Lifelong newspaperman covers the beat in his building

Retired Star Tribune reporter Rodgers Adams writes an independent newsletter for residents of his condo building in Cedar-Isles-Dean.

Rodgers Adams retired from the Star Tribune 20 years ago, but he’s still writing the news, with an exclusive circulation of 107 residences at the Lake Point Condominiums.

Adams and his wife arrived at the building at West Lake Street & Dean Parkway in 1998, in the middle of a big “brouhaha.”

“As you can imagine in any condo, there is probably nothing as big a controversy as decorating the hallways,” he said.

He attended one meeting to hear a neighbor lament that they didn’t know what was going on.

“I’m not a politician, so I couldn’t really help them with how to find a compromise. But I am skilled at trying to tell them what’s going on,” he said.

So he started writing a free newsletter. He’s published “Lake Point Views” since 1999, walking through the building about once a month to slide copies under the doors. In the early days, Adams wasn’t sure how the project would land. With an intensely small circulation, would coverage of controversy drive the building into separate camps?

“Our experience with that has been that facts matter,” he said. “And that factual reporting is healing. … Give people facts, and things move much more smoothly.”

In the beginning, he had run-ins with board members who objected to directly quoting their conversations, which occasionally turned nasty.

“They called me up to their place and said, ‘Isn’t it true that there are two kinds of journalism? … When you report what the board does, that’s journalism. When you report what they say at the board meetings, that’s sensationalism,’” he said. “I said, wait a minute. From my experience what people say at those board meetings is often more important than what they do.”

The first issue of Lake Point Views, published in 1999.
The first issue of Lake Point Views in 1999.

Through the newsletter, Adams investigated building renovation plans when a lawsuit prompted an attorney to keep the details secret, and he’s written about topics like the Minneapolis 2040 plan to upzone the city. His beat involves covering the condominium association and neighborhood association meetings for Cedar-Isles-Dean and West Calhoun. His wife Ruth, a retired English and speech teacher, is copy editor, marking up articles and passing them back to him.

“He’s one of those people who actually reads everything closely. And he asks questions,” said Norm DeWitt, president of the Lake Point board. “He forces us to up our game a little bit.”

DeWitt said he appreciates that Adams reports on larger issues like Southwest light rail.

“The better informed the residents are, the better off we are,” he said.

Born in 1937, Adams has always been interested in news — at age eight, he ran through the neighborhood alerting people that President Franklin Roosevelt had died. He and a couple of childhood friends started the “Humor Herald,” originally using a hectograph printing process. They printed jokes and sports stories and the floor plans of a new courthouse (Adams’ dad was a judge). The newspaper editor in town said he couldn’t handle the competition, and hired them as junior high “contract employees” with little desks at an annex to the newspaper.

Adams attended Columbia University and went on to spend 38 years as a reporter, editor and newsroom administrator at the Star Tribune. He initially wrote for the Minneapolis Star, an afternoon paper, which required him to arrive at the office around 4:30 a.m.

“Ever since then, I’ve been an early riser,” he said.

He covered the City of Bloomington’s 1961 attempt to annex the Black Dog power plant from Burnsville, and the City of Minneapolis’ work to pave all of its residential streets, previously covered in oil and gravel.

The Star was filled with shorter stories during Adams’ initial time there. The city editor believed any story could be told in six paragraphs. When Adams became city editor, he encouraged the addition of longer, explanatory stories to provide more background.

When the newspaper objected to police withholding names of people they arrested, Adams worked on a committee that brought police and journalists together. The parties agreed on legislation that would release all names with exceptions in specific cases.

“The basic premise of the newspaper was nobody in a democracy should be arrested secretly,” Adams said.

He also helped redraft freedom of information laws so that meetings and information would be public with few exceptions.

He received a Freedom of Information Lifetime Achievement Award in 2014 from the Minnesota Coalition on Government Information, and an award for his work on First Amendment rights in 1981 from the Minnesota Society of Professional Journalists.

“The big challenge was how to get rid of the composing room,” Adams said, describing the movement to adopt new technology and update the hot metal shop.

When the Star Tribune was sold to McClatchy, Adams decided he’d had enough change, and it was time to retire.

Though he didn’t retire permanently. The Oct. 31 issue of Lake Point Views is sliding under doors now.

“I’m really a future person, not a past person,” he said.