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Judy Spooner: If you have time, I've got stories to tell

A lot has happened to the South Washington County Bulletin since I wrote my first news story on a manual typewriter with two broken keys in June of 1968.

No, I'm not retiring. On April 3, I will be 69 years old. I still enjoy what I do and working with a terrific staff. But some time ago, I said I would tell some Bulletin stories, and I'm keeping my promise.

For the record, I haven't worked at the Bulletin continuously since 1968. There were two five-year stints when I did other stuff including getting a college degree from the University of Minnesota.

Before starting as a reporter, I wrote a series of letters to the editor over a year debunking myths about fluoridating drinking water. In response to weekly letters from conspiracy buffs, I tried to convince people that the government was not putting truth serum in the water and that fluoride doesn't addle your brain.

It's the same kind of stuff you can find today on the Internet.

Publisher John Herman, who died 10 years ago, called. He said if I was writing every week, I might as well try reporting.

In my first story about the Newport City Council (then called village council) in the lead paragraph, I wrote that local Jaycees got an award. I thought that was more important than the resignation of the village's only police constable. I had a lot to learn.

After six months as a reporter, I got a check for $50.

I complained about John's lack of editing. "If you're so smart, you do it," was his response. I took on that job, too, in addition to covering Newport and writing features.

The newspaper started looking better, but it struggled. We had a circulation of 900, but only if "marijuana" was in the headline.

I learned to write headlines, after reading all the journalism books in the library, but I'm not a good speller, as all of my editors will testify.

One week, I learned "apartment" does not have two p's but "Cotage" Grove has two t's. It was our lead story.

I was so embarrassed by the mistakes that, when a woman called to ask if the headline mistake was a clue in a Cottage Grove winter treasure hunt, I said it was.

We had one Polaroid camera and the pictures were awful.

In 1970, John bought a 35 mm Nikon camera, and I was very excited. He said it cost $20. The lens was dented and the meter didn't work. "I have a radio at home that doesn't work that I'd be glad to sell you," I said.

I learned to use the camera because there were no other choices. I discovered that I loved photography.

Our "flag," which is what you see at the top of the newspaper's front page every week, had "Bulletin" in English gothic lettering. I told John it was ugly and nearly got thrown out of his office.

He never discovered that, over the following year, I carved off a bit from the serifs every week with my handy-dandy razor blade until I thought it looked better.

At Christmas, I put a tiny Santa hat on the flag's eagle.

He didn't mention it so I thought he didn't notice.

Our circulation doubled that year as Cottage Grove was growing. Things were looking up, partly because husband Gary, later to become John's partner, came to the paper as head of advertising.

So many years later, I think John did see the hat, grinned, and went back to his office to dream about the newspaper's future.

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
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