Posts Tagged ‘Minnesota Public Radio’

Words to the EIJ wise

Raney Aronson-Rath, the executive producer of Frontline, seen with David Fanning, the executive producer at large in 2011. Aronson-Rath wants to uphold the values of a free press.
(Photo: Peabody Awards/Flickr)

When Raney Aronson-Rath began her journalism career at an English language newspaper in Taiwan in the early 1990s, she witnessed the emergence of a free press, in a time where the country was undergoing significant political reforms.

Aronson-Rath, now the executive producer of the PBS documentary program Frontline, said that witnessing that was an a-ha moment, a moment that would provide guidance to the work that she would do in the future.

“Growing up in America, I had taken the ideas of a free press, freedom of speech, and democracy for granted,” Aronson-Rath wrote in an essay for Current, a magazine for public media professionals. “I never would again. I realized how important it is to protect those ideas, and I decided at that point to commit to journalism as my career.”

Roughly two decades later, the a-ha moment she saw in Taiwan emerged in a new form for me, in suburban Chicago. In the Spring of 2009, I had a medical trifecta which resulted in me completing my junior and senior years of high school as a homebound student. As the days saw me going back and forth with my mom to a plethora of doctor’s appointments, the nights saw insomnia, a side effect of the medications I was taking.

What exactly could I do in those hours so I wouldn’t wake my mom and sister? I turned to the radio – public radio, to be precise, something that night and during the course of my recovery became a friend in the hours where one truly felt isolated and scared. I grew curious about the role stories could have, written and spoken, and the impact they could have on the world.

The values that Aronson-Rath wanted to protect soon became ones I wanted to protect too, as I knew that I wanted to go to college and pursue a career in journalism – and that’s exactly what I did.

This week, my SPJ colleagues are gathering in Anaheim, Calif., for the annual Excellence in Journalism conference. It is a culmination of the current journalism year in which we get to celebrate some of the best and brightest people in this industry.

It is also a time to reflect and to ponder about the future of journalism, and for that matter our crafts, in an age where the cultures of the internet and social media are leading the way in reinventing how we think about both – and how we can be authentic.

The timing of EIJ is also apt – as this month also marks the 50th anniversary of when the House of Representatives passed the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967, which also created the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. When President Lyndon Johnson signed it into law that November, he spoke about what would come of the Act, and how public broadcasting would enrich one’s spirit and advance the education of the people.

Enriching one’s spirit and advancing the education of the people are hallmarks of all quality journalism. Like our colleagues in public media, we are storytellers, with the desire to inform, educate and engage, with the hope, as this announcement from WGBH put it, help people “cope better with the world” and their own lives.

It’s hard sometimes, especially for young career journalists like myself – with the blunt, uneasy criticism of the Trump Administration, as well as the general economic outlook of the profession – to know that the work you do can matter to your audience. Reminders that the ability to do such work exist help along the way.

It is in that spirit that I’d like to introduce you to the people who occupy a building just off of Cedar Street in St. Paul, Minn., where it just so happens that the organization that employs them is celebrating their 50th birthday this year.

That building is home to Minnesota Public Radio, and the corporate headquarters of American Public Media, home of national programs like Marketplace, The Splendid Table and A Prairie Home Companion, and who distributes the BBC World Service to public radio stations across the US. In that building are people who put their family, friends and neighbors first – who care deeply about the ability to enrich the spirit of Minnesotans and Americans, and advance the education of the people, so they can be at their best.

Indeed, it, and the reminder of why journalism remains important to democracy, is made known on a t-shirt linking the start next Sunday of Flyover from MPR News, a national call-in program.

Since that night in 2009, I’ve had a soft spot for them – a soft spot that has grown exponentially since moving to the Twin Cities. Indeed, that soft spot applies to all who work in public media, and all who look to uphold the importance of a free press and the fundamental role journalism has in democracy, through the output produced each day.

Fred Rogers said that life is for service – and as life is for service, then journalism remains the most important profession you can choose to have a career in. Working together, we can uphold the values of journalism in a democracy, promote the need for quality, ethical journalism and help people be at their best.

If we won’t do it, who will?

Alex Veeneman is a freelance journalist who writes for publications in the US and the UK. He also serves on SPJ’s Ethics Committee. You can interact with him on Twitter @alex_veeneman.

