Remembering Duluth journalist Larry Fortner

Larry Fortner

Larry Fortner

Former Duluth News Tribune editor and longtime Northern Minnesota journalist Larry Fortner died early Wednesday from cancer. The Duluth News Tribune remembers Fortner in a Peter Passi front page story today.

After work in Florida and Kentucky, Fortner found his way to Duluth, Minnesota in 1979. He would become editor of the DNT, going on to start the Senior Reporter and edit special publications for the Duluth Seaway Port Authority along with other projects. He wrote and edited professionally until just before his death this week at age 73.

I imagine younger readers probably didn’t know Larry and some of the rest of you probably knew him better than I did. I didn’t know how sick he really was until I read the obituary. But I did have a long run of e-mail exchanges with Larry and a nice conversation with him just last fall.

Larry Fortner first wrote me after one of my early episodes of the Great Northern Radio Show in 2012. He told me he was staying at his summer place in Balsam Township, just up the road from me, and had a few comments. The show sounded promising but I needed to “slow down.”

“Sounds like you’re running at 78 rpm when you should be at 33 1/3,” he wrote. “Give yourself and your listeners a chance to breathe.”

He said we should have a beverage sometime. I remember thinking, “Guy wants to criticize and then make me drive somewhere to meet him!” I didn’t take him up on the offer, but he kept writing. He’d ask fantastic questions. When I was critical of public officials he always made a point to encourage me. (“Keep the pressure on and don’t let this travesty prevail,” was one.) Often he’d compliment a story I wrote, or more often catch the all-too-frequent typos I make in my solo blogging operation.

Larry taught me that it’s “a historic event” not “an historic event.” At first I didn’t believe him, but the style guide proved him right. Actually, he was right about most things, including the fact that I could have used a powerful dose of sedatives in those early radio shows. Now, looking back on the last four years of e-mails between us, I realize far too late that he was the only proper editor this blog ever had.

I didn’t even know he was the former editor of the Duluth News-Tribune until a couple years into our conversations. And it was only last year I realized he was friends with my mentor, the late Mike Simonson who died in 2014. I actually would meet Larry in person for the first time at a commemoration for Mike held just last fall at my alma mater of UW-Superior. We had hoped to perhaps get together in the summer sometime when he was back up in Balsam. We spent last fall e-mailing about rural broadband. He wanted to move his writing and editing activities to Balsam permanently, but needed the juice to do it. The last e-mail was only a few weeks ago. He told me one time he had cancer, but brushed it off like the common cold.

One of the local stories we liked to talk about was the garage that two-time GOP candidate for State Representative Roger Weber sawed in half along Itasca County Highway 8. We both drove by this insane landmark all the time. We would often speculate on when the remaining half of the  garage would fall over. He was convinced it would topple Feb. 24, 2015. I said it would last longer. This will go down as the only time I was right and he was wrong. Unfortunately I won’t know who to call when the thing finally does come down.


  1. Nice to have such a mentor…

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