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Rob Passons

Rob Passons

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Published by Jon Collins

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Published by: Jon Collins on Jun 25, 2011
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Rob Passons: Reporter for the Mille Lacs Messenger This interview was conducted on the first day

of the Minnesota Newspaper Association's annual conference on Jan. 27, 2011. Jon Collins: Thank you very much for talking to met, why don’t we start out at the beginning, tell me who you are and what you do and how you got there. Rob Passons: My name is Rob Passons, I work for the Mille Lac Messenger. I’ve been there for just over four years. I stumbled into the job, I do not have a journalism degree, I don’t have a degree. I was an English Lit major at Cal State Bakersfield, dropped out my junior year worked construction, worked restaurants, worked everything. I was pouring concrete in Montana when Brett Larson, my boss called me and said why don’t you come back to Minnesota and housesit for a year. I didn’t have a job, but I’d been trying to get back to MN for like 25 years. I joined the army when I was 19, and had no intentions of coming back. And then I couldn’t wait to get back, I just couldn’t figure out how. I came back, applied for a job at the Messenger, kind of thought I’d get a job delivering papers because I had nothing to go on. Mike Kallok was the editor then, he said, why don’t you go write me a 3,000 word feature on anything you ant, so I said alright. So I turned in a 4,500-word sweeping epic of my time in White Bear Lake and Stillwater area when I was a kid, and I don’t even think he read it, but he sent me out to do a couple features. He said go write me two features on local personalities, so I didn’t know what a feature was actually, I had to look it u, but I read some of his stuff, I saw how he did it, so I went out and wrote a couple features and he hired me.   The beauty of the newspaper industry, it’s not about your education really, it’s about, can you produce, can you write? Collins: When was that? Passons: It was November 2006. Collins: Before that, had you ever thought of trying journalism? Passons: Not journalism, writing. I’d written screenplays, I spent a year in LA trying to get into Burbank studios, writing cartoons and scripts and whatever I could, that was impossible, that went nowhere. I always planned on being a writer, but for some reason I never made a connection to journalism, probably thinking I got a degree. But I stayed.

The truth is that it’s a lot easier to fill sandbags than it is to write, and that’s what I did for 25 years, I was in the army, I was on the pipeline, I worked restaurants everywhere, I did everything, all kinds of construction, but I never got published except for a letter to the editor now and then. Collins: What do you like about this job [as opposed to the others]? Passons: One, I’m not punching a clock. I was working at a car dealership detailing cars in Colorado Springs and my boss wanted me to move up to parts, he wanted me to be a parts salesman. He said, you know you put four or five years of this, probably make 60 grand and I said, I don’t want to punch a clock for the next five or six years, I don’t want to move up in the car industry, I want to go golfing whenever I want. This job, it’s loose, you work nights and weekends, but if you want to take a couple hours off, go for it, as long as you’re responsible. That’s part of what I like about it is just the freedom. I hate about it, is the paycheck, you’re not getting rich doing this. And I like that people appreciate me, that I’m actually pretty good at what I do, instead of not good at what I do, which was generally what the situation was with every other job I had. Generally, I get good feedback. I get positive reinforcement, people appreciate me. I’m a columnist, I’m a feature writer I’m not big on hard news. I write a lot of quirky stuff and they appreciate it. It’s great that I found this paper because they’re open to that, Mille Lacs Messenger is willing to break the rules sometimes, a little gonzo journalism, they like it. I’m surprised, I wrote a feature this last year that we actually turned in for an award. I went out to do a piece on a family farm, and half of it was about a duck. But it was entertaining, Brett loved, and I thought, he’s never going to run this, he’s going to rewrite it, but he’s like ‘This is great.’ Journalism is changing and I learned it here [at the Minnesota Newspaper Association] in part, that it’s OK to entertain and that’s what I like doing. Collins: It’s almost like old-style reporters, and the fact that they used to work their way up from paperboy, to maybe writing once in a while. Your trajectory at least seems kind of similar. You come with more than college experience. Passons: Yeah, I went to college and I knew how to write but I didn’t know anything about journalism. But the beauty of working for a small town newspaper is that I had to write my first column a month after I got the job. At a big [place] I might work five years before I got a chance at a column. And I got to write about anything I wanted.

Collins: That’s a lot of freedom. You guys do a lot of coverage of tourism and the outdoors? Passons: Sure, I’ve been writing the fishing report for four years, I’m kind of their outdoor writer, I’m a utility infielder, but you know. The outdoor sports section has become more and more mine, that’s great. That’s fun.

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