The views expressed in this blog post unless otherwise specified are that of the author’s, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SPJ Digital Community, the board and staff of the Society of Professional Journalists, or its members.

A need for journalism

This past week, Village Voice, the New York based alternative weekly known for its cultural output, announced that it would cease publication of its print edition.

After that news was announced, a Twitter thread appeared from Andrea Swensson, music journalist and presenter of The Local Show, a program on 89.3 The Current, the music service of Minnesota Public Radio, which showcases Minnesota’s music scene. Swensson was also a music editor for City Pages, an alternative weekly based in Minneapolis.

These particular posts however got my attention.

It got me thinking about the debate that has stemmed as journalism continues to evolve in the digital age – clicks versus authenticity, and our own roles as journalists as it plays out.

We are natural storytellers. We enter this industry in order to inform, engage and educate – that no matter what beat we specialize in or if we broadcast or write for print or online, the work we do will make a difference for the people we serve.

The internet and the culture of social media has challenged us how we think about telling these stories. We wonder if the work we do is truly meaningful, or if its just for the sake of clicks, while the generation of early career journalists wonder if they will be able to make an impact in the field, as questions on journalism’s business model continue to be raised.

Social media has allowed people to consume news, music reviews and all types of journalism quickly. We are the sharing generation – and we share that content in abundance.

Social media platforms like Twitter may have disrupted journalism, but there is always going to be a need for it. (Photo: Pixabay)

Along the way, journalists and news organizations have had to take a step back to figure out how we can do our best work, in the age where how quickly one can get clicks becomes the norm instead of quality, authentic content. There have been positives for the relationship between social media and journalism, but there have also been negatives.

To borrow the legendary Facebook relationship status: It’s complicated.

I don’t claim to know what is going through the mind of Mark Zuckerberg, Jack Dorsey and others when it comes to their whims and intentions about journalism on their platforms. I also don’t know how journalism will look when its digital reinvention is said and done.

But I do know this. Authenticity is important. Authenticity is a necessity. Authenticity is quintessential to journalism’s future.

What makes journalism vibrant is the dedication and passion of others to help people be at their best, whether its about music, politics, business, sports or other forms of culture. No matter what one covers, the ability to be authentic is something that allows journalism to keep going, to know that the work you’re doing has an impact, and to know the profession is, in these times, still a valued part of civic and cultural society.

That’s why people need the written word in print and online, be it in books or a subscription to a newspaper. It is also why radio is still important – and that its worth investing in public radio through a donation.

Authenticity is why The Local Show, and indeed The Current, do so well, and why they are needed – not just for our sake, but for journalism’s. Journalism needs passionate and dedicated storytellers and curators to help support it, because the work people do in this profession matters, and is something not to be taken for granted.

Though we may not know where its going, and the platforms will continue to change, there will always be a need for journalism, and the ability to be authentic is something that will keep it all together.

Alex Veeneman is a freelance journalist who writes for publications in the US and the UK. He also serves on SPJ’s Ethics Committee. You can interact with him on Twitter @alex_veeneman.

The views expressed in this blog post unless otherwise specified are that of the author’s, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SPJ Digital Community, the board and staff of the Society of Professional Journalists, or its members.

An intimate inspiration

Radio is the intimate of all mediums, and public radio has a role to play in civic and cultural life. (Photo: Pixabay)

Spring, 2009. A medical trifecta led to me completing the last half of my junior year and my entire senior year of high school as a homebound student. The days saw my mom and I commute to a plethora of doctors appointments, while the nights saw insomnia – a side effect of all the medications I was on.

One night, in my room at my home in suburban Chicago, I wondered what I could do so I wouldn’t wake my mom and sister on the other end of the house. I switched on the radio, volume down. Away I went, fiddling the tuning button, past the commercial talk on AM, the pedantic top 40 and genre specific stations on FM, and then, I stumbled upon WBEZ, Chicago’s NPR station, doing their top of the hour ID.

What followed were the final sounds of the Greenwich Time Signal from London, and then these words: “It’s 7:00 GMT. This is The World Today from the BBC World Service.”

The most intimate of mediums became a friend and a companion, in the hours where one felt isolated, scared and alone. On that night, and nights during my recovery, those sounds provided reassurance to me that all was right in the world, and that I wasn’t alone. I became curious about the world, and the role that stories can have in helping us understand each other, be it written or spoken.

Public radio saved my life, and inspired me to go into journalism.

