Britta Arendt

I started February 2020 with a clean sweep.

Two weeks ago, at the 153rd annual convention of the Minnesota Newspaper Association in Minneapolis, I was awarded first place for Best Columnist among non-dailies. This is a huge honor for me. Among the various categories such as Best Feature Story, Best Human Interest Story, Best Editorial Page, or Best Photograph, I admire Best Columnist the most and I enter this category every year with great anticipation. This is the second time I’ve received the top place in this category, lastly in 2014.

The reason I treasure this award so much is because it is really the only category to focus solely on creative writing. Among newspaper journalists, most esteem is given for digging out the hidden facts, getting to the bottom of a controversy or pulling the perfect quote from an emotional interview. With all news stories there are rules: No libelous language; credible sources; short ledes; third-grade reading level; follow inverted pyramid; no fun with alliteration; just who, what, where, when and how - period.

With our staff column (published right here, every Sunday), we try to entertain our readers with something light and fun to read. It is our hope that readers will come to relate to the stories we share from our personal lives.

Many people have heard my “newspaper journey” story before but winning Best Columnist adds another layer of icing on the cake. More than 25 (yikes) years ago, when I was in high school I interned at the Grand Rapids Herald-Review. I loved everything about the experience - interviewing community members over a cup of tea then putting their stories to print or taking photos of little kids collecting candy at parades then learning the ropes of the dark room. I even enjoyed cutting and pasting (by hand, with glue) columns of paragraphs, headlines and cutlines to the board to be made into a plate.

I knew dead-straight when I entered college I wanted to be a community newspaper journalist. Polishing my studies that first year, I was accepted into the University of Minnesota’s J-School. How excited I was to start taking real journalism classes at Murphy Hall. However, not too far into those classes did I realize they weren’t teaching me how to be a better writer or better storyteller. Rather I felt, the emphasis was more on marketing at that time.

So, I walked across the street to Lind Hall to the English Department and registered as an English - Creative Writing major. This was a good decision. I honed my writing skills and learned how to create relatable characters then bring them to life. It was exactly what I wanted to do for all of the interesting and inspiring people back home who deserved to have their stories told in their community newspaper.

After marriage and the birth of a beautiful daughter, life in Minneapolis was not as comfortable as our weekend trips up north. My husband and I searched the employment ads every night. Coincidentally, the very same day my employer told us they were bought out my husband was offered a sales job in the Grand Rapids area. A few months later, serendipity played a part again and a staff writer job opened up at the Herald. And after four years, I was promoted to editor.

Everyday I come to this office I feel fortunate to hold down the desk of my dreams. While my work is not always roses and sunshine by any means, I keep the ‘thank you’ cards and kind email messages posted on my wall or taped to my daily calendar.

It’s great to be able to provide the hard news of our daily lives and be a part of recording the history of Itasca County and how this community has evolved. But, for me, it’s more important to use my talents to bring humanity to the newspaper. And I think alliteration is amazingly amusing.

Our newspaper was also honored for a new category this year - for special coverage of community mental health. This was a collaborative effort between myself and staff writers Kassandra Tuten and Emily Carlson. I’m very proud that we are able to shine light on the important issues that affect the lives of so many.

Oh, and after the newspaper awards I participated in a curling bonspiel for the first time and our team won. I can only hope the sweep continues.

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