One River, Many Stories

The St. Louis River flows from the rustic north into the industrial world of West Duluth's Lake Superior Harbor. (PHOTO: Randen Pederson, Flickr CC)

The St. Louis River flows from the rustic north into the industrial world of West Duluth’s Lake Superior Harbor. (PHOTO: Randen Pederson, Flickr CC)

One-River-Many-Stories-240x240Before the road. Before the rails. Before the timber cruisers or even the original people. All that connected what we now call the Mesabi Iron Range to the place we now call Duluth at the head of Lake Superior was a little southbound crick called the St. Louis River.

It gets bigger than a crick, of course, but never all that big. And it’s not that long, either — just shy of 100 miles. But this river owns the distinction of being one of the descendants of the “Hill of Three Waters.”

Thousands of years ago glaciers carved the continent. These ice giants created a watershed near Hibbing that flows into the Mighty Mississippi, the Hudson Bay and the St. Louis River. And though the St. Louis is small, it marks the beginning of the Great Lakes. It feeds the fresh water heart of North America.

I knew this river as a child. It flowed through Zim, Forbes, and Cherry, places where I grew up. It’s also the river where my old friend and mentor Mike Simonson would swim every day across Stryker Bay in West Duluth.

Mike was the gruff news reporter and bureau chief for the Superior offices of Wisconsin Public Radio. He was my teacher and boss when I was a journalism student at the University of Wisconsin-Superior. A big man with a big heart, he died in his sleep in late 2014.

Mike was tight with journalists all over Minnesota and Wisconsin. He had let on to some that when and if he ever retired, he’d spend his retirement working on a documentary about the St. Louis River. This dream would go unrealized … for him.

But some of his friends got together to create the One River, Many Stories project. It’s a collection of stories, events and workshops tied to the St. Louis River. It begins today and runs through the spring.

Paul Lundgren wrote a beautiful essay about the “One River, Many Stories” project for Perfect Duluth Day. In it, he talks about Mike’s attachment to the St. Louis River and good storytelling. John Hatcher, a UMD journalism professor and another event organizer, talks more about it for a Q&A with the publisher of the Duluth News Tribune.

One River, Many Voices was unveiled at the St. Louis River Summit last weekend in Duluth. In April, it will publish and profile works by journalists, writers and artists related to the St. Louis River. Anyone can participate. Just publish your work by the end of April and share with the hashtags #OneRiverMN or #ChiGamiiZiibi.

I was honored to be asked to participate in the project. I’ll be doing some writing later on, but I’ll also be participating in one of the journalist panel discussions next month.

The first panel takes place today at noon at the offices of the Duluth News Tribune at 424 West First Street in downtown Duluth. The title is “Collaboration versus Competition.”

Bring your lunch and join three local media experts for an informal panel discussion on competition, credibility, and the new media landscape. Has journalism really changed? What impact are citizen journalists and bloggers having on the local media scene? How can there be stronger collaboration among area media?

The panelists are Neal Ronquist, publisher of the Duluth News Tribune; Barbara Reyelts, news director for KBJR/Northland News Center; and Paul DeMain, CEO of News From Indian Country.

This event is the first of a series.

Thursday, February 25 Storytelling Across Platforms with Dan Kraker, Sam Cook and Lucie Amundsen

Thursday, March 3 PolyMet: How do journalists report on divisive community issues? with Marshall Helmberger, Stephanie Hemphill and Aaron Brown

As you can see, I’ll be a part of the talk on March 3. Stay tuned for more information.

Meantime, prepare to learn more about the way one little river is such a big deal for people, plants and animals in the glacial aftermath of Northern Minnesota.


  1. Hey, I went to today’s forum. I even asked a question.

    UMD Professer John Hatcher: So, we’ve got a room full of journalists. Do you guys want to ask [our panelists] some hard questions, while they’re sitting up front here? Go ahead.

    John Ramos: Hi, I’m John Ramos. I’m a reporter with the Reader Weekly here in town. I’d just like to preface my question with a comment. There’s a lot of talk about teamwork and collaboration. I don’t collaborate with anybody, and I don’t work…cooperate with any other teams, and in the last year and a half I’ve broken more serious investigative stories than all the TV stations and the News Tribune combined, so I think collaboration could be a little overrated—more of a buzzword.

    Now, on to my question. One of my stories…actually, I wrote several stories on the planning process behind the Duluth Public Library. One of them involved getting ahold of masses of internal City Hall emails where the city administration was discussing, behind the scenes, their thoughts on the library. Now, I had started going to the planning meetings. They were getting nervous about what I might write in the Reader, as I found out in reading their internal emails. And so their strategy to counteract what I was doing was—and this is backed up by emails between Dan Fanning, Dave Montgomery, Jim Filby Williams, senior city staff—was, “We need to establish our own narrative by getting our story into the News Tribune before John Ramos writes his story.” Three days later, after those emails, lo and behold, a front-page story appears in the News Tribune exactly as the city wanted it.

    So my question is: How does the News Tribune feel about being the public relations arm for the city?

    DNT Publisher Neal Ronquist: [sits silently, red-faced, for seven seconds] Nice to start with a loaded question. Um, Mr. Ramos, um, you know, I, I…we’re not the public relations arm for the city. Ah, all due respect, there, there was, ah, good journalism being done on that story. There is continued research into that story. Um, we, ah, we stand by our reporting. I’ll leave it at that.

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