Editorial: Bigger picture coverage at Capitol

On Monday mornings, at a coffee shop in Mounds View, Tim Budig, Howard Lestrud and I meet to discuss their plans for the week ahead.

Larry Werner
Larry Werner

Tim and Howard represent the commitment of ECM Publishers to provide more than strictly local news in our 51 newspapers.

When I started reading ECM’s Thisweek Newspaper after moving to Lakeville from Edina in 1999, I was struck by a byline for a “Capitol reporter” in this paper that was mostly about happenings in the community.

That wasn’t the kind of byline I was accustomed to seeing in the Edina Sun Current, the weekly paper I had read for many years.

Now, however, you will see state Capitol news in our Edina paper and the other Sun papers ECM acquired a year ago.

And on all our news websites, in a section called At The Capitol, you’ll find the reporting of Budig and Lestrud.

Not too many years after ECM was founded by Elmer Andersen, a former businessman, legislator and governor, our papers named a Capitol correspondent to cover the happenings at the Legislature and state agencies.

Budig, a Wisconsin native and former reporter at our ABC Newspapers in Coon Rapids, has been that Capitol correspondent for almost 15 years.

Tim is a writing machine – a guy who might crank out 10 stories a week on what our legislators are doing.

However, after the Sun acquisition in December of 2011, he found himself covering state news for about 30 more newspapers serving many more communities.

Recently, we gave Tim some help.

Howard Lestrud, a longtime ECM editor and manager, agreed to take on the new position as political editor and is now working with Tim in St. Paul.

Tim and Howard have been meeting with legislators and state officials to develop stories about government as the new legislative session gets underway.

Howard also has been co-chairperson of the ECM Editorial Board, another creation of our late founder, whose son, Julian Andersen, is our current CEO.

Julian’s father took great pleasure in writing editorials and felt that it’s important for newspapers to take stands on public issues.

So about once a month, you’ll find editorials in your local newspaper that might deal with anything from education policy to political races to the national farm bill.

Also appearing on our editorial pages are columns by Don Heinzman, who has worked as an editor and manager with ECM almost since the company was founded.

Don serves with Howard, Julian, President Marge Winkelman, several of our editors and two citizen members on the editorial board that meets monthly to develop positions on issues.

Another regular ECM columnist is Joe Nathan, who is executive director of the Center for School Change. Joe, a former public school teacher and education-policy expert, provides his views on Minnesota education.

Some of you might wonder why the local weekly newspaper and website is devoting resources to covering news that crosses the boundaries of your municipalities and counties.

It’s because a renaissance man named Andersen decided his newspapers would provide more than what has come to be known as “hyperlocal” news — the activities of city councils, school boards and sports teams.

He wanted you to get information about the state he served as a legislator and governor.

It would be less expensive to forgo that kind of big-picture coverage and stick with strictly local news.

One of the reasons I enjoy working for ECM is because the company’s mission  goes beyond reporting local news and selling local ads.

In his autobiography, Elmer Andersen wrote this about his commitment to news: “I was not in the newspaper business to make money. I was in it for the mission.”

Editor’s note: Larry Werner is director of news for ECM Publishers. He is at [email protected]