Sampler: SW Journal looks at proposed minimum wage hike as Legislature debates ban

As a plan to prevent cities from raising the minimum wage has worked its way through the Legislature — with a Senate vote planned this week — the Southwest Journal in Minneapolis has covered the issue from several perspectives.  

Two of the Journal’s stories make up the April installment of the Minnesota Sampler — this one, which looks at restaurants that already pay their workers $15 per hour, and this one, which provides a service workers’ view of the idea.

Hear from the journalists behind Serial, S-Town

Photo Credit: Nick Caito

Attention journalists: The creators of the Serial podcast — Sarah Koenig and Julie Snyder — are coming to the Twin Cities.

The pair will speak May 10 as part of Beth El Synagogue’s Inspiring Minds series. Minnesota SPJ is a promotional partner for the event.

Launched in 2014, Serial became the fastest podcast to reach five million downloads in iTunes history. The first season of the podcast presented a 12-part series on one legal case, captivating an audience that downloaded the episodes more than 100 million times (and counting). S-Town, a new podcast from Serial and This American Life, recently launched, earning rave reviews.

At this talk, Koenig and Snyder will come together to take the audience backstage in this cultural phenomenon, using some of their favorite tape to narrate personal stories about the ups and downs of creating a new form of modern storytelling.


Silha Center ethics forum to focus on fake news

Who defines which news is “fake”?  How do ethical principles help the media detect and combat fake news? Can democracy survive fake news?  

These questions and others will be addressed at the 2017 Silha Center Spring Forum on April 24 at the University of Minnesota.

Making News or Faking News? Ethical Journalism in a Post-Truth Era will feature Joshua Gillin, a staff writer for PolitiFact, PunditFact and the Tampa Bay Times whose current assignment is to debunk fake news items and examine how they are spread online.  

The forum, sponsored by the Silha Center for the Study of Media Ethics and Law and the Minnesota pro chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, is free and open to the public.  The event also coincides with SPJ’s National Ethics Week.  

When: 7:30 p.m. Monday, April 24.
Where: 130 Murphy Hall, 206 Church Street SE, Minneapolis, on the East Bank of the University of Minnesota.

Gillin will be joined on the panel by Leila Brammer, a communications scholar at Gustavus Adolphus College; Sarah Bauer Jackson, program director at the Minnesota Newspaper Association; Ricardo Lopez, a political reporter at the Star Tribune; and Brian Lambert, who covered the media for the St. Paul Pioneer Press and MinnPost.  Jane Kirtley, director of the Silha Center for the Study of Media Ethics and Law, will moderate the discussion.

Allam, of BuzzFeed News, to headline Page One Banquet

Hannah Allam, a veteran journalist who covers U.S. Muslim life for BuzzFeed News, will be the keynote speaker at this year’s Page One Banquet, set for June 15 at the Town & Country Club in St. Paul.

Hannah Allam, a former Pioneer Press reporter, writes for BuzzFeed News.

Allam previously reported for McClatchy, spending a decade as bureau chief in Baghdad during the Iraq war and in Cairo during the Arab Spring rebellions. She was part of a McClatchy team that won an Overseas Press Club award for exposing death squads in Iraq and a Polk Award for coverage of the Syrian conflict.

Allam spent the early part of her career in the Twin Cities, working as a reporter for the Pioneer Press and as a summer intern for the Star Tribune. She was a 2009 Nieman fellow at Harvard and serves on the board of the Overseas Press Club.  She lives in Washington, D.C., with her 6-year-old son, Bilal.

As it does every year, MNSPJ will recognize the Page One Award winners at the banquet.

Keep an eye on this site for more details.

Tell us Your Story: Jim Gehrz, a life in photos

Retired Star Tribune photographer Jim Gehrz is the latest featured in our ongoing series called Tell us Your Story, a salute to former journalists who have moved on to new adventures.

Like most of the reporters and photojournalists I’ve had the privilege to work with, journalism has always felt less like a job and more like a calling. Initially I was smitten by the discovery of buried treasure, captivated by the magical emergence of an image from the murky-orange depths of Dektol developer.  It wasn’t until I realized that photography is a universal language that I came to fully appreciate the power of the moment, and my passion for telling stories was stirred forever.

Right after, “How many megapixels does your camera have?”  the question asked most often during my photojournalism career has been, “Do you have a favorite story?” There have been too many to count! But honestly, what I love most is the journey – the wondrous discovery process of searching for the truth, following a story as it unfolds and finally finding that elusive thread that knits the narrative together.

One such journey involved a female soldier who was critically injured by a roadside bomb. Jessica Clements was a patient at the Minneapolis VA Medical Center, trying to regain the strength to survive an operation. For several months I chronicled her recovery. It wasn’t until early morning at about 2 a.m., driving along a dark, unfamiliar Ohio turnpike to a family welcoming celebration for Jessica — that the more profound nature of her ordeal found me. I remember praying for my own son, then serving his first tour as a Navy Corpsman in Iraq. Praying for him to be granted the same cherished gift that Jessica and her family were about to receive. Jessica’s tale had always run much deeper than just recovery — hers was a story of hope and of a soldier’s desperate struggle to go home.

