DELANO, MN – Whether it was Calvin Wishart’s fist pump as the Delano boys basketball team won the state tournament, or Michael Jordan taking one of his final shots as a Washington Wizard, Matt Kane was there to capture it.
Whether it was the story of the Aho brothers’ streak of 24 seasons playing football for Dassel-Cokato, or Mitch Kezar’s 50-year photography career, Matt Kane was there to chronicle it.
Whether it’s a feature about him or a city council meeting story, Matt Kane will be there to distribute it.
“I’m not writing news now, I’m delivering it,” said Kane, who has stepped out of his role as Delano Herald Journal sports editor and into the role of mail carrier.
Kane’s decision to end his journalism career marks the end of an era, as he has been with the DHJ since it was established Sept. 4, 2006.
“As a kid growing up in the ‘90s, it was all about SportsCenter and Sports Illustrated,” Kane said. “I wanted to be one of those guys reporting on the games and athletes. That’s why I wanted to be a sports journalist.”
Kane specifically named writers Tom Verducci, Rick Reilly, and Steve Rushin as his inspirations.
He always emulated them with hopes of working for a large publication someday.
Even now, he believes, “I’m an old school journalist for sure. I just like the older guys. I like the ones who don’t take it too seriously. Let them play the games, watch it, and report on it. Quit speculating.”
As for photographers Kane looks up to, there are Steve McCurry, who is credited with shooting the most famous cover for National Geographic, and Sports Illustrated top photographer Walter Looss.
After graduating from Penn State University with a journalism degree, Kane returned to his hometown to work for the Sauk Center Herald.
From there, he went with a friend to Florida in 2002, and worked for the New Smyrna Beach Observer and Flagler/Palm Coast News-Journal.
“My photography skills developed at New Smyrna,” Kane said. “There was another guy down there. We pushed each other.”
He had plenty of opportunities to get quality shots of big-name talent.
“Everything comes to Florida: Tony Hawk, bowl games, the NHL All-Star Game, Jaguars games,” Kane said.
He received credentials to cover all those events, as well as a race at Daytona Speedway, and Jordan’s final appearance at the TD Waterhouse Center in Orlando.
“It was like, ‘Welcome to the big leagues,’” Kane said about photographing a Jaguars game. “Peyton Manning was strolling onto the field and said, ‘What’s up, guys?’”
Covering Jordan’s play was a similar experience.
“‘I’m just going to pretend I know what I’m doing,’” Kane remembered thinking. “I couldn’t get the courage to ask a question. I still have the tape somewhere.”
His time in Florida wasn’t all fun and games.
Kane went to interview people on the streets of New Smyrna on the 40th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and met two people who had direct connections to him.
One stood guard while Kennedy was lying in state, while the other worked with the Secret Service to protect him in Washington, DC.
“I randomly talked to both of those guys,” Kane said. “That was one where everything came together.”
Putting everything together wasn’t always easy, especially when the weather didn’t cooperate.
“Putting The Observer newspaper together during a weeklong power outage due to hurricane destruction in New Smyrna Beach is a good memory,” Kane said. “We had a generator running to give us power. It was a war zone outside.”
Back to Minnesota
In 2005, Kane retreated from hurricane territory and returned to blizzard territory in Minnesota to work at the Dassel-Cokato Enterprise-Dispatch, which is owned by Herald Journal Publishing.
Though he worked there less than two years, he made connections that remain strong to this day.
When the parent company decided to establish the Delano Herald Journal in 2006, Kane jumped at the opportunity.
“That was kind of fun,” Kane said. “It was me, Ryan Gueningsman, and Jen Bakken in an office the size of a fish house.”
He still recalls his first assignment.
“I remember the football game was a long drive to Somerset, WI,” Kane said. “They were holding the paper to get it in. Road trips were fun. I didn’t mind going to away games.”
Kane also enjoyed working with a variety of coaches.
“The coaches have been awesome,” he said. “Some of them you have to train. They have to know what the deadline is. Usually, they catch on.”
