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Spotlight >> The Powers Behind the Throne: Jenelle Stadstad/Grand Forks Herald

“It would be difficult to imagine getting everything done without her.”

Spotlight feature photo
Janelle Stadstad, Grand Forks Herald
Photo by LOANN STADSTAD/Grand Forks Herald

Jenelle Stadstad is probably the only administrative assistant in Knight Ridder who gets calls asking her boss to help identify wild birds.

And Grand Forks Herald Publisher Mike Jacobs, who writes a birdwatching column for the Sunday paper, is happy to help.

“Sometimes they don’t even realize he’s the publisher,” Stadstad said. “They just know he’s some guy who works here who knows about birds.”

At a smaller newspaper, a publisher’s assistant deals with all kinds of people every day. “It’s not unusual to talk to the governor or senator almost daily,” Stadstad noted. “And it’s not unusual for a reader to call and say they didn’t get their newspaper.”

What is unusual is that Jacobs has the phones set up to ring in his office first. Only if he is unavailable does the call bounce back to his assistant.

“It would be difficult to imagine getting everything done without her,” Jacobs said. “Particularly in my case, since I have the editor’s role as well. One of her most important jobs is reminding me of what I’m supposed to be doing. She’s a gentle nag, and that’s very important.”

Stadstad has worked for Jacobs for nearly 10 years. She started at the newspaper 19 years ago as a senior in high school, working on the newsroom switchboard at night. Her first year as an administrative assistant was a baptism by fire – and water: The Red River flood and subsequent downtown fire in 1997 destroyed the newspaper building.

Stadstad played a critical role for the newspaper in the flood’s aftermath, Jacobs said. “She was the person who directed us to our sanctuary at the Manvel school.”

Stadstad contacted her former principal to ask him if he would be willing to let the newspaper take over some of the classrooms in the town about 10 miles north of Grand Forks. “I told him there would only be about 10 of us,” she said. “At the end of the week there were about 100 people there.”

Like other Knight Ridder veterans of natural disasters, Stadstad said the catastrophe showed her how much a community depends upon its newspaper. “We couldn’t deliver the newspaper to people’s homes, so we went to places like gas stations and stores and handed them out,’ she recalled. “We would run out of papers and the next person in line would just start sobbing because they hadn’t gotten one.”

These days, the atmosphere is back to normal, and Stadstad has to deal with her share of cranky callers. “People around here are pretty conservative and get bent out of shape pretty easily, especially about things on the editorial pages,” she said. Several years back she even had to cooperate with the FBI because a caller kept leaving death threats for President Clinton.

The upside to her job, besides dealing with prominent state and local figures? “I know more about birds than when I started here,” she said with a laugh.

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