Successful South Dakota Kids
About a quarter-century ago, a kid named Matt Cecil joined me in Pierre to report on the Legislature. Matt was a Brookings native who had recently joined the Argus Leader staff in Sioux Falls. I worked for the paper in Pierre, so session was part...
About a quarter-century ago, a kid named Matt Cecil joined me in Pierre to report on the Legislature.
Matt was a Brookings native who had recently joined the Argus Leader staff in Sioux Falls. I worked for the paper in Pierre, so session was part of my regular beat. Back then, the paper sent a second reporter for all or large parts of each session. For two years, that second reporter was Matt.
I'd known Matt's dad, Chuck Cecil, since the 1960s. He was a long-time administrator at South Dakota State University, but before that, he worked as a newspaper guy, I think, and at some point it seems like we took a graduate course or two at the same time at SDSU. So, while I wasn't "old-old'' when Matt arrived in the Capitol press room, it did date me to be colleagues with the son of someone I knew from SDSU days.
Matt had a style in his reporting, and he's the only reporter I ever knew who used the word "avuncular'' in a story. It actually fit quite nicely into his lively profile of a veteran legislator, but it pitched the press corps into a fit of laughter. As a group, we tended to be pretty staid in our prose.
The second year Matt came out for session happened to be my 23rd year of covering the Legislature. I introduced him to some lobbyist or other the first day of that session. I can't remember what the lobbyist said about experience in reporting, but I'll never forget Matt's reply.
"Yup, me and Woster,'' he said. "Twenty-five years of legislative coverage between us.'' I still laugh when I think of it.
Being a newspaper reporter is a life-long calling for some of us. For others, Matt included, the world offers other opportunities. He went back to school, got a master's degree in history and then a PhD in mass communications. Pretty soon he was teaching college students at Purdue, Oklahoma, South Dakota State and Wichita State. Just this past summer, he became dean of the College of Arts and Humanities at Minnesota State University, Mankato.
A couple of years ago, he wrote and published a book called "Hoover's FBI and the Fourth Estate: The Campaign to Control the Press and the Bureau's Image." The book explores how J. Edgar Hoover ran a pretty effective, nearly non-stop, public-relations campaign to pump up the Federal Bureau of Investigation image with the American people. It's an interesting read, and it involved a ton of research.
When a guy writes a book on a character like J. Edgar Hoover, it is natural there will be material that didn't make it into the manuscript, at least not the final manuscript. It's also natural that the research for such a book will prompt an author with news reporting experience and a natural curiosity to follow other trails that come into view during the course of the research and the writing. That happened to Matt. In just the past several months, he has had two more books published. One, "Branding Hoover's FBI: How the Boss's PR Men Sold the Bureau to America,'' follows up on the first book. The other, "The Ballad of Ben and Stella,'' is the tale of a Kansas couple who robbed banks in, among other places, Elkton and Brookings, and who wound up atop the FBI's Most Wanted list.
Matt will be talking about his writing this weekend at the annual South Dakota Festival of the Book in Brookings. He talks Friday afternoon and Saturday morning. (A link to the festival schedule is available at the end of this column.)
I'm not telling you this so you will buy the books. I don't get a cut. Do what you want, but they are interesting reading. I'm not even telling you this so you'll attend the festival, although if you've never been to one, you're missing a terrific experience. (And, full disclosure, my daughter is in charge of it).
I'm just pointing out that yet another South Dakota kid went and made himself a success. Oh, and I knew the kid way back when.