Now that was really something. Definitely not something you see every day.
Let me explain.
I have always enjoyed the end of January every year.
Nope, not for the Minnesota weather. That is for sure. And, not because of any anticipation for the Super Bowl.
No, I have enjoyed that last week of January because it is time for the annual Minnesota Newspaper Convention, one of my favorite things to go to.
And this one this year was a doozy.
Oh sure, it was pretty typical in some respects. I mean, I met up with a lot of old newspaper friends and former colleagues. There were interesting sessions on many various topics of interest to those who work for newspapers. There were booths full of vendors selling products to do with the newspaper industry.
And yes, the Register staff once again picked up several awards honoring the work we have done in the past year. And that was nice, for sure.
But, there was also something else really special. The two lunch programs. And I am not referring to the food, I mean the speakers and programs. Both days, the programs were in-your-face incredibly fascinating.
On Thursday it was a musical group called "Freedom Sings." Through music, photos and narrative, they told how rock, pop and soul music changed the world. The band was made up of musicians who had performed with, or written music for, such people as Prince and the Revolution, Steve Miller Band, Tim McGraw, Carrie Underwood, Hootie and the Blowfish and a whole lot more.
They played protest songs from the 1950s to modern times, while the author and narrator, Ken Paulson, former editor in chief of USA Today, spoke of our freedom as Americans to protest.
It was powerful. Especially to those of us who were born in 1950 and remember all of those songs and protests of anti-war, civil rights and women's rights.
What hit me the most were all the songs protesting the war in Vietnam. And I was remembering being a 19-year-old college student at Mankato State in May of 1970 when 13 unarmed students at Kent State University in Ohio were shot and four were killed by members of the Ohio National Guard. It was a peaceful protest, just like what was being done at Mankato State and many other colleges across the country.
Within just days of the "massacre," at Kent State, the group Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young pulled their No. 1 hit single off the charts and replaced it with a song called "Ohio" that had lyrics such as "four dead in O-HI-O," and "gotta get down to it, soldiers are gunning us down."
That event had hit me, and many other students, hard. After all, we had been peacefully protesting the war in Vietnam in Mankato, as well. And I had been covering those protests as an unpaid reporter for the Mankato State College Daily Reporter campus newspaper. (Yes, Mankato actually had two daily newspapers in those days ... the Free Press and the MSC Reporter.)
Kent State might have been one of the moments that turned me from becoming a high school English teacher into becoming a journalist. It had bothered me a lot that the mainstream press followed the Nixon adminstration's spin that blamed the students for the shooting and deaths at Kent State.
Friday's luncheon program was Jerry and Patty Wetterling, and their speech, too, was powerful.
The Wetterlings began by saying they had not spoken much to the press since their son Jacob's remains had been recently discovered after he went missing 27 years ago. But, now they wanted to tell us, members of the Minnesota press, their story.
They spoke for over an hour, and detailed the whole emotional roller coaster they went through after it was first reported there was a break in the case, until a week later when Jacob's body was uncovered and the Wetterlings made a deal with lawyers about what should and could be done to his kidnapper and killer.
The whole time they talked you could have heard a pin drop in this big hall filled with hundreds of newspaper folks many with tears in their eyes.
At the end of their speech, there was a time for questions. One would think a room full of journalists would have some questions. There were none. Those who approached the microphone offered words of comfort, prayers and support.
The Wetterlings received two standing ovations.
During her speech, Patty Wetterling thanked the press and especially newspapers for running stories about the search for Jacob continually over the past 27 years. She said those stories, especially in the daily St. Cloud Times and the weekly Paynesville Press, were key to the eventual solving of this horrific crime, and ending their long nightmare.
It made me think that perhaps I had made the right decision back in 1970, to become a newspaper editor.
We touch a lot of lives with our stories.
Thanks for reading us.