When reporter Jack Coffman covered the news, politicians and public relations, people had cause to be wary. He was an energetic reporter who knew his beat and the people on it.

Coffman, who had worked for both Twin Cities daily newspapers, died suddenly at his St. Paul photography studio on Monday.

He was 71.

Coffman joined the former Minneapolis Tribune in 1972, leaving in the mid-1980s to cover the Capitol for the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

"He was a tough, hard-nosed reporter," said his longtime friend, Dick Youngblood, Star Tribune business columnist.

After retirement, Coffman was asked whether coverage of state politics and government could be improved. He said there was "too much writing, not enough reporting," said Youngblood.

Coffman grew up in St. Louis, Mo., and graduated from St. Louis' Washington University. After reporting stints in Hutchinson and Topeka, Kan., and at the old Des Moines Tribune, he joined the former Minneapolis Tribune.

He covered the Legislature, outstate Minnesota and energy issues. He also served as sports editor and state editor.

For the Pioneer Press, he covered the Capitol, where former Minnesota Senate Republican leader Duane Benson said he was an effective watchdog.

"I sensed that if he was on you, you might as well disclose it all and get it over with," said Benson, who lives near Lanesboro and now leads the Minnesota Early Learning Foundation.

Benson said Coffman made work fun and recalled a lot of laughter. "He was so driven," said Benson, saying Coffman clearly saw the personal relationships that make up politics and government.

'Digger' gets the dirt on gifts

Bill Salisbury, Pioneer Press Capitol reporter, called Coffman a "digger."

In the early 1990s, Coffman spent a year reading campaign finance reports, leading to his articles about gifts to legislators from lobbyists.

His work sparked the Legislature to enact severe restrictions on such gifts and garnered him a 1992 Frank Premack Public Affairs Journalism Award.

"He was able to charm anybody he wanted to talk to," said Salisbury, who wondered how Coffman found the time to help so many cub reporters.

"He was a mentor to dozens of young reporters who came through here," Salisbury said.

Great writer with lively style

Robert Whereatt, a retired Star Tribune State Capitol reporter, recalled their competition for stories.

"We went at it day after day," Whereatt said. "He was very professional, and Jack and I remained friends long after we retired." He said Coffman was a great writer who had a lively style.

Coffman once led the Minneapolis unit of the Newspaper Guild.

After retirement from journalism in 1999, he worked a few years for a public relations and government affairs firm.

He pursued photography at Freight Box Studio, which he owned with others.

"He became an avid photographer," and he "focused on beauty," whether photographing people, landscapes or family moments, said his wife, Melinda Voss of St. Paul.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by his daughter, Jackie Kaelin of Minneapolis; sons Steve and Tom, both of Minneapolis.; stepsons Andrew Voss of St. Paul and Zac Voss of Des Moines; his former wife, Sally Coffman of Minneapolis, and six grandchildren.

Services will be at 3 p.m. Saturday at the visitors center of the Como Park Zoo and Conservatory, 1225 Estabrook Drive, St. Paul.