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MinnPost 10 at 10: Doug Grow on covering the 2008 Democratic National Convention

REUTERS/Brian Snyder
Democratic presidential nominee U.S. Senator Barack Obama waving to the crowd following his acceptance speech on August 28, 2008.

To mark MinnPost’s 10th anniversary, our writers and editors have dug into the archives to highlight stories that have stuck with them over the years, a series we’re calling MinnPost 10 at 10.

Today, we hear from longtime reporter Doug Grow about his favorite MinnPost assignment: covering the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver, an event at which Barack Obama officially became the party’s nominee for president:

What remains most vivid to me in the most remarkable story I ever had the opportunity to cover in 40 years in journalism were the tears.

Marisa Helms and I were the MinnPost bureau covering the 2008 Democratic National Convention held at the basketball arena in Denver. Our bureau was a little smaller than the bureaus of  such operations as the New York Times and Washington Post. The big guys  had entire newsrooms — reporters, photographers, editors, security guards  — working in walled-offed areas.

The MinnPost bureau was a little more humble. Marisa and I worked at long banquet tables in an area that included reporters from all over the world. But we had our cellphones and laptops and passes giving us access to the convention floor.

The beauty of our operation as opposed to the operations of outfits such as the Times was that we were too small to hold staff meetings. While Times reporters had long discussions with their editors about which small portion of the big convention they were to cover, the meetings between Marisa and me went like this:

“Why don’t you go left and I’ll go right and we’ll meet up later,’’ I’d say.

“Good plan,’’ she’d say.

And off we’d go.

This was not a contested convention. Barack Obama had bested Hillary Clinton in a long, emotional primary season. And even though Clinton would fully endorse Obama at the convention, her delegates held many tearful meetings during the convention, trying to let go of the idea that a woman finally would top the Democratic Party’s ticket.

But the emotional highlight of the convention came on the last night when the event was moved from the basketball arena to Mile High Stadium, a venue that seated 80,000 people.

Josie Johnson
Courtesy of the Saint Paul FoundationJosie Johnson

For security reasons, every person — reporters from the Times and MinnPost included — had to go through a checkpoint. The process of filling the stadium took hours. But it was filled long before Obama gave his acceptance speech.

It wasn’t his speech that remains in the memory of an old journalist. It was the reaction of Minnesota delegates, especially the African-American ones.

Josie Johnson was among those delegates. Forty five years before this event, Johnson, a soft-spoken giant of the civil rights movement, had helped organize the march on Washington, the event in which Martin Luther King had delivered his “I have a dream” speech.

Now she was in Denver watching an African-American man become his party’s nominee for president. She cried as she tried to absorb all that was going on around her. “I never believed I’d see this in my lifetime,’’ she said. “Dr. King’s speech was for the oppressed. Obama’s speech is for the American Dream come true.’’   

MinnPost 10 at 10

Doug Grow has written about state politics, public affairs and other topics for MinnPost since its 2007 founding. Before that, he worked in newspapers for 37 years, much of that time at the Minneapolis Star Tribune, where he wrote a must-read metro column for 20 years.

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