SD journalism community mourns the loss of Maricarrol Kueter, founding editor of South Dakota News Watch

SD journalism community mourns the loss of Maricarrol Kueter, founding editor of South Dakota News Watch
Maricarrol Kueter

Maricarrol Kueter, a South Dakota native, longtime leader in the state journalism industry and founding executive director and editor of South Dakota News Watch, died on Aug. 10 after a long battle with cancer.

Throughout her fight, Maricarrol, 63, had the strong support of her close family and friends, which included many people in the South Dakota journalism community. She was revered for her knowledge, judgement, strength of character and kindness.

Kueter formerly served as executive editor of the Argus Leader of Sioux Falls; later, she became a major player in the development of South Dakota News Watch, the state’s only independent non-profit journalism organization. As the first editor and director of News Watch, Maricarrol shepherded through a wide range of articles that exposed significant issues to state residents, and also was a prominent voice in the formation and growth of the organization. Her work at News Watch and over her entire career helped inform people and improve the lives of South Dakotans.

The sadness over her passing was noted in a social media posting by Jack Marsh, co-chair of South Dakota News Watch and a longtime colleague of Maricarrol. Marsh called Maricarrol “a treasured colleague and friend.”

Marsh said that Maricarrol’s “love of community and passion for truth were an example to others. The successful launch of News Watch is largely due to her professionalism and commitment to excellence.”

Bart Pfankuch, content director for News Watch, who worked under Maricarrol’s tutelage for nearly two years, said he was honored to work with such a great editor and outstanding individual. Pfankuch said he now fully understands why so many South Dakota journalists hold Maricarrol in such high regard.

“As both a journalist and as a human being, I will strive every day to be more like Maricarrol,” he said. “Her wisdom, toughness, smarts and kindness are models for us all. We all will miss her deeply, but stand ready to carry on her tradition of excellence in our field.”

Argus Leader honors Maricarrol Kueter

The following is a column published on Aug. 10, 2019, by longtime Sioux Falls Argus Leader writer and editor Stu Whitney, who reflected on the loss of Maricarrol shortly after her death. It is published here with permission from the Argus Leader.

By Stu Whitney

Maricarrol Kueter was a journalist.

That might seem an obvious appraisal of someone who helped guide the Argus Leader newsroom for a quarter-century, but the simplicity of the statement is the point.

In an age when media personas are fueled by self-promotion and sensationalism, Kueter’s stoic leadership stands as a lesson for us all.

She and I arrived at Argus Leader at roughly the same time, with much different approaches. I was a brash young sportswriter from Michigan looking to make my mark and ruffle feathers. She was an assistant news editor from a farm near Humboldt who wanted to serve the community and help her reporters shine.

Maricarrol’s feel for South Dakota and its unique sensibilities served her well. Her knowledge of what was news and how to report it responsibly helped her move through the ranks to executive editor, the role she held when she retired from the Argus Leader in 2015.

It’s rare for editors – almost always former reporters or columnists – to leave their ego at the door, but she did it with ease. Her unobtrusive style allowed her to elevate writers and spotlight them when warranted, and their natural response was to trust and respect her.

I remember working on lengthy projects in both news and sports where Kueter served as overseer. She helped with working sources and pulling different threads, but there would always come a time when she would look up and say, “OK, Stu, well, by the end of the week we need to see some copy.” That meant it was time to start digging in.

Quiet by nature, she would lord over editors’ meetings with a subtle hand, listening to voices rise and fall as they lobbied for a certain story or approach. As egos clashed and ideas collided, she would take it all in and calmly but firmly render a verdict for how we would proceed. I don’t recall anyone ever firing back at her in disagreement.

Maricarrol passed away Saturday after several days in hospice care, where she was surrounded by family and friends. Her legacy as a trailblazing journalist and newsroom leader in South Dakota probably isn’t a story that she feels needs to be told.

When she retired four years ago, we had a newsroom gathering to honor her contributions, but Maricarrol didn’t want to make a fuss. We told stories and laughed and hugged and she went to other pursuits, including some very fine work with South Dakota News Watch.

“I don’t know when exactly it happens in your career,” she wrote in her farewell column, “that moment when you stop thinking about what you want to be and start thinking about what you have been.”

Maricarrol wanted to be a journalist. She was a damn good one. I miss her support and guidance. I miss her professionalism in the face of daunting industry challenges. Heck, I’ll miss her at our fantasy football draft, where she always came prepared.

Mainly, I find myself wanting to share a basic truth that she would not want to be told: She was one of the best we ever had.