From delivery boy to editor

As a kid in the 1970s, I delivered a newspaper called simply Southeast. A couple decades later. it became the Southeast Angle, and, after another decade, merged with the Seward Profile to become The Bridge.

Delivering the paper to every door in the neighborhood gave me an excuse to explore the many multi-unit buildings I knew only from the outside on my walk to school. In those days, the front doors were left unlocked on the old houses that had been converted to apartments. They gave way to halls, stairs and landings that were often so dark that it was guesswork where the apartment doors were to make my deliveries. In dim light, a climb to the second floor could be a spooky aesthetic trip from Victoriana (a carved newel post) to psychedelia (a freaky poster on an hallway wall).

Even at the newer, squat, two-and-a-half-story brick walkup apartment buildings that had begun to dot the blocks in neighborhoods around the University of Minnesota campus, anyone could walk in without a key. So getting Southeast to each household meant walking three long hallways per building and dropping a copy at every door. The sounds and especially the smells gave a hint about what was happening in the apartments beyond, whose occupants would find Southeast on the floor when they next opened the door or arrived home.

I interviewed twice for the editor job at The Bridge’s predecessor newspapers. The first (unsuccessful) time was at publisher Dan Nordley’s house in the Cooper neighborhood. At that time, his company (then called Microhorizons, after the vista from the windows of his basement office) published the Southeast Angle, Seward Profile and Alley newspapers. I remember being impressed by how many bundles of newspapers one front porch could hold.

By the second (successful) time, the operation had moved to its current home in the bank building at 26th Street and Franklin Avenue. There, another basement room held boxes of back issues — sometimes stacked in an orderly fashion, sometimes not, depending on the current regime and the last person to rifle through them.

Occasionally, someone would come to the office to review back issues in person. One was developer and former City Council Member Steve Minn, who afterwards wrote something about not “deeming” fair our coverage of new development proposals. I remember thinking we were deemed if we did and deemed if we didn’t.

Those visits slowed once the papers went online, a progressive step I resisted. The Internet, it seemed to me, was unnecessary and even antithetical to the gathering and distribution of neighborhood news. The point was to define and reinforce a geographic area, a community — not to announce around the globe when the neighborhood association would be meeting.

And what of the old ladies who didn’t have internet access, and the people who read the paper while waiting at the laundromat? They were the readers I thought of when I was editing articles for print, articles I figured would go unread by the unwired if they were only available online.

Now I work for a news website (the Minnesota Independent) that exists only online. Looking back, I’m surprised (and grateful) the print edition of The Bridge hung on as long as it did. The convenience of print for readers could be great, but the cost and inconvenience on the publishing side was great, too.

As editor, I remember showing up at a house in Seward to take a picture of a band called the Knotwells. A bandmember had arranged the photo shoot. What he hadn’t arranged was to clear the uncollected issues of the newspaper from his front step before I arrived.

— Chris Steller, Nicollet Island resident, former delivery boy and longtime editor of the Southeast Angle, Seward Profile and The Bridge.

last revised: June 18, 2009