Two head coaches outlasted Kane: football coach Merrill “Pav” Pavlovich, and girls tennis coach Kim Finn. Becca Rue has also been involved with the Delano High School volleyball team throughout Kane’s tenure, serving as head coach since 2007.
While coaches have been easy for Kane to work with, getting a quote out of a student athlete often proved more challenging.
“Kids are tough,” Kane said. “Kids don’t talk.”
He has enjoyed watching those kids become successful in their own rights. Examples include Nate Triplett being drafted by the Vikings, Zack Muckenhirn being drafted by the Baltimore Orioles, and Tyler Wolf being drafted by the Houston Astros.
Kane is known for writing about the 12 Aho brothers, who played football for Dassel-Cokato for a stretch of 24 years.
“CBS Evening News picked it up. Rick Reilly tweeted about it before I knew what Twitter was,” Kane said.
Praise from his peers
For that article, titled “Band of Brothers,” Kane received second place in the National Newspaper Association Better Newspaper Contest in the “best sports story” category.
Judges’ comments included:
“This story oozes human interest. Quite unusual, if not unique, to have 24 consecutive years with brothers playing on the same high school team.
“Reader interest enhanced by the writer getting interesting facts and good quotes from the parents and others. Story ties together well and is an interesting read.”
Kane also received a first-place Page One Award from the Society of Professional Journalists for the same story.
Judges for the Minnesota Newspaper Association BNC that year also took notice, as he received first place in the “sports feature” category.
In total, Kane won 24 MNA BNC awards, including 10 first-place finishes, 12 second-place finishes, and two third-place finishes.
In 2020, Kane won first place for his Final Four photo story, and second place for his photo story documenting the Stanley Cup tour in Delano.
Kane said he tried to treat every assignment the same.
“I was shooting the Final Four the same way I shoot girls basketball games,” he said. “I’m looking for the same stuff.”
Herald Journal Editor Ivan Raconteur praised Kane as a photographer.
“Anyone who has seen his work knows that Matt doesn’t just snap pictures – he has a photographer’s eye,” said Raconteur, who Kane worked with throughout his entire tenure with Herald Journal Publishing. “That special vision has been evident on our pages since he started here. No matter what the subject, Matt has a way of making it art.”
Kane’s talent went beyond photography, Raconteur noted.
“While he may be best known for his photography, he can write, too,” Raconteur said. “He understands the people he covers, and tells their stories in an insightful way that allows readers to get to know them, too. The numerous awards Matt has accumulated over the years are a well-deserved tribute, but the body of work he has produced stands on its own.”
Raconteur said that while Kane “has been working as a small-market sports guy, he is a big-time talent.”
“We are fortunate to have had Matt on our team, and readers of the Delano Herald Journal are lucky, too,” Raconteur concluded.
The art of the feature story
Six of his awards were tied directly to feature stories or sports feature stories.
“I like features,” Kane said. “That’s what I read. That’s what I tried to write like.”
For Kane, it starts with an interview that feels more like a conversation.
“I like sitting down at someone’s kitchen table, talking, and turning that into a story,” Kane said. “I’m interested in people’s unique lives and hobbies.”
And when he was interested, sharing that story came naturally.
“When I like a story, the content comes out,” Kane said.
He considers it an honor to be able to share such stories.
“How fortunate can you be as a small town, schmuck reporter for all these great stories to come to you?” Kane asked rhetorically. “As they talk it’s, ‘Here, we go. This might be a lede.’ It’s amazing how a story evolves.”
“It’s tough to leave. It was tough when Ryan left. There was pride in still being there and getting it going. We got along very well, how a newsroom should be,” Kane said.
He went on to say he and his family are happy in Delano, even though he admits, “I didn’t know I’d stay here.”
While he’s leaving the newspaper, he’s not going anywhere.
“I hope to still be going to games,” Kane said. “I’ll probably still bring my camera. I don’t know if I can sit and watch.”