Editor ending nearly 30-year career with the News

Long-time Minot Daily News editor Bryan Obenchain has announced he will be leaving the newspaper July 11.

As much as he has enjoyed the newspaper business for nearly 30 years, Obenchain said, it is time to move on personally and professionally, although that won’t mean leaving Minot.

“Certainly Minot is going to continue to be my home,” he said.

Obenchain’s fellow Sertoma member Neil Scharpe at Minot State University said that while disappointing to hear that Obenchain no longer will be with the News, it is a relief that he will remain in Minot.

“We will do everything we can to keep him around,” he said, noting that Obenchain may act quietly but “he has a great way of contributing and stepping in wherever he’s needed.”

Mayor Chuck Barney described Obenchain’s calm demeanor as an asset in his position at the newspaper and expressed regret at his departure.

“When I announced I was running for mayor, The Minot Daily News was my first stop,” he said.

Obenchain started at the News in 1984 as a part-time sports clerk, soaking up the wealth of sports journalism knowledge offered by the late sports editor Merrill Schalow.

Obenchain at that time was a student majoring in English at Minot State University and working as sports writer for the school’s Red & Green newspaper. His love for newspapering grew out of his experience with the student publication.

The unique thing about the newspaper business is that the product is always fresh, Obenchain said.

“The bad thing is you have to start over every day. The good thing about it is you get to start over every day,” he said. “There’s not many businesses that do that.”

By his last year at MSU, Obenchain was working full-time in the sports department at the News. A couple of years later he moved over to the copy desk. He was in charge of layout, which he recalled was done manually in those days of cut-and-paste page design.

The rapid technological change of the past 30 years affected the newspaper business as dramatically as it has impacted other industries, he said. The introduction of color photos and computerized layout changed the business, as did the shift from afternoon to morning publication and the creation of a Sunday edition, he said.

Obenchain eventually became business editor and in July 2000 was named to his current position as editor. He found himself interacting with the community and community leaders on a different level and saw more closely the role that the newspaper played in community affairs.

“Bryan always impressed me by what he knew and who he knew, how fast he picked up on a trend,” said Kent Olson, newsroom editor at the News. “I worked with him when he was still a sports reporter and watched him turn out to be a superior boss and editor, always fair, always even-tempered, always out to improve the newspaper. Readers will miss his influence, maybe without even knowing it.”

Matt Gerszewski, a former sports and newsroom editor, recalls that he and Schalow knew right away that something good happened when Obenchain joined the staff. Gerszewski described Obenchain as dependable, professional and versatile, showing talents in writing and even more so in design as head of the copy desk.

“The design of the paper changed several times. He was always highly involved in that,” Gerszewski said, adding that Obenchain also was instrumental in the transitions to Sunday and morning editions.

Loretta Johnson, another long-time employee and religion editor, said Obenchain was supportive and always willing to listen to his staff.

“I will miss having his experience as a resource to go to,” she said.

Obenchain said he was fortunate to work with a staff that shared his passion for the business. When an epic flood devastated the Souris River Valley in 2011, he only had to coordinate staff who knew what needed to be done and stepped in or even stepped up to tasks outside their usual course of reporting.

Obenchain also oversaw the newsroom during coverage of a train derailment that sent an anhydrous ammonia cloud over the city, killing one person and injurying many others.

He aided in newsroom efforts to ensure open public meetings and records, including a newspaper request for an Attorney General’s opinion that ensured access to Minot Area Development Corp. meetings.

“Newspapers are traditionally, and will continue to be, I think, one of the voices of the community,” he said. “It’s a big responsibility. We welcome that responsibility, obviously. Otherwise we won’t be doing this job. But it’s not always easy, and sometimes people don’t understand that.”

Obenchain said editorials are a way that the newspaper becomes a voice in the community.

“It’s not trying to force-feed our opinion on people but raising questions, getting people to think about things,” Obenchain said. “It’s our job to ask those questions and present the information.”

Obenchain said he expects some people to disagree and believes that’s a healthy part of the discussion.

“Disagree or agree, it’s still out there every day. An important part of being a community paper is having that opinion,” he said.

Obenchain has been active in the community in speaking about the newspaper business and journalism to high school students and at Chamber of Commerce leadership institutes. He volunteers with Backpack Buddies, a program providing nonperishable food each week to at-risk school children. He is a board member for Sertoma.

“He’s always been community-minded,” said Sertoma president Mylan Sand of Dakota Fence. “He’s a good asset to our community.”