Mark Engebretson, reporter and assistant editor, 1991-1999

Mark Engebretson
Mark Engebretson

In one way, writing this is an actual dream come true. You see, I had three stints at the Southwest Journal and twice I quit full-time jobs to return to the paper. Since leaving “for good” in February 1999, I have had a recurring dream that I returned one more time.

So, I guess this represents my return, albeit for one brief journey down memory lane.

I met Mark Anderson and Paula Keller in 1990. They were the caretakers for our apartment building at 37th & Garfield. It didn’t take me long to make the connection that Mark was the editor and Paula the photographer for this great new community newspaper, the Southwest Journal, which I discovered in the foyer of our building. At the time, I was a reporter for Lillie News, primarily covering suburban St. Paul governments. As a Minneapolis resident for nearly 10 years, I was a geeky spectator of Minneapolis City Council meetings on the Minneapolis Television Network. These were the days of Mayor Don Fraser, and council members Kathy O’Brien, Tony Scallon, Walt Dziedzic, Steve Cramer, Joan Niemic, Barbara Carlson and Sharon Sayles-Belton. I had a strong desire to cover City Hall in my town and realized a path via the Southwest Journal.

I soon started freelancing for the Journal and met Terry and Janis and other freelancers. In July 1992, I left Lillie to accept Janis’ offer of a half-time gig, covering City Hall and several Southwest Minneapolis neighborhoods. Mark and I held our 1-on-1 meetings in our apartment building and went to Terry and Janis’ house for staff meetings. It was like one big family working together to improve our city by connecting neighbors through smart, tough and thorough journalism — led by Mark and nurtured by Janis — and by offering relevant and important local advertising, led by Terry.

Just a year later, however, I was encouraged to apply for a full-time position with MSP Communications, which was about to launch Twin Cities Business Monthly. It was a great opportunity to work not only for an established and well-respected publishing company, but also to be part of a startup publication with an office in the heart of Downtown. I became assistant editor, and under the guidance of editor Jay Novak, I sharpened my business reporting skills — all the while continuing to freelance for the Journal. In fact, I had a big role in the 1993 election coverage, which saw Sayles-Belton ascend to mayor, while Steve Minn (Ward 11) and neighborhood activist Lisa McDonald (Ward 10) won election to the City Council.

Mark Engebretson

With new city leadership and momentum building for the city’s Neighborhood Revitalization Program (NRP), it was an exciting time to be covering Minneapolis and I wanted a bigger part in it. In March 1994, Mark took me to lunch to discuss a proposal he and Janis had hatched to bring me back as a full-time reporter. I accepted, of course. As the Journal continued to grow, it now had its own building and I had my own office.

For the next five years, I covered City Hall, the airport, the Neighborhood Revitalization Program, local business issues, the Midtown Greenway and many feature stories. I fondly recall writing about the Finnish stamp club, the Minneapolis Audubon Society, the lakes and so many other stories that shone a positive light on Minneapolis and its residents.

Above all, however, I was driven to report on city policy and politics in a meaningful, tough-but-fair way — in pursuit of the truth and in hopes of elevating civic engagement. Through it all, I always felt supported by Mark, Terry and Janis. And I believe our collective work over the years compared most favorably with the Star Tribune, City Pages and the Twin Cities Reader — especially on such issues as airport noise, the erosion of city development funds, the changing business landscape of Uptown, police misconduct and election-year political campaigning.

In February 1999, I made the right — but very difficult — decision to leave the Journal for a communications position at the University of Minnesota, where I currently work as communications director for the libraries. I have no regrets, but I’ll always reflect fondly on those days. Let the dreams continue. I’m forever grateful to Mark, Terry and Janis for giving me the opportunity. Best wishes to you, Terry and Janis. Minneapolis has lost an invaluable civic institution.