Caretaker’s note: Nobody actually works here any more, but I come ’round every couple of months to make sure the kids haven’t broken in to use the place for their parties. Take a look around if you want, just don’t touch nothing. There used to be giants that walked these halls…
Editor’s note: Save your rapier wit; we know Ellen is female…delightfully so. Go rent Butch Cassidy… and get a life.
My first job that didn’t require sunscreen was in politics. I loved the experience so much that I spent most of the next decade working in the field, mostly for Tom Eagleton, but also on a fair number of political campaigns. When Eagleton retired in 1987, I went to work for another politician and within days hated it. I eventually realized that what I had liked about politics was working with Eagleton and the amazing group of people he gathered around him. I quit my job and spent a summer playing with computers just enough to get hired by a software company as project manager. I worked in software for a couple years, had a great time with great people, and then jumped into the airline business, spending 10 years as the head communications guy for Northwest Airlines. I went from there to a big PR firm, Fleishman Hillard and after five years there, decided to try this on my own. I’m as surprised as anyone to find myself here.
Most of what I’ve done for work or play involves reading and writing, thinking and talking — stuff you can do sitting down. Now, as an executive communications coach, I get paid to help people think and speak more clearly, concisely and from the heart. I also teach journalism in college and write, most recently a Civil War novel, Cross Over The River. I honed my skepticism as a daily newspaper reporter for 10 years (Minneapolis Star Tribune most recently), then spent a dozen years with Shandwick, a global PR firm, where I was given the cool title of chief learning officer. I have degrees from a tiny school and a huge one – New College in Florida and the University of Minnesota – but most of my education comes from traveling, reading, and talking with friends over rum. I’m a desperate pessimist who wants government, business and society to work for everyone, and I feel that writing is a holy, fragile and powerful force.
My entry to the media world came through broadcasting football and basketball games on my college radio station at Dartmouth. I caught hell from fellow students because on the air I wasn’t rooting for the home team. I told them that rooting was their job; mine was reporting what I saw, so that they could see it.
So I must have intuited what journalism was supposed to be. After two years as an infantry platoon commander in the peacetime Marine Corps I went to the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, and that led to my first real job, as a rookie reporter for the Minneapolis Star. Three joyful years of learning and teamwork before a Columbia classmate told me about a job at the public TV station in Manhattan. I got the job and spent the next 30 years in writing, producing and hosting programs in New York, Los Angeles and The Twin Cities. My work on the coasts earned five Emmy Awards after I escaped the superficiality of local newscasts for the world of substantive magazine series and documentaries.
For many years I have taught journalism at various colleges: Columbia, Yale, Minnesota, St. Thomas, Macalester, Cornell of Iowa and, each fall for most of the past 20 years, at Colorado College. I’ll be teaching a communications course at St. Thomas in the 2014 winter semester.
Nowadays I coach writing; most managers I know they say that no matter how bright their subordinates may be, they need to learn to write clear, concise and compelling copy. I also perform a one-man memoir-and-humor show I have written, called “You Don’t Have To Be Jewish . . .But It Couldn’t Hurt!” Having grown up with a father who had been a carny and a mother whose family was filled with showbiz folk, and having worked with (and sometimes against) scads of zanies in all those years in television — how could I not have great stories to tell?
I play guitar and love semicolons. I read Rolling Stone to argue with the “National Affairs” section and watch Bill O’Reilly to remind myself how not to argue. I’m roughly 1/6 the age of my colleagues here and roughly 1/6 as smart. But I write well and they fell for it.
As a student, I served on the national leadership committee of the Public Relations Student Society of America. I was the editor of the association’s newspaper while also serving as the opinion section editor for the University of St. Thomas’ Aquin newspaper. For about five years, I worked at a small PR and social media consulting firm called Provident Partners. Now I work at a kick-ass consumer marketing agency called Fast Horse. Before all that, I grew up in and managed a hardware store, built Web sites, worked in tech support, and played a lot of baseball. I still do all of these things with varying levels of professionalism.
I wear shoes as little as possible.
Brian Lambert has been haunting Twin Cities publications and air waves since dinosaurs roamed the earth. The former media columnist for the Pioneer Press, former movie critic for KSTP-TV, former writer and blogger for The Rake (R.I.P.) and other publications, former rural Minnesota milk truck driver, former Senate advisor, former garden seed salesman and current talk radio host (FM 107.1) has a nearly unslakable thirst for the sound of his own voice. We can only pity his long-suffering wife and two adult sons.
Ellen Mrja is the senior member of the mass media department at Minnesota State University, Mankato. A former chair of the department who relinquished that power, she says she has mostly loved her humble mission during the past 32 years of hoeing rows and rows of fresh, young potatoes. Her areas of expertise include First Amendment law, online digital writing, and public relations. She is advisor to the MSU chapter of SPJ and the MSU Reporter. A frequent speaker to non-profit and corporate groups, she’s most proud of a lecture on section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act at Oxford University, Oxford, England. Her finest achievement, however, was in recommending Bruce Benidt be hired as a fulltime faculty member once-upon-a-time at Minnesota State University.
I was born in a trailer park on South Lyndale Avenue a long time ago, but grew up in Florida, then lived all over before finally marrying a girl from St. Paul without reading the fine print about how that makes you a Minnesotan forever. So here I am. What can I say about myself? I was in the Navy. I am an excellent fly fisherman. I can almost certainly swim faster than you, and I own a bicycle that cost ten times as much as my first car. I am a writer. I went to journalism school and know how to ask questions and still think of reporting as a high calling. My career has been an unconventional one. I’ve worked in the alternative press (with the esteemed Brian Lambert, among others) and in the dreaded mainstream media. I wrote about film for six years and a few people around here still remember me for that. I was a features stringer for the Washington Post for more than a decade. I’ve interviewed politicians, CEOs, movie stars, athletes, casino executives, other writers, musicians, scientists, and one Playmate of the Month. I have a keen interest in, and am surprisingly knowledgeable about, molecular biology. I’m the author of two books, “A Plague of Frogs” and “Under a Wild Sky.” I am currently at work on a new book, this one about Rachel Carson, who, if you’re under forty, you will probably have to Google. My wife and I have four children, two in college and two in high school. We live in a remote corner of a remote neighborhood not too far from White Bear Lake, in an area where hay is still cut across the street from us and it gets truly dark at night and sometimes, when the wind is from the west, I can hear cattle mooing. From my home office window I can see five barns and, on a clear day, downtown Minneapolis. It’s all good, actually.