"It's time to pursue other opportunities," Grow cracks sarcastic when reached on his office phone by Blotter. "Many a VP has left our company in pursuit of other opportunities, and now it's moving down the ranks." Grow, one of the few opinion scribes in town who actually infused his writing with a novel concept known as street-level reporting, has applied for one of the 50 buyout packages offered by the Newspaper of the Twin Cities that go into effect June 1. "Nothing is final until then," Grow notes with just a touch of trepidation. "If I wake up on May 31st terrified that I've never had a real job, then maybe I'll stay on."
The Watertown, South Dakota, native came to the Minneapolis Star from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in 1979 as a sports reporter. By 1980, Grow was a sports columnist, then moved to his current post in 1987, because he "wanted to write real stories about real people." He also jokes that he came cheap: "You could do this too, if you lower your expectations and have low salary demands."
Modesty aside, Grow clearly placed high demands on his own work. He was the rare marquee name around town who wasn't above sweating it out at jam-packed community meetings or even writing follow-up pieces that indicated maybe he didn't quite get it right the first time. That humility apparently carried over in the newsroom.
"He's the guy who reads the whole paper every day, he is the guy who walks around the room telling people 'nice story, nice story,'" writes reporter Rochelle Olson in an e-mail, adding that Grow's departure is "a huge loss to the paper." "He's the guy who always makes sure he isn't 'getting in your way' when he does a column on your beat. He's also 'suggested' many stories to me that ended up on A1. So on a professional level, he's a prince, but he's the same on a personal level."
In that fashion, Grow jokingly offers a never-used Pulitzer Prize acceptance speech collecting dust in a desk drawer, then seriously adds, "The goal is to get 50 people out of here, and it doesn't matter which 50. I hope this is the last round for this paper."
(Olson notes that management may be "excited to see him go" because Grow's "not a compliant lamb.")
Ultimately, he says, "I'm 59 and the timing is perfect for me. It allows me to do what I wanted, which is to not become some bitter old fart."
As for the future, Grow is uncertain. "My kids—I have two grown children—will be laughing at me, because I was always on their ass to get a job with great benefits," he says. "One thing I won't do: I don't think I'll be freelancing. This has got to be the most glutted freelance market in the country."