SDSU alumnus Kranz puts down his reporter?s notebook

Dr. Matthew Cecil

Dr. Matthew CecilGuest Columnist

I could hear the fire department scanner tones ringing across the Argus Leader newsroom. I knew the familiar tones could indicate anything from a cat in a tree to an injury accident or multi-alarm fire. Most often, the tones were followed within a few moments by an all-clear call from the first responders at the scene.

I waited, knowing that I was next up to cover any breaking news. Before long, I heard the distinctive, basso monotone voice of the city editor, shouting from behind his computer, “Cecillllll! Get out there! Flames on approach!”

Instead of an all clear, the first responders had reported seeing flames. It was a significant fire and a real news event in Sioux Falls. I grabbed a reporter’s notebook and pen and scanned the newsroom for a photographer who would drive us both (no doubt at breakneck speeds) to the scene. As I stood there, I caught the eye of the scowling city editor. I wasn’t moving fast enough. He put down the phone and spoke to another reporter standing nearby: “Somebody tell me that Cecil isn’t still standing there.”

The city editor that night was SDSU journalism graduate David Kranz whom I believe is the finest news reporter South Dakota has ever known.

My wife and I were privileged to attend a retirement dinner honoring Dave last week. After 42 years, most of those spent as the soul and conscience of the Argus Leader newsroom, Dave has put down his reporter’s notebook.

Twenty years ago, Dave offered me a job as a reporter at the Argus Leader. The offer came out of the blue and, looking back, I now recognize it as a turning point in my life. One moment I was photographing the main street toilet bowl races as editor of the Dell Rapids Tribune and the next I was covering a high-profile U.S. Senate race under the tutelage of the state’s most important and savvy political reporter. It was an amazing opportunity.

Young reporters tend to pick up the craft of reporting through osmosis. They soak in the nuances of journalism by observing more experienced reporters as they go about their daily routines. For two years I learned by watching Dave work stories. I saw him charm hard-nosed meat packers in a smoky bar into opening up about their working conditions. I watched him corner slick politicians who squirmed like first graders under his pointed questioning. And I listened as he made dozens of phone calls to nail down one minor fact for a single sentence in a 700-word story.

Despite decades in close proximity to powerful people and the cliquish world of South Dakota media and politics, Dave is the least cynical reporter I know. His guileless appreciation of ordinary people and comforting personal authenticity make him unusual in the deeply cynical world of newspaper journalism. As former Senator George McGovern noted in his remarks at Dave’s retirement dinner, Kranz possesses both “a keen intellect and a tender heart.”

Dave was often an intimidating presence inside the newsroom and out. Yet the rumpled, gruff and blunt political reporter people sometimes feared would also spend hours serving meals to the homeless at The Banquet and tenderly caring for his beloved mother. For young reporters like me, he was a tough and uncompromising taskmaster. Ask him what he thought of a story, and you were likely to be told it was terrible and why. Yet Dave always followed that sort of tough criticism with kind, thoughtful gestures. Shortly after a harsh critique from Dave, I would sometimes find the gift of a political button from his collection sitting on my desk. I came to understand over time that those little gifts were Dave’s way of expressing his confidence in me.

The composition of the extraordinary group at Dave’s retirement event speaks volumes about his quality as a reporter and as a person. The audience included retired politicians from across the political spectrum, Sioux Falls community leaders, eminent clergymen, directors of non-profit organizations, doctors, judges, lawyers, professors, reporters, editors and publishers. Why would so many people from so many walks of life attend a retirement dinner honoring a simple newspaper reporter?

As Argus Leader Publisher Randell Beck explained: “David tells stories… and he makes friends.”

Dr. Matthew Cecil is an associate professor in the SDSU Department of Journalism and Mass Communication. He can be contacted at [email protected].