Lee, Reyelts retirements to shake up Duluth TV news

Michelle Lee

Last month, longtime KBJR news director Barbara Reyelts and newscast anchor Michelle Lee both announced their impending retirement. Their departure reflects changes in the Duluth TV News market that began when WDIO’s legendary Dennis Anderson retired five years ago.

Lee steps down Dec. 27. She has been doing TV news in Duluth since 1983 and has anchored the 6 and 10 p.m. news for most of recent memory.

I vividly recall the excitement at my hometown Cherry School the day Michelle Lee came to emcee our regional spelling bee. From the bleachers she looked just like she did on TV, only she had big furry boots because it was well below zero that day. We never saw her up close, but my friends and I spent far too much time staring at her car in the parking lot at recess. We were surprised it wasn’t nicer. Looking back, this may have been my first lesson in local journalism.

Barbara Reyelts

Reyelts will retire sometime in the coming year. She’s been at the station for 38 years, making her name as an investigative reporter before working her way up to News Director.

I’ll always remember the exchange Reyelts had with George Clooney when he came to town to film a movie. She identified herself as a reporter for the “CBS and NBC affiliates” in Duluth. At the time they were both served by one monolithic news department.

“Now that’s a small town,” said Clooney. “I’m the priest and the heart surgeon.”

Much laughter.

Reyelts also stopped me once at an election night party because she thought I might be one of the campaign managers, but I was really just a student reporter from KUWS who thought I should wear a suit on election night. Such is the nature of my brushes with local fame.

The news of Lee’s and Reyelts’s retirement broke during the Christmas City of the North Parade in November, so this isn’t new. KBJR has been commemorating Lee on the news all week. I’m sure they’ll do the same for Reyelts before she steps down.

Nevertheless, I thought these women deserved recognition for their contributions to local news reporting heading into the holidays. As usual, the TV will keep making noise, with different faces doing the blah-blah-blah. Let’s hope they’re as good as Michelle and Barbara.


  1. Barbara Reyelts had a show in the odd hours of Sunday where she did interviews with politicians and other local public figures. Since the Duluth News Tribune was sold to Forum and had its staff collapse, she was by far the best and most well informed interviewer and reporter in the region (except Aaron, of course 😉 and stood out for her ability to ask real questions, demand real answers, and focus on real issues. It was an opportunity to see what some of the local news talent could actually do when not constrained by management policies and the general superficiality of the contemporary news industry. In an era where a journalism school study showed that during the last election more minutes of air time and column inches of print coverage were spent on Clinton’s email than on ALL ISSUE DISCUSSION PUT TOGETHER, Reyelts was able to show what the media could do, and once did, to inform the public.

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