Tuesday, August 14, 2018

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Helen Clausen was “Grace under fire” WRE staff earn top awards at SDNA conference


The newspaper tradition has a long-standing history in the United States, and while many have warned that modern technology will bury it someday, it still thrives in small towns across South Dakota from one generation to the next.

The West River Eagle is the offspring of two papers — West River Progress and Eagle Butte News — in 2007.

Helen Clausen began working for the Eagle Butte News in 1964 as a copy editor. In 1969, she became the managing editor and in 1971, she became the editor and held that position until her retirement in 1992.

Clausen was posthumously inducted into the South Dakota Newspaper Association’s 2018 Hall of Fame on May 5, and her son, Dave Clausen, accepted the honor in her place.

H. Clausen was characterized as “Grace under fire” at the induction ceremony. She was a woman in a predominantly male-dominated profession.

In a community that addressed a growing and diverse population, serving an audience of local tribal members, farmers and ranchers, descendants of settlers, and people coming and going from all over the United States through Indian Health Services, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the educational system, H. Clausen was considered fearless.

Her son D. Clausen said she was an “accidental journalist,” who went to school to be a nurse, but took up the roles of mother, cook, piano teacher, 4-H fair organizer, choral director and farmer’s wife while still chasing down the news of the day.

D. Clausen also noted that she maintained the confidence of tribal chairmen during her tenure, and at her 1998 funeral, one former chairman asked to be a pall bearer.

Of all the work she did, “her real magic was her pen,” said D. Clausen.

D. Clausen said that later in life, Helen was placed in a medically induced coma, and a doctor joked about small town newspapers placing obituaries on the front page of the paper.

When her condition improved and she came out of the coma, she told the doctor that she would have never placed an obituary on the front page, but she assured him that hers would be — and it was.

Twenty years after her funeral, she’s on the front page again, honored this time by the memory of her contribution and the standard of newspaper reporting and editing she left for those that follow in her footsteps.

Like Helen and her predecessors, editors, photographers, and reporters have striven and continue to strive to share engaging and quality news for the public they serve.

The maintenance of that high quality of newspaper production is honored each year in SDNA’s categorical contests in  writing, photography, advertising, layout and design, and overall presentation.

This year WRE General Manager Nancy Anderson took home five third and second place advertising awards, and reporter and advertising sales representative Alaina Beautiful Bald Eagle won third place in best feature story.

Former Editor Ross Dubray won second place in best news story, and Jody Rust won second place in best feature photo.

Each year, SDNA awards are determined by journalists from other states, and this year entries were judged by journalists from Maine, who reviewed 280 entries per category.

Capturing the moment. Award-winning photographer, reporter and editor Jeremy Waltner of the Freeman Courier and South Dakota Newspaper Association, snaps a photo of Dave Clausen, who received a plaque honoring his mother’s induction into the SDNA Hall of Fame at the SDNA annual conference Friday May 5. Photos by Jody Rust