John Halverson has been general manager of the Lake Geneva Regional News since 2009. He started his journalistic career of 44 years as a reporter, columnist and movie reviewer for the Journal Register in Springfield, Illinois. He became editor of the New London Press Star, a weekly newspaper in Wisconsin and then edited the Shawano Evening Leader, a daily newspaper. In 1984 he joined the Janesville Gazette. There he was a columnist and associate editor. Later, he became general manager of The Week, a feature newspaper owned by the Gazette and located in Walworth County, which closed in 2007.
FOR YEARS YOUR NAME HAS BEEN SYNONYMOUS WITH THE LAKE GENEVA REGIONAL NEWS. NOW THAT YOU’RE RETIRING, TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOURSELF AND YOUR FUTURE PLANS.
I was born and raised in Sheboygan two blocks from Lake Michigan. I always dreamt of running a newspaper in a small town with a lake in my backyard. My dream came true in Lake Geneva. It’s my home now and I plan on staying here.
Plans? Many. But most involve writing. I’ve been an editor and on the business-side of newspapers, but I’ve always enjoyed writing the most. I’ll continue to write columns for the Regional News and try my hand at freelancing. I might even tackle fiction.
I also want to spend more time with friends and family who I have neglected for too long.
BACKING UP A BIT, WHAT MADE YOU WANT TO BECOME A JOURNALIST?
I was an only child and my father died when I was 6, so I spent an awful lot of time alone growing up. I loved reading and from that love came writing. It was a way to make sense of my world and it proved a means of escape and of endless comfort.
Once I joined the college newspaper I was hooked. It’s a great profession. You get to see the world through the eyes of those you interview. You get to live their lives for awhile and still get to go home at night.
I still think journalism is a romantic profession. When I started we used typewriters and newsrooms were filled with smoke. Editors resembled Lou Grant. And I love journalists—they’re irreverent, iconoclastic and sometimes noble.
IS THERE ONE STORY YOU COVERED THAT STANDS OUT DURING YOUR CAREER?
I was once told I wrote well about nothing. I took that as a compliment. I’ve loved many news stories and editorials, too, but if I listed my favorites, most would be small stories and columns. Stories that seem simple but get under the surface of someone and show their humanity.
An example would be one I wrote during my first year as a journalist about Euell Gibbons, a pioneer in the natural food movement. He was most famous for his Grape Nuts commercials and for finding edibles in the most unusual places. One morning we walked the railroad tracks of Springfield and he found enough food there for a meal. I rushed back to the office and had the story done for the evening edition. Oh, and I even got him to admit he sometimes ate hamburgers at McDonald’s!
WHAT ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF IN YOUR ROLE AS GENERAL MANAGER OF THE REGIONAL NEWS?
People have said we’re fair. There can be no higher compliment. Some may disagree, but I know we’ve tried to treat people and issues with an even hand. We haven’t always pleased everyone but we wouldn’t be a very good paper if we did.
We also tried to keep the paper local. We may try to add some spit and polish, but I hope we never forgot who we were.
AS SOMEONE WHO’S REPORTED ON AREA NEWS FOR YEARS, WHAT DO YOU SEE AS THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE FACING OUR COMMUNITIES?
Development. We need to find a way to satisfy the needs of the locals with the demands of the tourists who fund the local economies.
We also have to accommodate our contrarians and eccentrics. This county has more than its share of both. Their aggressive tactics are sometimes irritating, but a well-run government needs a bit of irritation from time to time—and sometimes, they’re right.
I’ve lived by deadlines my whole life and admit I’ve enjoyed the rush and the energy of a newsroom. I’ve also enjoyed slaying the dragons that come along with any job. But I’m ready for a slower pace. I hope having more time to write will improve my craft.
I’ll be the guy in the slow lane the rest of the world is passing instead of the one honking for him to go faster.