Staff Sgt. Jessica Clements, 27, was critically injured by a roadside bomb the Iraq. (Star Tribune, 2004)

About a year later I learned of another Iraq War casualty, this time a military priest. Blinded in one eye, Father Tim Vakoc also suffered a devastating brain injury and had not spoken in the year since. For several weeks I photographed the priest’s recovery, but the entire time he seemed unaware of his surroundings. One afternoon a caregiver suggested I show a photograph of my son in his camouflage uniform to Fr. Tim. Surprisingly, he reached out from his bed, grabbed the picture and held it close for better look. It seemed as though Fr. Tim had been reserving every ounce of his strength over the past year to heal. Soon after, Tim began speech therapy. When I listened to a recording of his frail, unsure voice as he tried, almost inaudibly, to recite the Lord’s Prayer — I knew his real story had finally found me. Fr. Tim’s story was not just about physical recovery, it was about the resilience of the human spirit and one man’s quiet struggle to regain his voice.

The harmonies of religious chants filled hospital room of Father Tim Vakoc, as members of the Franciscan Brothers of Peace gathered at the priest’s bedside in the early evening hours to offer prayer and inspiration. (Star Tribune, 2005)

When I look back at my 40 year career as a newspaper photojournalist, I don’t think most about covering Denver’s dramatic win over Green Bay in the Super Bowl XXXII, or having had a one-on-one photo session with the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. What I remember are the inspirational stories about the remarkable lives of everyday people, people like Fr. Tim.

I believe these kinds of stories are more important than ever. Newspapers aren’t dying, they’re changing. There are valid criticisms of the business to be sure, but the ideals of journalism have never been more important. Technology has allowed us to post photographs and video instantly and to produce ever more sophisticated multimedia stories that weren’t possible just a few years ago. Despite the challenges, the power of the decisive moment, that point when all of the elements align to form an instant of clarity — that endures. It’s more relevant than ever. I still believe that Journalism remains a great profession for an idealist.

Jim lives in St. Paul near family. He enjoys spending time with his three grandchildren, and is looking forward to the arrival of another granddaughter in July.


Tell us Your Story: Sara Aeikens

The Minnesota pro chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists salutes former journalists who have moved on to new adventures.  In this ongoing series, we invite newsies to reflect on their time in the news business.  Our latest entry is from Sara Aeikens, who wrote for the Albert Lea Tribune and now contributes occasional columns to the newspaper.

Sara Aeikens has written a column for the Albert Lea Tribune for many years.

Sara Aeikens has written about her travels in a column for the Albert Lea Tribune.

The trail of my writing began with seeing my mother’s journal by her nightstand and knowing that she wrote in it daily.  I recall that after leaving home to attend college, my father typed me weekly letters, as he had continued to do with his own parents as long as they lived.  I wrote for my high school newspaper as well as those of the colleges I attended.

When I married and moved to my present home in Albert Lea, Minnesota, I began writing for the local paper and was paid by the column inch.  As I raised our child with my husband, I chose to write less often and on a volunteer basis, deciding to write a column published about every other month, as I’m doing now.

Since joining the Peace Corps immediately after college graduation, I continued my writing with letters to my folks for two years, from rural Venezuela.  The Peace Corps experience inspired me to travel to a foreign country yearly, which gave me tons of topics to share in my newspaper articles.

My travels often influenced my selection of a theme and I sometimes could insert something about a Peace Corps connection.  I’ve written in my local newspaper column about the CEO of the National Peace Corps Association contacting me with a personal visit to Albert Lea.  Because of technology he tracks Peace Corps experiences nationwide, including my columns.  His visit resulted in a newspaper photo with him and a discussion of Peace Corps history and experiences with several former Peace Corps volunteers.

The next day I abruptly changed my plans and two of us women went to a statewide Peace Corps picnic near Fort Snelling in the Twin Cities that the CEO was attending.  At the picnic I ran into author Patrick O’Leary, originally from Freeborn County, who was writing a book about his Peace Corps adventures called “From Freeborn to Freetown.”  I was amazed to reconnect with him.

My next pathway to follow was to phone the National Peace Corps office to relate how relevant, as a former volunteer, I considered his book.  I also happened to mention that I had a goal of supporting a National Peace Corps Day and was greatly taken aback when I was informed that President John F. Kennedy had already pronounced March 1 as that special day.  I figured I must have forgotten that several decades ago!

Wouldn’t it be great to look at our phone or computer calendars and have that date pop up to remind us to honor those several hundred plus who lost their lives while in the service of their country, as well as the rest of the 250,000+ U.S. Peace Corps volunteers serving in other countries since the program began?  Looks like I have got another goal–using my writing to promote PEACE.

Sara Aeikens lives in Albert Lea.