Going Places. Here at Home: Audrey Posten

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Audrey Posten

Journalist writes her own story in McGregor


This is one in a series of articles highlighting the latest generation of innovators making a difference in Clayton County.


By Willis Patenaude, Times-Register


Sometimes, the plans people set for themselves are interrupted by life, such is the case for Audrey Posten, who didn’t set out to be editor of the Times-Register while attending the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee for journalism and history. In fact, working in Iowa wasn’t really part of the plan for Posten, who grew up outside Prairie du Chien. 


She initially wanted to find a big city job after graduating, but that changed with a bit of fortuitous timing, an internship and a family friendship that led to Posten being offered and accepting the editor position of the then North Iowa Times newspaper in July 2013, at just 22 years old.


When Posten took the job, she admitted it was a means to gain experience—adding to what she’d learned in college and writing for the school newspaper. It was a way to focus on what she enjoyed about journalism and what started her on the career path in the beginning, all the way back to middle school when it became apparent she enjoyed telling a good nonfiction story. 


The art of taking details and information and then crafting it into a story that attracts readers is what made journalism alluring. Posten also believed she could make a difference with words, and later, with her actions. 


Posten admitted there’s been a lot of learning as she goes. While college was helpful, it’s emphasis on online journalism did not fully prepare her for day-to-day life as an editor of a small, rural newspaper. A life that includes working nights and weekends, attending meetings and sporting events, conducting interviews, taking photographs, coordinating with staff and putting the paper together on a deadline.  


Beyond the typical day-to-day, working for a small newspaper comes with its own set of responsibilities that don’t necessarily exist in larger markets, mostly due to the fact you’re a known person within the community. You engage and interact with community members more often, in settings outside your duties as an editor or reporter, and people know who you are. Posten said she has to “walk a careful line,” especially when it comes to holding people or entities accountable because you oftentimes have to work with those people again and again. 


Posten added, “Sometimes, I feel like there’s a part of my personal self I can’t always show out in the community. Especially when I live in the community where I work…you don’t want people to feel like that impacts your job.”


While working at the North Iowa Times and interacting with the community daily, a funny thing happened: Posten never left. As the months rolled into years, the allure of the big city job lost its appeal. Instead, it was replaced by having friends and family nearby and buying a house in McGregor. Amid writing about the place where she lived, she started to care about the people and projects going on there. 


An attachment developed that Posten admitted gets her “choked up” sometimes, most notably in the aftermath of the tornado that hit McGregor in July 2017. Perhaps no singular event illustrates Posten’s shift from looking for a way out to a deep-seated desire to stay. 


She recalled crossing the bridge into Marquette, and then surveying the scene in McGregor—trying to process what had happened to the people she’d gotten to know and the businesses she had written about. She thought about her family, her neighbors, and spent over three hours on the scene that night, talking to people. In the back of her mind, Posten  wondered how she was going to tell the story of what happened. 


Eventually, she found the right words and, in addition to a front-page article, wrote one of the only editorials of her career. 


“Sometimes there’s a misconception that people think journalists don’t care. That they’re just out to make people look bad. Or to just be the first on the scene. But that’s not true,” Posten said. “I care very deeply about what I write. Every person who I talk to, I appreciate the time they give me and the fact they’re willing to open up…and through that I get to learn something new every day.”


Posten dealt with possibly the biggest challenge of her career in 2020, with the merger of the North Iowa Times and Clayton County Register newspaper, near the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. In fact, the merger process started the same week as everything started to shut down.


A myriad of factors led to the decision, including finances and retirements, and the merger was deemed the best viable option to keep a newspaper operating in all the communities.


For Posten, the merger added to the difficulties, as it meant coverage had to be split in a somewhat even way. The loss of traditions was especially hard. Posten noted the North Iowa Times was the third oldest newspaper in Iowa at the time of the merger and that tradition—which was equally great for the Clayton County Register—was something she understood and took very seriously. 


Despite the initial challenges and some public displeasure, she feels the merger has been a mostly successful one, and that it benefits all communities with a variety of news. 


Since 2020, the paper and Posten have been recognized multiple times in the Iowa Better Newspapers Contest, including taking first place for this “Going Places” series in both 2022 and 2023.


Outside the paper, Posten never seems to miss an opportunity to be involved in the community. She’s the current president of the McGregor-Marquette Chamber of Commerce, and it’s actually the second time Posten has served in the tole during her roughly six years with the chamber. 


It was through her job with the newspaper that Posten found her way to the Chamber, having already been attending events and other activities. Posten also noted how joining was about supporting the local businesses, which are the heart of the community and what make small towns vibrant. 


While on the chamber board, Posten has brought some new perspectives, given her age and career, and has helped advance the chamber’s social media presence and encouraged businesses to tell their stories, all of which promotes the cities and  region, which is tourist dependent.


Posten has served on the McGregor Historical Museum Board even longer and is currently its vice president. This involvement stems from Posten’s passion for history. Like with the chamber, Posten has helped evolve the museum’s social media and played a part in several events, including welcoming older McGregor residents to the museum to share their stories and memories. 


She also helped organize “Ghosts of McGregor’s Past,” a guided walking tour featuring characters from McGregor’s past played by costumed locals. The event was spearheaded several years ago by the museum, McGregor Historical Museum, McGregor Public library and other community volunteers. 


More importantly, Posten added how this is a “pivotal time” for the museum because of a planned expansion which will turn the museum into the Great River Road Discovery Center. It’s presented a busy past couple of months for Posten and the rest of the board, as they go through the visioning process for ideas, themes and exhibits that will encompass the new space. 


Then there is the volunteering Posten does through the Clan McGregor for Community Enrichment, where she and friend Katie Ruff played a major part in bringing back hanging baskets to downtown McGregor. The two saw it as a way to brighten up downtown, and due to comments over the years about how the community “missed them,”  the two thought, “What the heck, let’s bring them back!” 


The first foray into the hanging baskets was in 2021, when the Clan McGregor organization bought some hanging baskets and a pull cart with a battery-operated water tank. That first year, they bought the flowers from a local greenhouse, and Posten admitted the pair “didn’t really know what [they] were doing,” but they soldiered on. 


After the initial learning curve, Posten and Ruff made changes in 2022, and commissioned baskets that were more capable of withstanding the heat and other weather conditions. 


Posten and Ruff were the two main individuals who watered the plants from Memorial Day to Labor Day, something Posten is proud of, as it emphasized commitment to a cause. It’s a cause she undertook because, like with the newspaper, she is a “big believer in small details,” and the flower baskets added to the beauty of downtown McGregor.  


Through all she does, Posten is constantly learning what makes a community run, and has decided to be an active member of the community in which she lives. She has chosen to be part of the solution, to make things better, rather than sit on the sidelines. 


By doing so, she hopes to highlight the area and possibly inspire people to visit or even start a new career or family here. 


It’s a changed perspective for Posten, who once wanted a life in a place like Milwaukee, but has since grown attached to the “quieter life.” A life surrounded by friends, family and community. It’s a life of sharing stories and knowing that she can make a difference. After all, that’s why she got into journalism in the first place: to make a difference.

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