BISMARCK - Nearly 40 years ago, a young journalist just out of Stanford University traveled to the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North and South Dakota and started a newspaper. That reporter, Bill Grueskin, would run the Dakota Sun for two years, the first step in a news career that would lead him to The Miami Herald, The Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg News.
That was in 1977. Last year, his daughter, Caroline, landed her first newspaper job at The Bismarck Tribune, where she quickly found herself in the middle of covering the protests over a proposed pipeline at Standing Rock, literally retracing many of her father's early journalistic steps.
Bill Grueskin, a professor of professional practice at Columbia Journalism School of Columbia University in New York, and Caroline, whose mother, Rosalind Resnick, is also a former Miami Herald journalist, sat down recently with Kyle Pope, the editor and publisher of Columbia Journalism Review, to talk about the synchronicity of their careers.
Columbia Journalism Review: Bill, what brought you to North Dakota?
Bill Grueskin: I graduated from Stanford with a degree in classics. And I had done a few journalism jobs or internships, one in Palo Alto, one in Italy at an English-language paper, and I'd always found each newsroom had these old guys who would sit around and say, "One day, I'm gonna leave this place and go work on a little paper of my own." And I thought, "OK, I'm gonna get that out of my system early."
So I called VISTA - the domestic version of the Peace Corps - and said, "Do you ever need someone to start a newspaper or run one?" And they said, "That never happens." Then, a couple weeks later, I got a call from the head of VISTA in Denver, who said there's an Indian reservation that wants somebody to start a newspaper. He said, "Standing Rock." A couple of months later, I got in my Jeep and drove to Standing Rock.
CJR: And the paper was called the Sun?
BG: Yeah, the Dakota Sun. It was eight to 12 tabloid pages and came out every Thursday afternoon. At the beginning, we raised money by selling hot dogs at a pow wow at the end of August. I drove up to Bismarck and bought 1,200 hot dogs, thinking we'd sell them for a dollar each. It was a three-day pow wow and, by the second day, we had sold about 80 hot dogs. So, I was looking at about 1,100 hot dogs in my freezer. What I didn't realize is by the third day, most people are starting to run out of money, and we sold the other 1,100 hot dogs at cut rate. We ended up making $800 or $900 and that was enough to get us started.
CJR: When you look back, other than it being a great experience, are you proud of the work? Was it good journalism?
BG: Yeah, I thought it was. I remember there was a livestock program where the government gave a bunch of cattle to local Indians to get them started as ranchers, but they didn't give them the proper infrastructure, and the cattle died during a blizzard. I still have those pictures of dozens of frozen cattle corpses with their hooves up in the air. It was an interesting story because it got at a well-intentioned government program going nowhere, leading to a lot of disappointment among both the tribe and the government.
CJR: Did you have a mental image of what North Dakota must have been like?
Caroline Grueskin: I just think it had this drab color and a lot of snow. I guess being kind of cold and bitter was the picture I had in my mind. I didn't have a clear sense of what life was like for my dad out here.
CJR: You grew up around New York City?
CG: Some combination of Brooklyn, Manhattan, Westchester, New Jersey. Definitely a city girl. I went to a city prep school, ran around with friends in Manhattan. Pretty different from North Dakota.
CJR: So you graduated from Stanford with a degree in philosophy in 2014. Then what did you do?
CG: I was interested in working on criminal justice reform. And that was how I ended up at The Marshall Project, a nonprofit news site that covers criminal justice. They hired me to be on the business side of the organization. While I was there, I thought that what everyone else was doing seemed way more fun. I wanted to be doing what they were doing.
CJR: So then how did you go from there to North Dakota?
CG: My co-workers let me, on the side, do some reporting, develop a few clips so I could try to find a daily newspaper job. After several months, I decided I should start applying for jobs and found myself out here in North Dakota.
CJR: How did you find this job in Bismarck?
CG: Journalismjobs.com. Literally, I was just scrolling through. I preferred a cops job or a courts job. I saw this one, and North Dakota probably resonated more than some other states I'd never visited.
CJR: So, Bill, what was your reaction when you heard that this job had surfaced?
BG: I remember when she was working at The Marshall Project and she and I had lunch one day, and I could tell it was one of those lunches where you can tell there's something on your kid's mind, but they won't quite come out with it. Then finally it's like,"'Dad, there's something I have to tell you." I was like, "Uh oh." And it was, "I want to be a newspaper reporter."
CJR: Caroline, why were you nervous about disclosing this?
CG: I think it's a little embarrassing to tell your parents that, actually, you want to do exactly what they do. I felt kind of vulnerable in telling him that.
I was worried he'd think it was a stupid idea. I didn't have the experience that most reporters do. I didn't work at the college paper. I didn't have newsroom internships. This was going to be, in some ways, kind of a fight for me to get that job.
CJR: Now you're in a very traditional, local reporting job. Is it what you thought it would be?
CG: It's really, in terms of local reporting, exactly what I wanted. I start the day at the police station. I cover a lot of local crime. Even just today I was covering a house explosion and visiting with neighbors. I love knowing that I'm very close to the people I write for.
CJR: Have you had your equivalent of the woman-punching-you-in-the-back story?
CG: Oh, God. I have the internet equivalent. People take the punch in the back on Facebook, writing about me when they think that I have not been sensitive enough. Or, they think that I've been biased.
BG: I see the way Caroline gets trolled online. Part of it is because the Standing Rock protests are so divisive. You're either on one side or you're on the other.
The Bismarck Tribune is very much a straight-up, objective newspaper that's trying to tell the story from both sides - and that's not what a lot of people want to hear. I've seen Caroline personally targeted on a lot of social media.
CJR: Is the fact that you know your father's reading so carefully in the back of your mind when you're sitting down and typing?
CG: It is a little bit of a safety net knowing that my dad is going to read it. It's really flattering, but it also it's just nice to know that someone's going to follow you along so closely. Covering the Standing Rock protest has been one of the most challenging things I've ever done, especially trying to balance the perspectives of people. If I don't get both sides of the story, I'll come in the next day to four angry voicemails and 12 furious emails. It's just been nice to know that he's reading and that he supports me and the efforts that I've been making.