This past Sunday marked National Radio Day in the United States, an occasion to mark the importance of the medium in this country, and what it means to the civic and cultural life of America. This year’s marking of National Radio Day was special too for public radio, as it marks the 50th anniversary of the signing by President Lyndon Johnson of the Public Broadcasting Act, which established the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Public radio continued to be a companion through my college days, and even in times of uncertainty provided a couple of ideas about the work that I want to do in the future, from the search for stories by one of NPR’s most renowned correspondents to the desire by a DJ at 89.3 The Current at Minnesota Public Radio to unearth something you’ve never heard before – and to be the quintessential champion of authenticity.

Radio was designed to be something that connects the world together – to help us understand ourselves, and to do the best we can for the common good. Public media expanded it, and it could be seen especially with the events today involving the solar eclipse – as people gathered to watch in awe the week’s scientific highlight.

Journalism, irrespective of medium, finds itself in a quandary, as it tries to adjust in the digital age. As it does, those who aspire to make it their life’s work wonder if they will be able to make an impact. Many students will be returning to university campuses over the next few weeks with that question still etched in their minds.

It’s a question still etched in my mind, too. While I don’t have the definitive answer to it, I know this – there are people out there who are doing their best possible work, not to achieve fame or fortune, but to inform, educate and engage.

To paraphrase a quote from a funding announcement from WGBH, the PBS station in Boston, their desire is to help people cope better with the world and their own lives. Public media does that and then some, and showcases that when all is said and done, in spite of uncertainty, the work does make a difference. I hope I can do just that.

I have them to thank and them to credit for inspiring me to pursue journalism. Quite frankly, I couldn’t have imagined doing anything else.

Alex Veeneman is a freelance journalist who writes for publications in the US and the UK. He also serves on SPJ’s Ethics Committee. You can interact with him on Twitter @alex_veeneman.

The views expressed in this blog post unless otherwise specified are that of the author’s, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SPJ Digital Community, the board and staff of the Society of Professional Journalists, or its members.

The Twin Cities’ spirit

Garrison Keillor’s quote, “Be well, do good work and keep in touch,” provides a lesson for journalists. (Photo: Trishhhh/Flickr)

It’s a somewhat overcast afternoon as I look out of the window in the small office of my apartment in Minneapolis, where I’m ending my first full week as a Minnesotan. In the distance is the city skyline, a view that echoes the apartment in Seattle where the fictitious psychiatrist Dr. Frasier Crane lived.

A week or so ago, I made the over 400 mile move from Chicago to the Twin Cities for greener pastures. I was operating on caffeine and adrenaline, and I still am a week later.

Yet, as I write this, I recall the quote from the famous broadcaster and writer Garrison Keillor, which he uses for his Writer’s Almanac broadcasts on Minnesota Public Radio: “Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.”

I had been to Minneapolis twice before in the past few years, and then I didn’t really appreciate the impact of Keillor’s philosophy. In the almost two weeks since I became a Minnesotan, I’ve come to value it and more.

We live in an age where the web has expanded everything that we do, where journalism and storytelling is being enhanced in the realms of Twitter, Facebook and the web. While there have been positive benefits, there also remain questions, especially for those looking to have a successful career in journalism and media.

While we ask ourselves about our role, and how we can truly make a difference, we can take inspiration from those around us. That inspiration can come from reporters trying to make sense of events for the web, print or broadcast, in order to allow us to learn from crafts and the role stories can have.

Inspiration can also come outside of conventional journalism, including from the effervescent spirit of DJs and personalities at MPR’s The Current, who are always eager to share with you something you’ve never heard before.

In St. Paul, on the top floor of MPR’s headquarters, there is a view outside to the east overlooking the state Capitol building – a majestic, poignant reminder of the role journalists have to hold power to account, to promote the exchange of ideas and civil discourse, and to, as SPJ’s Code of Ethics puts it – seek truth and report it. It also is a photographic recollection of the reminder from Fred Rogers that life is for service.

While there are questions that remain to be answered, I simultaneously know that there are people in the Twin Cities, be it at MPR, my colleagues at SPJ’s Minnesota chapter, and elsewhere, whose work and ideas are paramount to helping us understand ourselves. Indeed, the value of the work they do in helping their friends, family, neighbors and the place they call home be at their best is something they don’t take for granted.

They instill in us the desire to learn, day in and day out. I hope, along the way, that I can learn from them.

