Sellnow, 54, died Friday when he had a medical emergency as he was driving. He had been with the paper for 26 years, winning awards for news stories, features and opinion writing. The son of a newspaperman, Sellnow tackled complex policy issues with ease, dissecting topics in ways that made them relevant to his Rochester readers.
But Sellnow also had an intense appreciation for the institutions and people that give Rochester a deep sense of community. He had a soft spot for southeastern Minnesota's quirky characters and traditions. His humorous but respectful riffs on hot dishes and local festivals made his column a must-read.
Sellnow was a longtime editor who gracefully guided several generations of reporters who began their careers at the Post-Bulletin. Journalists who went on to work at the Chicago Tribune, Bloomberg, the Pioneer Press and the Star Tribune, among other places, owe him a debt of gratitude.
I started working at the Post-Bulletin in the early 1990s and was part of a cantankerous crew that Sellnow managed. We fought with each other, challenged editors and continuously carped about the newspaper's "no-jump" policy, which prohibited copy from continuing onto other pages.
Sellnow bore the complaints and rookies' learning curve with a patience we didn't deserve. He taught us how to write for Page 1 by broadening a story with context and illustrating key points with the stories of real people. And he could make you laugh with one of his "Yeah, I know" looks as he handed out slow-news-day, fill-the-space assignments that all reporters dread.
His editing always made copy better. That's the ultimate compliment a reporter can pay an editor. Sellnow earned it many times over. He will be missed.
Jill Burcum is a Star Tribune editorial writer.