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Journalism: Writing characterized by a direct presentation of facts or description of events without an attempt at interpretation. Merriam Webster Dictionary


In the newspaper world, editors look for reporters and writers.

Reporters can spot a news story from across town, and dig out the important details before press time. The best ones ask questions no one else thinks of asking, and get printable answers and not a “no comment.”

Writers, on the other hand, can produce prose like F. Scott Fitzgerald, or Hemingway if you prefer, pulling readers into some stories they otherwise would have little interest in reading. As with your junior-high crush, you are involved in the story before you really know what happened.

Which brings me to Bob Mercer, one of the best journalists I’ve seen in all my years of newspapering.

Bob digs for information when others have decided it was time to go home. The clock meant nothing to Bob when he was after a story he believed was important to his readers.  Years ago, when the Board of Regents was quietly planning adding a new university to the state system, Bob dug out the facts. More recently, if you wanted reliable updates on the EB-5 program or the Mid-Central Educational Co-op scandal, you turned to Mercer in your daily newspaper.

And Bob could write, as well as report. In 2002, Bob approached me and the publisher of the Watertown Public Opinion, Mark Roby, about starting a one-person news bureau. He wondered if The Daily Republic, the P.O., and some other dailies would be interested in hiring him. I loved the idea.

Today, the number of exceptional reporters has dwindled. Terry Woster, who was tops as a reporter for the AP and Argus Leader all of those years, is retired, except for his column. Readers could depend on Terry to get it right, with no political overtones. His younger brother, Kevin, who crafted stories like Wordsworth composed poetry, also is lost to newspapers. I do not see as many newspapers as I once did, but Seth Tupper, of the Rapid City Journal, is carrying on a proud but fading tradition of excellent reporting and writing.

You have not seen Bob Mercer’s stories for awhile. He is, as they say, severely under the weather. He will not cover this session of the Legislature, and that is a major loss for South Dakotans who try to stay informed.

Bob, we need you to get well and get back to what you do best: reporting and writing the news.

Jan. 18, 2017