Range editor Hanna survives harrowing health scare

Bill Hanna (Mesabi Daily News)

Bill Hanna (Mesabi Daily News)

On Thanksgiving, Bill Hanna of the Mesabi Daily News wrote a heartfelt personal column. That’s not an unusual assignment for the editor of the Iron Range’s biggest daily newspaper, but the subject matter probably surprised many.

Hanna wrote of his recovery from a heart attack and near-death experience, publicly explaining why his byline has been absent from the paper since August.

Hanna’s health scare was no secret. It was widely known in Northern Minnesota media and political circles that Hanna was in rough shape. In fact, the news from family and co-workers was generally bad for several weeks. I almost wrote about the matter, but opted to defer to Bill’s privacy. I wanted to see how he mended from his surgeries.

Bill is by no means out of the woods. He’s is on the list for a heart transplant and he will be recuperating for a long time. It’ s hard to imagine him resuming the rigorous routine of editing a daily newspaper. Though, as he says himself, he has no intention of laying down his pen. He seems intent on writing more as his health improves.


Longtime readers know that my relationship with Bill was complicated. It has been years since we’ve talked face to face. We’d exchanged no more than a few terse e-mails over the Mesaba Energy Project or mining policy. But we used to collaborate often when I was editor of the Hibbing Daily Tribune in the same corporate family. As a teenager, I greatly admired Bill to the degree that I’d call him one of the reasons I studied journalism in the first place.

Bill’s editorial stance was lockstep with the views of the mining companies. Mine wasn’t. He perceived new mining projects as the region’s best opportunity for needed jobs. I didn’t. In recent years we have come to agree on the merits of economic diversification, but it was difficult to find anything but the mining industry’s opinion in his paper.

These were disagreements. Looking back, they were nothing more than that. You can find Bill’s or my views shared by many other people on the Iron Range, the same arguments happening over and over. What people might not realize is what Bill did to preserve an independent daily newspaper.

For example, I sat in some of the same company meetings with him. He refused to let the suits water it down or interfere, no matter how many times the company was sold. Bill outran corporate minders like they were pickets on a fence. He fought behind the scenes for staff funding, for circulation, for better paper and ink. When most in local journalism ducked and covered, hoping to survive the next round of layoffs, Bill pushed for a quality product. He fought off the wolves of mediocrity, and he wouldn’t apologize if he ruffled feathers in the process. He loved his paper.

So, I disagreed with him often. So did many. He angered nearly everyone at least once. He was never mushy. You try keeping a vibrant editorial page going amid the constant struggle of running a daily newspaper in the economically challenged Iron Range. The complaints. The pagination duties. The daily deadlines and meetings. Who else does that? Only Marshall Helmberger at the Timberjay, and that’s a weekly.

Me? Hell, I’m just a bunch of electrons. (Though, to be fair, so are we all).

I think the Mesabi Daily News has performed admirably since Bill’s health scare, but harder days lie ahead. One of my disagreements with Bill was that I didn’t think one man’s opinion should dictate so much of a whole region’s agenda. But with Bill’s voice softened (though certainly not silenced), that brings a new problem.

Who will speak for this region now?

New voices must rise. Let them join Bill, and Marshall, and me and everyone else writing about the problems of the Iron Range. Ideas can come from anywhere. They stand on their merits and the value they provide the people. Bill and I agree on something very fundamental. Passivity will never serve a region like the Iron Range. If we don’t speak for ourselves, we will be ignored and exploited.

And Bill, I’m very glad you’re OK. (I hope you believe that). Here’s to a continued recovery and a brighter future for the Iron Range.


  1. A lot of people think Aaron Brown speaks for, or about, the Range, with a LOT more wisdom and honesty than Bill Hanna.

  2. Bill Hanna’s near death experience has given him the opportunity to see life in a new way. I only hope that he is now open to seeing the folly of PolyMet–its manipulated EIS, its unstable tailings basin, its 500 years of water pollution–and the beginning of a sulfide mine district that includes Teck Resources and Twin Metals–within an area of Minnesota known for its great natural beauty, varied ecosystem, and fragility during this time of global economic raid.
    Not everyone is given the chance to view from a higher perspective. I look forward to new insights from Bill Hanna’s pen.

    • I hope so. Hanna has made himself a caricature of a journalist. The karma of this has got to be horrible. One should not underestimate the effects of this sort of thing on physical and mental health.

  3. Get well Mr. Hanna!

Speak Your Mind


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.