TRAVERSE CITY — Birth and death; between them, everyone gets their name in the newspaper “at least twice,” joked Loraine Anderson.
Unless your name happens to be “Loraine Anderson.” Then your name gets in the paper 12,775 times – once a day, more or less, for the past 35 years.
The Record-Eagle newsroom was a din of clacking typewriters when Anderson walked in and hung up her coat in 1978. Anderson, 29, was no wide-eyed cub. She arrived with a few weeklies under her belt, plus a short stint at the Benton Harbor Herald Palladium.
A once-butchered byline gave “Mildred Henderson” a taste for accuracy. Trips to Europe and beyond fostered a yen for big picture perspectives. Sincere connections — often made looking over her eyeglasses — nurtured a compassionate and contemplative approach to her fellow humans.
Minus her hairstyle and job title, the woman who walked through the door is “pretty much the same” as the woman walked out of it Friday after 35 years, Anderson said.
“I wanted to present things in a way where they can be discussed, not argued,” Anderson said. “The newspaper should be a friend to the community, but the kind of friend who tells you the truth. The kind of friend who tells you when you’re walking down the wrong path, the kind who is there in times of heartache.”
Anderson assumed she’d only be in Traverse City for one year. Her migration from her hometown of Mayville in Michigan’s thumb to the state’s pinkie was done with a westward eye on Chicago – and a job at a big daily.
But something happened on her way to the big time, some time in between working her police beat, volunteering as a stagehand at the Old Town Playhouse and learning her way around Traverse City’s water and woods.
“I realized that I would rather live here, in a place like this, rather than to keep trying to come back here all the time,” Anderson said. “I can visit the city.”
Nature figures prominent in Anderson connection to Traverse City as her own “curious nature” figures into her hallmark reporting.
“I love research. I love learning new things,” Anderson said.
Her favorite projects include an eight-day series “Faces of Poverty” — a 1990 report that knit together and galvanized the community. The series won a Robert F. Kennedy Award for Distinguished Journalism. Another highlight was Anderson’s 1991 Grand Traverse Bay Watershed series, an exhaustive project that spotlighted the relationship of people to water, and the wellspring of community, industry and nature that connect them.
“I think it helped people understand that water doesn’t stop at a boundary,” Anderson said.
But Anderson’s unflinching approach didn’t end with “observe and report.” Turning that gaze inward in tough and vulnerable moments is part of the job, she said, even though it’s a potentially unpopular one.
Coming out as a lesbian in the early 1990s was one of those things she had to do – even though she was certain censure would follow.
“At a newspaper, we put so much into being truthful, and I didn’t feel I was being that,” Anderson said. “I was scared. I was worried. I didn’t think I could stand what I thought would be condemnation.”
The result was anything but as a flood of support burst forth from a community grateful for her bravery.
“I still have the letters,” Anderson said. “It was a pivotal moment and a life-changing experience for me. I finally felt free.”
Readers also joined Anderson as she channeled her inner “Xena Warrior Princess” to do battle with breast cancer in 1998.
Not everyone was happy with Anderson all of the time. A public official once screamed at her for asking tough questions and filing Freedom of Information Act requests. But “he didn’t stay angry for very long” and truthfully, Anderson has a hard time remembering those moments, she said.
Friendship forged in good journalism occupies the prime real estate of her memory, she said.
“For 156 years, our paper has played an important role in this community and that’s because people are dedicated and they do the work. That’s always going to be what is takes,” Anderson said. “Papers our size – real community papers – have a close connection to their readers. It’s a forum, a place to gain perspective, to see the big picture. And everyone gets to be in it at least twice.”
Maybe a few more times if your name is “Loraine Anderson.”