by Vicki Ikeogu
Ever since he was little, Dennis Dalman had a nose for news.
“I always loved newspapers,” he said. “Even as I kid. I would get the St. Cloud Times and be all excited to read it. I loved the smell of the paper and the ink on my fingers. I guess I was a newspaper, bookworm nerd.”
So, for Dalman, it was natural for him to progress from reading about the news to being on the front lines of storytelling.
This year, Dalman’s storytelling work, covering the news for both the St. Joseph Newsleader and the Sartell-St. Stephen Newsleader, has earned him recognition among his peers.
At the 151st annual Minnesota Newspaper Association awards banquet held late last month, Dalman received three awards for his work with the Newsleaders. He received both first and second place in breaking news coverage for weekly newspapers with a circulation of 2,501 to 5,000 with his coverage of tragic developments in the Jacob Wetterling case and third place in the Herman Roe Editorial Writing award for his column titled “Don’t let knife attack fuel climate of suspicion.”
The entries were judged by members of the Illinois Press Association.
Dalman’s first-place award was for the story “Wetterling asked abductor: ‘What did I do wrong?’”
After Danny Heinrich abducted Jacob, placed him in his car and handcuffed him, Jacob asked his abductor, “What did I do wrong?” Heinrich later revealed that to investigators.
“I watched the press conference and I remember bursting into tears hearing that,” Dalman said. “That was the most heart-breaking thing. Those words (‘What did I do wrong?’) summarized the uncertainty, the agony of the case in those words from an innocent child. Those five words bother me to this day.”
It took Dalman about four days to complete the story.
“It was very, very hard,” he said. “It was emotionally exhausting for me and I’m just a journalist. I can’t imagine what the family was going through.”
His second-place award was for “Dots always pointed to Heinrich as abductor,” a story about how investigators, in hind-sight, missed many connective dots years ago when Danny Heinrich, Wetterling’s abductor and killer, was a person of interest in the case. The contest judges called Dalman’s story “innovatively bold.”
“I was seething when I wrote that story,” Dalman said.
He said while he poured his emotions, his feelings into that story, he remained true to the facts of the case.
His third-place column, written after the 2016 knife attack at Crossroads Center, was touted by judges as “a brave stance in the face of a nightmare situation. One can imagine this voice is an important one in the community.”
In his editorial, Dalman wrote about the need for all people to lower levels of fear, suspicion, prejudice and hatred that sometimes follow acts of violence by deranged individuals.
To Dalman, this opinion summed up a lot of feelings.
“You’ve got to stand up against (hateful) stuff like that (fear, prejudice, hatred),” he said. “You’ve got to say no, no, no.”
In the past, Dalman has been recognized by the MNA for his human-interest stories, columns, investigative reporting and best explanation of newspaper operations-and-ethics during his tenure at the Echo Press in Alexandria, prior to coming to the Newsleaders in 1998. But this was the first year in nearly two decades Dalman chose to submit anything for the contest.
“It’s really gratifying to be recognized by one’s own peers,” Dalman said. “I feel really good about it. It was like the frosting on a cake. But I’m not done yet.”
Dalman, 70, has moved on from the Newsleaders’ editor desk to retirement. It was a torch he recently passed to former St. Cloud Times Consumer Experience and Planning Director Mike Knaak.
But he has no intentions of putting down his pen anytime soon. He will continue as a part-time freelance writer for the Newsleaders.
“To me, the point of news reporting is to give a voice to the voiceless, the ones who lack economic power, the ones who are ignored,” he said. “It’s always gratifying to win awards as they are an indication of the good work I’ve done. But you don’t write stories for awards. Because if you do, you’re not doing it right.”