think of no better way to thank him for a long and dutiful service to the Iowa newspaper industry than by presenting him with the Master Editor Publisher Award.
Toward the end of the day today, a small group of us will gather — probably one last time as a complete group — to celebrate one more year in the newspaper business. And when we do, we’re going to celebrate a man I consider one of the best in the business.
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If you’re reading this, thank a teacher. If you’re reading this in English, thank a soldier, sailor, airman or Marine.