Alex Veeneman is a freelance journalist who writes for publications in the US and the UK. He also serves on SPJ’s Ethics Committee. You can interact with him on Twitter @alex_veeneman.

The views expressed in this blog post unless otherwise specified are that of the author’s, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SPJ Digital Community, the board and staff of the Society of Professional Journalists, or its members.

Twitter, authenticity and the audience

The record in the background is one with a driving rock, sort of punk sound, with vocal elements that echoes a sound nearly similar to that of the British rapper The Streets. Not too far away, a visual recording is taking place.

“Today, we’re kinda channeling a little carbon silicon – a little big audio dynamite.”

That is how Jade, who presents the weekday 10am-2pm CT program on 89.3 The Current, the music service of Minnesota Public Radio, begins to discuss one of their songs of the day this past week – TCR by the band Sleaford Mods. She was speaking to listeners and her followers on Twitter through a one minute video clip, microphone off as the record played on air.

Jade talks about the storytelling elements in this record, and though it may sound like its all about racing remote control cars, they use that to discuss the neighborhood they live in, as an element to tell that story.

After it is recorded, the clip is then tweeted by Jade, going out to listeners and music fans near and far.

Video has become an essential component into telling stories on Twitter, and to help journalists engage with audiences. Yet, it is not purely for storytelling, and can be used in a unique way to complement content, on-air or online.

Jade of Minnesota Public Radio’s 89.3 The Current says a humanistic approach can be helpful for journalists engaging with audiences. (Photo: Jay Gabler/MPR)

Song of The Day had been a regular web feature for The Current, based at MPR’s headquarters in St. Paul, for a number of years. Jade began doing the videos regularly 6 months ago. She said that listeners were keen for the deeper connection that had been emphasized since its launch 12 years ago.

“Radio isn’t about the tone of voice anymore,” Jade said in a telephone interview. “There is another way people want to communicate.”

Brett Baldwin, the managing digital producer for music services at MPR, which encompasses The Current and its classical service, Classical MPR, said in a telephone interview that they had always been looking for ways to provide something tangible — something that audiences can engage with. Baldwin noted that half of the social media audience was not based in Minnesota, so the Song of the Day clips were a natural thing in terms of that engagement.

Jade said that there wanted to be an emphasis on interacting in a personal way – similar to a friend. She says it provided a more human experience.

“I’m the one most excited about video,” Jade said. “I try (and our digital team tries) to push it. Its an easy way to interact with our audience on a deeper level.”

In spite of The Current being a music station, there are takeaways for journalists, including the humanistic approach that Jade emphasizes in the videos. That comes from making something short and understandable and convey feelings.

Baldwin says that a humanistic approach can translate to better engagement with audiences.

“At the end of the day we get a deepened relationship with the audience,” Baldwin said.

Yet, The Current is also cautious when it comes to reporting key music stories. That came into play when the news came of the passing of Prince at his studios at Paisley Park in suburban Chanhassen. The station was cautious before running with anything, stating what they knew at the time.

Jade was on the air as the news was confirmed, as Andrea Swensson (who blogs for The Current and presents The Local Current show) was reporting from the estate. The station would then play Prince tracks non-stop for 26 hours to coincide with tributes being done across the Twin Cities.

Jade adds that as The Current was a part of Minnesota Public Radio, they could go back and forth with colleagues at MPR News when it came to broader coverage of the event.

In the end, however, The Current wants to emphasize authenticity. Jade says that if the videos were just about getting clicks, they wouldn’t be as well received.

“It’s about authenticity,” Jade said. “That’s what we try to aim for.”

After all, Baldwin says, authenticity is quintessential in keeping the audience relationship intact.

“Audiences are vital, “Baldwin said, adding that though platforms will change, The Current wants that audience relationship to be real, and to be about the music and its stories. “If they’re not here, we’re not here.”

Alex Veeneman, a Chicago based SPJ member, is SPJ’s Community Coordinator and a contributor to the SPJ blog network. He also is a member of SPJ’s Ethics Committee.

Outside of SPJ, Veeneman is a Managing Editor and contributing writer for Kettle Magazine, an online publication in the UK. You can interact with Veeneman on Twitter here.

The views expressed in this blog post unless otherwise specified are that of the author’s, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SPJ Digital Community, the board and staff of the Society of Professional Journalists, or its members.



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