Sioux City (Iowa) Journal editor has been keeping a fresh perspective on news for 43 years

Teri Saylor

Special to Publishers' Auxiliary

Dec 1, 2022


After interviewing the dozens of U.S. presidential candidates that have paraded through the Sioux City (Iowa) Journal over the last 43 years, one thing stands out in Bruce Miller’s memory — the rough-hewn feel of Hillary Clinton’s hand, which he shook upon greeting her.

Miller, the newspaper’s editor and trained in the fine art of curiosity asked her about it.

“She told me it was the Purell hand sanitizer,” he explained in a recent phone interview. “On the campaign trail, she kept her hands coated.”

If presidential campaigns were football games, Iowa would be the 35-yard line, where all the candidates kick off their bids for election. And after four decades in the editor’s chair, Miller can recall nearly every quirk, tic, vibe and gesture they’ve shown during their visits to the newspaper.

He is astonished to realize he has interviewed every president since Jimmy Carter. And he finds it fascinating to get a backstage pass at one of the nation’s greatest shows on earth.

“I was really surprised when Mr. Obama came in during his first campaign with a lot of security, even dogs on the roof of the building,” Miller said. “It was very formal, and his team kept him isolated in a bubble, not allowing him to talk with other people in our office.”

Clinton, on the other hand, was just the opposite. Upon arrival at the newspaper, she gave a master class in old school politicking and how to work a room, Miller said.

“I have never seen this before in my life,” he said. “She went to everybody on every professional level in our office, and she shook hands and greeted each one.”

He recognizes when candidates are embroiled in scandal, sometimes overhearing snippets of conversation as they huddle on their phone in the lobby. He also notices those who appear television ready, their faces slathered with heavy make-up.

“When candidates visit your newspaper, you can learn a lot about them, and often you realize they are people just like you and me,” he said.

Miller’s yearning to be a newspaperman goes all the way back to elementary school when he was an over-zealous fourth grader. His teacher, likely looking for a way to channel his energy, suggested he start a class newspaper. She had no way of knowing she had just set her young student on the journey to his life’s work.

The young editor’s first order of business was interviewing his classmates. He recalls his teacher helping him print his newspaper on a mimeograph machine.

“When the first issue came off the printer, I thought it was pretty good, and my teacher asked if I wanted to change anything,” he recalled.

That simple question led him to another passion — covering entertainment and the arts.

“I remember telling my teacher that we need a theatre critic because every good newspaper should have a critic,” he said.

Later, he said, his teachers appeared in a school play, and the review he wrote was well-received.

“That’s when I decided newspaper publishing is the greatest job in the world,” he said.

He went on to serve as editor of his high school and college newspapers.

“Over all these years, I have never tired of the newspaper business,” he said. “I find it fascinating all the time.”

He recognizes the industry is fraught with change, but in his mind, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, and says it keeps his mind fresh. He is enthralled with the idea that his phone is an all-in-one tool for reporting.

“In my lifetime, we started with the manual typewriter, and now we’re writing stories on our phones,” he said. “I never dreamed I could go to the scene of an event, take photos, shoot video, ask questions and record answers, and get a report online in a matter of minutes — all from my phone.”

As a young man, Miller dreamed of going to journalism school at Northwestern University, but his mother talked him out of it, instead suggesting he start out at a smaller college. So he enrolled at Moorhead State University in Moorhead, Minnesota (now Minnesota State University, Moorhead), and he loved it.

He recalls getting his start in newspapers after his favorite journalism instructor left the classroom, only to pop up in Miller’s life later as the editor of the Sioux City Journal. That former instructor gave Miller his big break when he offered him a job at the newspaper.

“And I told him I had never heard of Sioux City,” Miller said, laughing at the memory. “But here we are, 43 years later, and if I’m lucky, I’ll be able to finish my career here, too.”

The Sioux City Journal is part of Lee Enterprises of Davenport, Iowa. According to news reports, Lee Enterprises fended off a purchase attempt by Alden Global Capital earlier this year. The newspaper is published seven days a week, with Monday’s and Tuesday’s editions online.

“Our company encourages people to read online, and readers are starting to talk about the e-edition more frequently,” he said.

According to the newspaper’s website, new subscribers can receive both the print and e-editions for $40 a month.

The Journal employs 14 newsroom employees, and thanks to mobile technology, the lines between their roles are often blurred. Miller rejects the idea of editors in ivory towers and is always ready to jump in and help cover the news, using his trusty phone. He also covers theatre and entertainment, a role he has carried with him since he was that precocious fourth-grade journalist.

“I think you need to be an all-around journalist, no matter what your role might be,” he said.

Sioux City is tucked into northwest Iowa on the borders of both South Dakota and Nebraska. The Journal covers news in all three states. Lee Enterprises has a presence across the tri-state area, and Miller often relies on sister newspapers to bolster what his team can do in Sioux City.

Miller believes the key to successfully covering the news in today’s environment is careful planning. From adhering to deadlines for getting pages to the company’s design center and on to the printer press, the process is always carefully orchestrated.

This year, the Sioux City Journal won 19 awards in NNA’s Better Newspaper Contest.

Miller believes generating prize-winning journalism boils down to two things — skilled journalists who have a nose for news and choosing the year’s best work.

“We never know if we have stories good enough for awards because we don't write for contests,” he said. “But when we sit down and look at our coverage over the past year, it’s always a pleasant surprise because we don’t often realize the quality of our work until we look back on it.”

Creativity also plays a role in quality news coverage and storytelling, and Miller constantly challenges his staff to try new things. Lately, it has been videos with a goal of posting a video alongside most stories the newspaper covers, and after his many years in the business, he knows the Journal can’t please everyone, although it tries, and while the Journal is called a “newspaper,” it is much more than that, Miller says.

“We are a communication company, and we are a print product, an online product and a video product,” he said. “But above all, our goal is to make sure our readers get the news they need.”

Today, Miller is using all the tools available to appeal to a younger audience, realizing they are seeking connection with their neighbors.

“We are the connection between individuals and their community,” he said. “And the stronger we tie the two together, the better off we are.”

He understands the newspaper and his team are not going to get it right every single day, and drawing from his love of the arts, he expresses the optimism of the title character in the theatre production of Annie.

“I'm going to be honest with you,” he said. “While everything we do won’t be a winner, the best thing about this business is we have another day to try again.”

Teri Saylor is a business writer in Raleigh, North Carolina. Contact her at