Alumni Profile – Brian Rowell Reflects On NMU, Daily Press


Andie Balenger/NW

PROFILE – Brian Rowell, NMU Alumni and former North Wind writer, discusses his time at Northern and his career in journalism. Rowell graduated from Northern in 1984 with a major in Political Science.

Harry Stine, Assistant Features Editor

Brian Rowell has been working a long time. Even before he started at The Daily Press, Escanaba’s local paper, 35 years ago, he already had his fair share of experience. But before any of that, he started at NMU as a nontraditional student, married with two kids, and looking for a way to put food on the table.

After trying out majors in psychology and business, he graduated from NMU in 1984 with a major in political science and a minor in journalism.

He gravitated to journalism for a number of reasons. Rowell credited being a teenager during the Watergate scandal with giving him a view of journalism as an honorable profession. Even on the scale of small-town news, he gave nothing short of praise, describing the position as being a “history keeper” who gathered and shared the details of the community around him.

Rowell also credits his journalism professor Gerry Waite as a big inspiration. Waite, who was also the advisor to The North Wind at the time, was more than thorough.

Rowell singled out Waite’s focus on the practical side of journalism. He had his class spend a month learning about headlines, including the mathematical formula for headline size, back in the pre-internet days, and even had students cover municipal meetings.

The work Waite gave paid off, and Rowell said his class was so extensive, that a student could graduate and immediately work in news.

But among the things Waite did not prepare him for, Rowell listed stamina and long hours, specifically sitting through long meetings. His first job in news was running a paper out of Crystal Falls, where he had a lot more on his plate than he realized, including handling meetings, keeping an eye on photos, editing and even taking care of pay stubs.

Rowell did not shy away from the dark side of journalism either. He stated that he has “a thick outer layer”, but also discussed witnessing very upsetting images, including murder, accidental death and matricide. He credited his ability to deal with these events to a mixture of talking to someone if he needed to, having a supportive wife and dark humor, something he commented many journalists wind up having a taste for, even saying that without it you would “go crazy”.

However, he did not leave the feeling of journalism being a dark and depressing field. Echoing his early memory of Watergate, he reflected on journalism as a watchdog for the public, citing The Daily Press catching Bay College’s president pretending to be someone else online to raise public support for the college.

Continuing the theme of community outreach, Rowell regularly helps out with Escanaba’s Delta Force Leadership Program, helping show participants the stress and oftentimes demanding work journalists face.

“Usually, I try to make it funny as hell,” Rowell said, before discussing the topics he makes the participants write about, including a fictional Bigfoot capture. He also had a few words for future journalists.

“Do not be dissuaded,” Rowell said, “You are going into a profession that is wonderful and rewarding.”

He further cited the uniqueness of the job and the fact that “you never have the same day twice”.

While he conceded that the details of the job may change, he added that journalists might not even work with print one day.

“Newspapers may evolve into the best of everything combined,” Rowell said.