Dickinson County News editorship changes hands
Tuesday, February 2, 2021
For the first time in more than a decade, the Dickinson County News will be under new leadership, as longtime managing editor Russ Mitchell published his final edition of the paper on Wednesday, Jan. 27. Mitchell, who served as the paper's managing editor since Jan. 4, 2010, recently accepted a position as the lead Midwest writer for Catena Media, which operates the playia.com website.
His departure was felt beyond the walls of the newspaper's office in downtown Spirit Lake.
“The loss of Russ in our newsroom goes beyond his exemplary copy editing and writing abilities. Russ has a heart for local news," publisher Paula Buenger said. "I worked with Russ for the better part of two decades, and it was tough to imagine a DCN without him at the helm.”
When faced with the challenge of filling the vacant position, Buenger did not look far. DCN staffers Seth Boyes and Matt Heinrichs will share the role moving forward.
“As we considered next steps, it became apparent we had two staffers who were eminently qualified to be the editor of a weekly newspaper," Buenger said. "Matt Heinrichs and Seth Boyes are both dedicated, highly skilled writers and photographers. They also share that extra something that makes a person qualified to be an editor. They have their fingers on the pulse of the community, and they understand how to present news in a way that makes it accessible and educational.
“How could I choose between them? I couldn’t," Buenger continued. "So, I elevated them both. I was going to have a hard time trying to hire an editor of the quality of Russ and who I admired more than Seth and Matt. So I didn’t try."
Boyes was promoted to news editor after serving as the paper's lead staff writer since March 2017. Heinrichs will remain on as sports editor, a position he has held since January 2014. The two will operate the paper under the guidance of Buenger, who served as managing editor of the Spirit Lake Beacon — one of several papers that merged to form the DCN — during the early 1990s. Buenger continues to serve as group publisher for three Northwest Iowa Publishing products — the Dickinson County News, Spencer Daily Reporter and Storm Lake Pilot-Tribune — under Rust Publications NWIA, LLC, a position she's held since 2003.
While Boyes and Heinrichs are saddened by the departure of their longtime mentor, they know that his impact on the newspaper will endure. During his tenure, Mitchell led the Dickinson County News to hundreds of statewide awards, including 11 consecutive "General Excellence" designations from the Iowa Newspaper Association.
"It's hard to think of the DCN without Russ in the editor's chair," Boyes said. "At the same time he was the type of editor who made sure his staff grew professionally, and I imagine his influence will still come through in the paper for some time. He was invested in making sure our reporting was not only accurate but also interesting, relatable and well-written. If something in an article wasn't up to his standards, he'd say so, and he'd explain what it needed. If something was done well, he'd let us know that too. That kind of attention made us better writers and provided better news for our readers. Russ felt the paper would be in good hands as he began a new chapter elsewhere, and we certainly hope to live up to that. Thankfully, we had a good teacher."
Heinrichs said he is excited for the opportunity.
"Russ had high expectations and, because of that, our readers have come to expect a quality newspaper," he said. "That task is and should be intimidating. Fortunately, Seth and I were able to spend several years working closely with, and learning from, one of the best and most talented journalists in the state. We also have the luxury of having a publisher with decades of experience in Paula and a team of talented journalists in Spencer and Storm Lake to help ease our learning curve."
Buenger said she is excited to return to her newsroom roots, while maintaining her role as publisher.
"I look forward to assisting Seth and Matt in 'air traffic control' — the behind the scenes work that Russ did so often, and so well," Buenger said. "Deciding on page configuration, helping with page one story selection, working through story ideas and determining where to shine a light from week to week. I’ll also help with copyediting and whatever else the DCN team needs.”
The DCN's editors are both Iowa natives. Boyes is from Clear Lake and Heinrichs is from Estherville.
Boyes, who graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Integrated Studio Arts in 2009, began his journalism career as a staff writer at the Spencer Daily Reporter in 2016.
Heinrichs began his career as a sports writer at his hometown paper, the Estherville Daily News, in 2009. He also served as the editor of the Lake Preston Times in Lake Preston, South Dakota, from 2011 to 2013, and as sports editor of the Le Mars Daily Sentinel from 2013 to 2014.