Pulitzer winners, governor candidates and rink burgers

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Posted 3/08/16 (Tue)

Passing Dreams
By Steve Andrist

One of the North Dakota Newspaper Association’s best ever conventions was held in Rugby in 1995.
Mark Carlson, publisher of the Pierce County Tribune in Rugby, was NDNA president that year, and it was his dream to step out of the box, leave Bismarck and Fargo and Minot venues behind, and host the convention in his home town.
With Rugby’s central location, the idea caught on. Tragically, Mark was diagnosed with cancer and died before the convention date.
But out of tribute to him, the show went on and NDNA members streamed into town.
I didn’t quite have the courage of my convictions when it was my year to serve as president of NDNA. I had spent many years working to build communities in northwestern North Dakota, but when it was time to pick a 2001 convention site, I felt Williston was the best alternative.
Now I serve as executive director of NDNA, the guy whose job it is to make the annual conventions successful.
Success means good attendance and strong programs, so when it was suggested two years ago that the 2016 president wanted to revisit the home town convention idea, I suffered a not-so-mild case of trepidation.
Would we be able to find high caliber speakers who’d travel to rural North Dakota?
Would our members patronize a rural convention like they do events in the state’s big cities?
But future NDNA president, Cecile Wehrman, was more courageous in her convictions than her former boss, and the association board decided it was an experiment well worth conducting.
As a result, in 57 days, 100-plus newspaper people from across the state will be descending on Crosby for the association’s 130th annual convention.
More exciting yet is that a number of speakers of state and national prominence will be coming, too.
They include three Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists and at least two candidates for North Dakota governor.
On May 5 we’ll be descending on the Guardian Inn, the convention headquarters, filling virtually all of its rooms and taxing the food prep skills of the folks at The Bypass.
We’ll also be showing journalists from Grafton to Dickinson what it means to have an internationally famous rink burger.
It’s exciting that many of our programs will be open to the public, including a debate between the governor candidates who will be on the Republican Primary Election ballot.
It’s expected that those candidates will be Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, husband of Divide County native Beth Bakke Stenehjem, and Doug Burgum, a Fargo entrepreneur and a giant in the world of technology.
Because 2016 marks the 100th anniversary of the Pulitzers, three prize winners will be on the program and their presentations will be open to locals.
One of them, Washington Post photographer Carol Guzy, is the only person to have won four journalism Pulitzers.
Her presentation, complete with photos from Pulitzer-winning assignments in Haiti, Kosovo and Columbia, will use the big screen at Dakota Theatre.
Another Pulitzer winner is Jacqui Banaszynski, a professor and Knight Chair in journalism at the University of Missouri, who won a Pulitzer while working for the St. Paul Pioneer Press for a series called “AIDS in the Heartland.”
The third is a North Dakota Pulitzer winner, Stanley native Mike Jacobs, who was editor of the Grand Forks Herald when it was recognized for coverage of the devastating 1997 flood in Grand Forks.
The Pulitzer speakers are funded in part by a grant from the North Dakota Humanities Council, and in appreciation we have offered to open the presentations to the public free of charge.
We still haven’t answered the question about how many of our members will come.
But we know the speakers who have already committed will make it worthwhile for those who do.
Plus, as I’m fond of telling friends in the Red River Valley, the road DOES go both ways.
And then there’s the rink burgers.