Next stop, Capitol Hill
Mathias Baden edits the Woodbury Bulletin and has worked as a columnist, reporter and editor for six newspapers.
By CONRAD ENGSTROM | Sports Reporter
Mathias Baden has gone out of his way to make a career in journalism work for him. In his 16 years of writing and editing for six newspapers, Baden knows what it is like to hit the big success stories and make the editing mistakes that make all editors cringe. Currently, the editor-in-chief of the Woodbury Bulletin — a weekly suburban newspaper in the Twin Cities — Baden uses his experiences from the past to make sure he puts a face on stories. His dream job would be to cover the legislature at the state Capitol.
What has been your path to the job you have now?
“After graduating from University of Northwestern in St. Paul (Northwestern College at the time) I started out just cold-calling the papers I thought were good in Minnesota. I came across the South Washington County Bulletin and they said that they could have me write, but not pay me. I did not care. I just wanted to get my name in the newspaper. Soon I started an internship there that would pay me half of what I made as a lifeguard at the Maplewood Community Center.
“From there I moved to the Prior Lake American and Savage Pacer, writing for both of the local papers there. My editor would give me very vague stories ideas so I had to do my best to make sure that I was getting the best of the story I was writing. I also had an entertainment column I would write, which was fun. However, because I had a lot of bad stories ideas with these papers I was looking to leave and start doing more hard news, which is what I wanted to do anyway. So I talked to my editor about it and I would get in contact with editors and writers from bigger city papers and just talking and meeting with them about how to get into business writing and writing the about the stuff that happens in the Capitol.
“I finally got on the South Washington County Bulletin full-time, covering news that happened in cities like Cottage Grove, Newport and others. After writing there, I went down to Mankato to write for the Mankato Free Press. However, I like writing in the city more than writing away from the big city. I did not want to become an editor but it pays more and I wanted to get married and move back closer to home so I took the job as the editor-in-chief at the Jordan Independent. I was there for 10 years until getting the job at the Woodbury Bulletin a few years ago.”
What’s the average day or week like for you since you run a weekly publication?
“Well, I have a one-mile commute to my office, where there are three reporters including myself. There I usually make myself a hot chocolate and look at the four different websites that I look at every day. I look at the police clips website so I can know what’s been happening in the area and be up to date on police reports. I check the Woodbury public safety website, which is not updated much but I check it just in case anything new pops up. I check the Minn. state portal site because any stops that happen on 94 or 694 we report on. I also check the daily booking report because there has been a lot of prostitution lately so it keeps me up to date on all the shady things happening in Woodbury. If something comes up that is story worthy I will usually call the county attorney official office and say if a report comes out after an arrest let me know and give me the information. It’s how I try to get an upper hand on the bigger news outlets because they won’t spend their time sorting through the reports.
“I usually have appointments Wednesday, Thursday and Friday for interviews I am doing on a story or tours I need to do for a story. Like I recently toured a school and I interviewed a lady who survived Pearl Harbor. I also have been interviewed for the 50-year anniversary of Woodbury coming up. So Wednesday, Thursday and Friday is when I gather information. Friday is deadline day. Then Monday and Tuesday we put the paper together and it should get out no later than Wednesday.”
“[Judy Spooner] really pushed me to make sure I put a face on the story I am writing so people would care. It’s something that has really helped my career.”
Who was a big mentor for you when you were starting?
“Judy Spooner was a columnist for the South Washington County Bulletin and the Woodbury Bulletin and she played a big role in who I became as a reporter and a writer. Her husband Gary was actually one of the people who started and founded the Woodbury Bulletin. Sadly, though, she passed away last year. I remember one time she came up to me excited, asking if I wanted to help cover a fire. So I tagged along not knowing that this was going on and it ended up being a big tire fire in a junkyard. It was all blocked off by police, so it was hard to capture the story. Of course, Judy knew the back roads to get to an entrance that she thought no one would block. Unfortunately, the police blocked that off as well. After pleading with the officers, they still would not let us in to get a good picture for the story. Finally, we parked over at neighbor’s house and walked through their backyard and there was a small hole in the fence that we were able to squeeze through to get in the junkyard. From there we climbed on top of a pickup truck and got an excellent picture to run about a tire fire.
“It’s that type of perseverance that really inspires me to do journalism. She really pushed me to make sure I put a face on the story I am writing so people would care. It’s something that has really helped my career.”
What is the best and worst part about your job as an editor?
“The best part of my job is meeting people and talking to them about their passions and telling their stories. Breaking a story is always the best part of my job. It has always been a goal of mine to break a big time story because there is nothing like the rush you get when you break something you know no one else has.
“There are a lot of things that suck about the job, too. Journalism is not an easy business to run and can be hard to organize. One of the big time suckers that I do now is a lot of social media and video work. I don’t really like doing videos for stories because they don’t seem to get a lot of hits. When a video on a story only gets 100 hits, I think to myself that I can write a paragraph about a small local story and get 100 hits doing less work. It’s that kind of stuff that does not make sense to me. Also, another bad part of the job can be reading the police reports because they can contain some nasty stuff.”
What is your best success story?
“My best success in journalism led to me getting the editor job at the Jordan Independent. When I was working at Mankato, I was able to take a trip with the governor, who was Tim Pawlenty at the time, and go to Kosovo during the war. I was working nonstop. I slept probably three hours a day that week and getting all kinds of great stories. I was able to get a story on the National Guard and why we were deploying them over here. The governor was not very happy when I asked him about that. I was also able to find a cool story about the Mankato people who were checking out weapons at Kosovo and about their relationships with their family and friends. I was able to interview their wives when I got back to the states and I got cool photos and it made for a nice story.”
“It was still a bad mistake but I felt better after he forgave me.”
Okay, you know this is coming: worst nightmare story?
“Over the past summer, I made a huge editing mistake. The son of the former principal of Woodbury High School died of a murder-suicide. I took the story off the Pioneer Press because we can do that with a partnership we have with them and just had the story in my back pocket in case we needed. It turned out it made the cut. However, in the headline and the lede, I put that the principal died, not his son, and the paper ran it. It was probably 15 minutes until deadline. I was typing fast and did not catch what I had done, so we ran with it.
“The PR person at the school got really upset with me. The mistake was horrible. I felt terrible. I had made mistakes before but never this big of one. I decided I needed to be accountable and so I called the principal and apologized about the story I did. He asked if he could stop by the office and talk to me. About 20 minutes later, I showed him what I did and he just looked at me and said we all make mistakes. He gave me hug and forgave me and walked out. It was still a bad mistake, but I felt better after he forgave me.”
Baden has worked hard and it has gotten him places. He may not like being an editor now, but he still finds time to make a difference on the local level and write stories that matter to his readers. I love all the stories he tells that give insight about going above and beyond, like he did with Judy Spooner at the junkyard to get the perfect picture the tire fire.
He has not quite gotten to do his dream job, but he is still doing journalism. That gives me the inspiration to stick with it whether I get into sports right away or not. He showed me to go out of my comfort zone to get what I want. That if you want to call some of the big editors at the city papers and meet with them to talk about journalism, do it. They just might say yes.
This interview has been condensed and edited.