Pulitzer winner Ison cites Daily as key career point

Liz Bogut

After more than 20 years in the business, two professional newspapers and a Pulitzer Prize, The Minnesota Daily still marks the most important time in one reporter’s career.
Chris Ison, a Star Tribune reporter for 15 years, began carving his path as a journalist at the Daily in the 1980s.
“The Daily was probably the most important time in my professional life. I did a lot of growing in a short period of time,” Ison said.
He started at the Daily as a University police reporter in 1979, at a time when sexual violence on campus was a big issue.
One of his first stories involved a University student kidnapping.
A 19-year-old University student from St. Paul was abducted in September of 1980. Her body was later found near Elk River; she died of stab wounds.
Ison said the perpetrator still pops up in connection with other cases today.
“Covering police taught me a little bit about dealing with grieving victims,” Ison said.
But it wasn’t until Ison tried his hand as a news editor that he began to grow as a journalist, he said.
As news editor, Ison copy-edited typed pages with pencil. Editing the news each night helped Ison acquire some solid news judgement and a whole lot of confidence.
“That’s really when I started to realize I could do this kind of work,” he explained.
Before leaving the Daily in 1983 upon graduation, Ison also worked as the managing editor and editor in chief.
Three years after he began working at the Duluth-News Tribune right out of college, Ison came to the Minneapolis Star Tribune in 1986, where he would win a Pulitzer Prize in 1990, journalism’s highest honor.
Ison and his partner Luke Kilzer pieced together a link between the St. Paul Fire Department and a string of arsons in 1989 and 1990.
The prize-winning story took Ison and Kilzer about a year to research; for several months, they didn’t know where it was going.
“It was a story that nobody laid out for us. We pieced it together from the beginning,” Ison said.
Ison recalled when word of the Pulitzer got around the Star Tribune newsroom.
“I remember the word started to get out and people called to see if it was true. Everyone was really gracious about the whole thing,” Ison said.
For Ison, the Pulitzer did not signify the end of his professional journey, but was a nice stop along the way, he said. That same year, he began teaching a University public affairs reporting class.
“I missed that time. I had such a good time at the University that it was easy to make a decision to reconnect there,” Ison said.
He said it’s good for professionals to stay connected to young journalists who are passionate and have youthful ideas.
“It’s too easy to lose that when you’ve been in the business for a while. That’s the problem in a lot of newsrooms — a lack of passion and a lot of cynicism,” Ison said.
Looking back, he said the Daily was about as much fun as you could have working 12-hour days.
The Daily was a valuable experience in every aspect — he developed a professional foundation and made several lifelong friends.
“I learned that if you do your homework and publish things without worrying about anything but the truth, you can let the chips fall where they may,” Ison said. “In the newspaper business today, things aren’t as simple,” Ison said.

Liz Bogut welcomes comments at [email protected]