Editor, General Manager Larry Werner will leave Sun Thisweek
I’ve always prided myself in doing things differently.
When I graduated from Michigan State University in 1969, thousands of people were moving from places like Kentucky to take jobs in Michigan’s auto plants. I left Michigan to take a job as a reporter in Kentucky.
In the newspaper business, the conventional career path would be to start with a weekly newspaper, get a job with a daily and then retire to a life of golf, fishing or hanging out in the neighborhood coffee shop. For me, it went this way: Spend 38 years working for daily newspapers, retire, and then spend four years working for weeklies.
Since January of 2007, following my retirement from the Star Tribune and eight long months of retirement, I’ve had the privilege of serving as editor and general manager of Thisweek Newspapers and the Dakota County Tribune. After the acquisition of the Minnesota Sun papers by ECM Publishers, we merged competing Dakota County papers into Sun Thisweek. Beginning next week, Sun Thisweek and the Tribune will be managed by Sun Group General Manager Jeff Coolman.
I will be moving to ECM’s Coon Rapids headquarters in a new position called director of news.
As I look forward with excitement to this new challenge of leading ECM’s editors and writers, I look back with some sadness on the people, places and events that have been part of my life since 1999. That was the year I moved with my wife and son from Edina to Lakeville. During my previous 15 years in Minnesota, I hadn’t spent much time south of the river, but shortly after Ann and I married in 1995, she began talking about heading south.
Ann is a Zweber – one of those names that cause heads to nod with familiarity when mentioned down here. There are lots of Zwebers in Dakota County. One of them, her father, LeRoy, was a dairy farmer and then director of buildings and grounds for the Lakeville schools. After LeRoy died in 1996, just as the family was turning the dairy farm into a golf course, we decided we should move closer to her widowed mother and the family business. Her brother, Mark, lost his wife to cancer in 1997, and Ann wanted to be more available to him as he raised his two young boys.
So we moved to a condo near downtown Lakeville, and one of the first things I noticed was the local newspaper office. Even though I was still working for the Star Tribune, I would romanticize about becoming editor of Thisweek and telling the interesting and important stories about this land south of the Minnesota River. Magically, ECM advertised for a general manager to run its Dakota County papers shortly after I retired from the Star Tribune in June of 2007. In January of 2008, I started at Thisweek’s Burnsville office.
The Lakeville office had been closed by then in a cost-cutting move, and Mainstreet After Hours, a wine bar, now operates in that Lakeville space, adjacent to Mainstreet Coffee Cafe.
I’ve had a ball putting out newspapers for Lakeville and Farmington, Burnsville and Eagan, Apple Valley and Rosemount, and turning the 128-year-old Tribune into a Business Weekly. I love local news, and our Dakota County communities have provided us with a lot of opportunity to tell great stories about your neighbors, your city councils, your schools and town characters. We’ve written stories about growth and recession. And we’ve provided local businesses with a means for telling customers about their products and services.
Not every day has been a bowl of cherries. Facing a recession and intense competition from other newspapers and the Internet, we’ve had to spend way too much of our energy cutting expenses. In March, we moved from Burnsville to smaller, less expensive space in Apple Valley. And later the same month, we merged the Sun Current and Thisweek papers into a paper called Sun Thisweek. I’m proud to report Sun Thisweek is exceeding expectations as a news and advertising medium.
It seemed like a good time to retire again. I’ll be 65 in July. But my boss, ECM President Marge Winkelman, offered me an office at the ECM Center in Coon Rapids, where I’ll be involved with improving the reporting, writing and editing done by the company’s 84 journalists. I’ll be working closely with Keith Anderson, director of news for the Sun Group, who will lead our journalists in Dakota County.
Our much larger company now delivers newspapers to about 700,000 homes throughout Minnesota. I appreciate the opportunity to work with a growing news company to serve readers with stories that inform and entertain.
Having moved back north of the river to be near my four grandchildren and Ann’s work at the University of Minnesota, I spend less of my free time at the Lakeville Area Arts Center or at the arts centers in Burnsville and Rosemount. And since I’ll be working in Coon Rapids with ECM’s northern newspapers, you won’t see me as much at my favorite Dakota County lunch places – the Valley Diner in Apple Valley, Jo Jo’s Rise & Wine in Burnsville and, of course, Mainstreet Coffee Cafe in Lakeville.
I’ll be hanging out at coffee shops in other communities where ECM has papers – such towns as Anoka, Milaca and Princeton, the place our company was started by former Gov. Elmer Andersen 35 years ago.
It’s likely I’ll use this space for stories from those places up north. So you’ll hear from me on this page.
I’ll miss south of the river, which I’ve named “The Third City,” after Minneapolis and St. Paul. And I’ll miss our new offices in Apple Valley, where Managing Editors Tad Johnson and John Gessner will continue to dispatch writers to cover the news of this dynamic and growing county.
Larry Werner is editor and general manager of Sun Thisweek and the Dakota County Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Columns reflect the opinion of the author.