Justin’s Journey leads to Jackson

TRACY AREA HIGH SCHOOL GRADUATE JUSTIN LESSMAN has made a nice career for himself as publisher of the Jackson County Pilot, which has become one of the top weekly newspapers in the state under his guidance. Submitted photo

Catching up with … Justin Lessman

“Catching Up With …” is a new periodic feature of the Tracy Area Headlight Herald and is designed to highlight the exploits of Tracy Area High School graduates who have been out of high school for at least a decade. If you have a suggestion of someone you think should be included in this feature, let us know by emailing per@headlightherald.com

What do you do when you have multiple loves in life when you’re a teenager? If you’re Justin Lessman, you pursue them all.

Lessman, a successful wordsmith and 1999 graduate of Tracy Area High School, has always had a fondness for agriculture and the written word. So, he combined the two by going into the agricultural journalism program at South Dakota State University in Brookings, SD.

“It seemed like a natural fit,” said Lessman, who on Feb. 11 was named the president of the Minnesota Newspaper Association. “I grew up reading my hometown newspaper, the Tracy Headlight Herald, and it seemed like the perfect place to get some practical experience, so I interned there after my freshman year of college. Publisher Seth Schmidt introduced me to all facets of newspapering — writing, photography, design and ad sales. I excelled at the first, worked hard to improve at the second, was mediocre at the third and was lousy at the fourth. Seth introduced me to the ins and outs of community journalism, gave me a primer in journalism ethics and really set me on my path to a career in small-town newspapering.”

That path has led to some big things for Lessman, now publisher of the award-winning Jackson County Pilot. He joined Jackson-based Livewire Printing Co. in 2008 and helped lead the Pilot to first-place general excellence honors in the Minnesota Newspaper Association’s Better Newspaper Contest for several years and to the title of Minnesota’s Most Outstanding Weekly Newspaper and in 2015 the coveted Mills Trophy, which recognizes the best weekly paper in Minnesota. He is also general manager and co-owner of Jackson-based Livewire Printing Co., the Lakefield Standard and the Livewire.

Lessman’s first job after college took him west to Wyoming, where he worked at The Powell Tribune, a family-owned semi-weekly in the northwestern part of the state. There, he began as a staff writer before being promoted to news editor.

“In my three-and-a-half years there, publisher Dave Bonner taught me more about community journalism than I ever could have hoped to learn,” Lessman said. “I also benefited from working side-by-side with my sports editor at the time, Steve Moseley — a meat cutter by trade who went on to a long and successful career in journalism.”

See this week’s Headlight Herald for more information.