Kelly Hertz

One day in August 1984 a young Kelly Hertz stepped into the Press & Dakotan Sports Department, he didn’t know it then but that day was the first step in setting the course of his career in journalism.


“I applied for a part-time sports position on the recommendation of Dave Gottsleben, who had been a teacher at Menno when I was in high school,” Hertz said. “At that time Doug Card was the Sports Editor. Seven people applied and they hired all seven.”

In 1984 the sports position consisted of answering calls from coaches about area games and entering the results into a type of word processor called a Compugraphic and covering various area sporting events.

At that time the Press & Dakotan was an afternoon paper so the sports staff were the only people who worked in the evenings.

“In November of that year we moved our Saturday edition to a morning paper,” Hertz said. “It was weird because we were usually the only ones here at night but on Friday nights the place would be full of people getting the Saturday edition out. We learned a lot about doing a morning paper during that time.”

In 1984 Hod Nielsen, who had been sports editor at the Press & Dakotan before, was hired as an interim Sports Editor.

“Somehow it just ended up being Hod and I left,” Hertz said. “He asked me if I wanted to learn pagination and when I said yes he showed it to me once and then I just had to figure it out from there.”

Hertz said he was terrified of photography in those days, but he had a personal mantra he used when asked to do something new.

“Early on I always told myself, ‘Whatever they ask you to do, don’t say no,’” Hertz said.

So when he was asked if he could run a camera, he lied and said, “Sure.”

He was sent to take a photo of a football game in Freeman.

Although he was totally terrified he said, “The photo wasn’t too bad and now I really enjoy (photography).”

On July 1, 1993, the Press & Dakotan officially became a morning paper, Hertz said.

“Although it was nice to be done for the day at 1pm we were an afternoon paper, I didn’t miss getting here by 5:30 am,” he said. “I pulled a lot of all-nighters as Sports Editor.”

Hertz decided to move to the news department because he was ready for a change from sports and was named Assistant Managing Editor. Soon after he was picked for the Managing Editor position, a role he has held for the last 21 years.

“I said, ‘Yeah I’ll give it a shot’,” he said. “I told myself I’d give it at least 2 years.”

Over the past 2 decades a lot has changed in the publishing world.

“I remember in 1990 we wanted to do a color photo on the front page,” Hertz said. “We had to send it out to Topeka, Kansas to get processed and it took 9 days. We had to have the size set and we couldn’t change it. When we got the Jobo (film processor) it changed everything. We could have film processed in 90 minutes. Now it takes seconds to download a photo.”

Hertz said the Press & Dakotan entered the digital age in 1997.

“At that time we had one computer that was connected to the Internet,” he said. “We had 90 minutes per day and that was the only computer that had email. Within a year or two everyone had their own internet connection and we were amazed.”

According to Hertz, technology has impacted the newsroom in many, many ways.

“Digital photos changed everything,” he said. “You used to be at a basketball game shooting photos and you would have to make sure you got a good shot and made it back to the office in enough time to run film for 90 minutes, let it dry for 30-40 minutes, pick a photo out and scan it in the computer system.”

Although there are numerous technologies – read Compugraphic – that Hertz spent numerous hours learning and perfecting in order to just push them aside and move on to the next thing, Hertz said the progression in technology was necessary to appreciate what we have now.

“It really is amazing how quickly we can do things now,” he said. “Sometimes that’s a good thing but it also has its issues.”

As technology has pushed everything faster and the Internet has led to news being almost instantaneous, Hertz said there are pitfalls for newspapers.

“The media is more competitive but we also have to strive to make sure we are more accurate (than those who can get the story out right away),” he said. “We have to find a different angle.”

When social media first started people were excited about getting their news out or saving money on advertising in traditional media, but Hertz said he’s seeing a second wave now of people who realize that isn’t really the best way to promote anything.

“If you just put something online, it’s like putting a flyer on a tree in the middle of the forest and hoping someone happens to look at that particular tree,” he said. “And advertising on social media is just like shoveling money out of town.”

Although Hertz was initially terrified of photography he has since grown comfortable and his technique has evolved over the years. He now shoots all digital and he said he has three rules for his work.

“1 – Take something that will work (for the newspaper). 2 – Something different. 3 – Something that will win a Pulitzer Prize,” he said. “Of course I haven’t really hit that last one yet.”

Hertz says the photo of two firemen kneeling in front of a motel fire a few years ago was the best photo he’s ever taken.

“It was so cold and that was one of the first shots I took,” he said. “I stayed to take some video for online but I realized that shot was good when I had Sioux Falls media calling me all night to get it sent to them. It went global. I remember seeing it as the top photo of the week on the USA Today site. That really was accidentally the best photo I ever took.”

Hertz said there are people who ask why he takes so many photos.

“I always say, ‘Why not?’,” he said. “There is always a better shot.”

That’s the thing about news – it never ends and every day you get another shot to do your best.

“I always thought there was this great mystery of how everything works in news,” he said. “When I started (in the news department), I realized there was no mystery - or at least one I didn’t already know - You just have to show up and do your job.”