Bemidji Pioneer veteran journalist Brad Swenson retires

Brad Swenson, who started working in the Pioneer's editorial department in May 1980, has retired because of medical issues, which began in March. Swenson has served the Pioneer as a reporter, managing editor, political editor and editorial writer...

Brad Swenson, right, listens as Beltrami County Commission candidate Jack Frost answers a question at a 2010 forum in Bemidji. Swenson has moderated many political forums during his career at the Bemidji Pioneer. (Pioneer File Photo)

Brad Swenson, who started working in the Pioneer's editorial department in May 1980, has retired because of medical issues, which began in March.

Swenson has served the Pioneer as a reporter, managing editor, political editor and editorial writer. He has earned many awards for his work, including three Premack Public Affairs Journalism Awards; the Minnesota Newspaper Association Herman Roe Editorial Writing Award and the Ag Communicator of the Year Award from the Minnesota Farm Bureau.

"We have missed Brad in the newsroom over the past four months, and we will continue to miss his contributions to the Pioneer," said Pioneer Publisher Dennis Doeden. "He is so connected and knowledgeable. We have been fortunate to have him on our staff."

Some of the many elected officials Swenson worked with also said they miss him.

"Realistically, for political coverage, Brad was kind of a rock star," said State Sen. John Carlson, R-Bemidji. "Brad was a celebrity. I don't think there's a politician in the state of Minnesota who doesn't know Brad personally. Everybody respected Brad."


State Rep. John Persell, DFL-Bemidji, agreed.

"We're all losing a good advocate for public knowledge," Persell said. "I always appreciated his direct approach to the issues. He certainly knows how to ask the tough questions. He held the folks he talked to accountable."

In addition to state and federal government issues, Swenson also covered the Beltrami County Board of Commissioners and county business.

"I've known Brad for a goodly period of years going back to when I was at the (Northwestern Minnesota) Juvenile Center," said County Board Chairman Joe Vene. "He certainly has been a distinct asset to our community. He seemed to be well thought of and well trusted."

Swenson said he began his journalism career early when he was in the ninth grade. When he started high school in his hometown of Duluth, he had a choice of English, which included reading Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar," or press English, which included publishing a monthly 16-page tabloid. By his senior year, he had been promoted to editor.

When he entered the University of Minnesota-Duluth, he worked for the Statesman, the university's newspaper, as a sports reporter, traveling with teams and sending in stories from the road.

"Also, I had an internship with the Duluth News Tribune," Swenson said. "On heavy sports nights, I took calls."

He published his first professional story in the News Tribune, a preview of the Duluth East-Duluth Central basketball game.


After college, he found a job on the Forest City Summit in northern Iowa. That newspaper took a downturn, and Swenson, as the least senior and the "Minnesota guy," was laid off. He moved back to Duluth and worked on the 1980 census before finding a job at the Pioneer.

Swenson said the relationship he has developed covering political issues have been rewarding. He has worked with governors from Al Quie through Rudy Perpich, Arne Carlson, Tim Pawlenty and Mark Dayton.

"It was important to me to develop all these relationships over the years," Swenson said.

He said the only governor he wasn't on personal terms with was Jesse Ventura.

"I really didn't have a relationship with him," Swenson said.

Senators and members of Congress on the federal level also contacted Swenson frequently, and he said he enjoyed working with local officials as well.

"I just enjoy doing that - I enjoy covering government," Swenson said. "I just enjoy going to the rallies and conventions. I take everything I cover seriously."

Another elected official Swenson had a unique relationship with was the late Red Lake Nation Chairman Roger Jourdain.


"There were times when he banned reporters from the reservation," Swenson said, but he always had access. "He thought I was fair."

Jourdain started as a postmaster in Ponemah and worked his way up to become the first Red Lake tribal chairman.

"That was a good time to be covering Indian politics," Swenson said. "The history of it intrigued me."

The Farm Bureau coverage also was an opportunity for Swenson to learn about a different culture, Swenson said. As a person who grew up in a city with no contact with agriculture, he said, "They kind of opened my eyes to farming."

In retirement, Swenson said he hopes to be able to write a column for the Pioneer as a correspondent.

To contact him, send an email to .

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