‘Flocks of Birdies’ Assist Sports Columnist
Charley Walters is looking for news and willing to compete with other reporters 24-7
to be first with a scoop. The St. Paul Pioneer Press columnist
recently talked with Sports Headliners about his career including
his passion for beating everybody else on a sports story.
Walters has worked for the St. Paul daily newspapers
since the 1970’s and for about 25 years has been writing his popular
notes column with headings like “Don’t Print That,” “Behind the
Lockers,” “A Little Birdie Says,” and “Psst.” His commitment to report
the news once had him hiding behind a Christmas tree to learn about a
baseball player’s contract. He also hid behind a rock outside Winter
Park waiting for Vikings general manager Mike Lynn.
About three years ago Walters was sitting
in his car on a bitterly cold January morning at 5 a.m. Equipped with
binoculars and laptop, he was looking for confirmation that Tim
Brewster would be the next Gophers football coach.
Years ago Walters and another St. Paul
newspaper reporter, Charles (Buck) Hallman, made a
middle of the night visit to Lou Nanne’s
house. “We go over there at 3:15 in the morning, his house in
Edina,” Walters said. “Hallman is knocking on the door. I am
standing with him. …Louie finally comes to the door and starts cussing
us out and says, ‘What are you guys doing here?’ Charley says, ‘We want to find out who the
next North Stars coach is going to be.’ ”
By 4:30 a.m. Nanne, the North Stars
general manager, gave in and told the persistent twosome that Bill
Mahoney would be named coach later that day. Hallman and Walters
broke the story when it was published in the afternoon edition of the
St. Paul Dispatch.
Sometimes Walters receives a news tip from
unexpected places. Walters got word on the Timberwolves being sold and
moving to New Orleans from a source who was sitting in a bathroom stall
when he overhead two guys talking about it.
The bathroom tipster could also be
referred to as one of Walters’ "little birdies." How many does he have?
“Flocks of them,” Walters said. “I’ve got
them everywhere. I’ve even got them at the Minneapolis newspaper.
I’ve got people there that for some reasons would rather have some
things in my column than another one. There’s people all over the place
that if they trust you and respect you, they will answer questions and
Walters said he has the phone numbers for
3,500 contacts. He’s been collecting those numbers since journalism
school at the University of Minnesota. It was there that he received
some advice from teacher Steven Hartgen that Walters has long
“I was sitting in the front row because I
don’t hear that well, and it was reporting 1101,” Walters
first day of class Hartgen came in there and said, ‘I am going to give
you students Hartgen rule No. 1. …Here’s my rule, whenever you are
interviewing anybody, asking anybody a question, at the same time be
asking why is this son of a bitch lying to me? So that’s probably the
best advice I’ve had in my 35 year newspaper career in St. Paul.”