Minnesota Sampler

St. Cloud Times reporter Mitch LeClair took a closer look at the challenges people face in overcoming criminal backgrounds after two schools in his newspaper’s coverage area, the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University, signed the White House Fair Chance Higher Education Pledge.  The pledge encourages schools to fairly consider applications from people with criminal records.

LeClair’s subsequent article included comments from two men who shared their stories about the difficulty of getting a college education and obtaining licenses for certain jobs after being convicted of crimes.

Link to the piece here.

Congratulations to MNSPJ’s new board members

The Minnesota Pro chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists held its annual meeting Wednesday night, where it counted and announced the results of its annual election.

Members elected Jenna Ross, a reporter for the Star Tribune, as president-elect, re-elected Chris Snowbeck, a reporter for the Star Tribune, as treasurer and elected Joe Spear, Mankato Free Press managing editor, as secretary.

Ben Garvin, KARE11 photojournalist, will serve as president in the coming year after being elected last year.

Full results for this year’s election are below.

(One-year terms)


President (elected in 2015): Ben Garvin

President-elect: Jenna Ross

Secretary: Joe Spear

Treasurer: Christopher Snowbeck

(Two-year terms)


Nathan Hansen

Frederick Melo

Stephen Montemayor

Laura Yuen

Congratulations to our new board members and thanks to all the members who voted.

June Sampler: Medical marijuana too costly for many

Each month, SPJ’s Minnesota Samper highlights a work of journalism from around the state.

In this month’s Sampler, Brian Arola of the Mankato Free Press shares the story of local couples that would like to treat their ailing children with cannabis now that Minnesota has legalized the use of marijuana for medical purposes.  One problem: the families can’t afford medical cannabis, and their health insurers won’t cover it.

See the story here.

St. Cloud Times staff, Star Tribune reporters garner top 2016 Page One awards

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jonathan Capehart gave the keynote address.

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jonathan Capehart gave the keynote address.

A newspaper confronting fear and misconceptions about refugees in its town, a veteran reporter who’s churned out countless investigative stories, and a digital journalist who teaches the next generation of news hounds were among the big winners Wednesday at the 2016 Minnesota SPJ Page One Awards.

The St. Cloud Times’ wide-ranging exploration of immigration issues, which included a special fact-checking series, was named Story of the Year.

Two Star Tribune reporters received special recognition.  Photojournalist Renee Jones Schneider won the title of Journalist of the Year while digital journalist C.J. Sinner — also a University of Minnesota instructor — was named Young Journalist of the Year.

Longtime investigative journalist Paul McEnroe, formerly of the Star Tribune and now an executive producer with KSTP 5, received the 2016 Peter S. Popovich Award, which is given to a person or organization that exemplifies the fight for First Amendment rights.

The Page One Awards recognize the best in Minnesota journalism.  More than 120 journalists working in print, TV, radio and online attended the event, which was held at the Town and Country Club in St. Paul.  The entries for this year’s awards were judged by members of the Colorado pro chapter of SPJ.

Jonathan Capehart, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and member of the Washington Post editorial board, gave the keynote address.  Capehart discussed the increasing role that digital media plays in journalism, noting that reporters must now produce more and more content in less time – all the while interacting with news consumers on Twitter and other social media venues.  He urged reporters to stick up for their work, saying, “Be sure you are reminding the reader or listener that you put in a lot of hard work in what you do.”

Minnesota SPJ also announced the winners of two student scholarships.  Jacob Belgum, a junior at Augustana University, and Ellis Williams, a recent graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, each will receive $2,000.  Generous donations from the event’s silent auction help to fund the scholarships every year.

The awards ceremony was hosted by Jana Shortal, a reporter and co-anchor of KARE 11’s “Breaking the News.”

The Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), the oldest and largest organization of journalists in the U.S., was founded as Sigma Delta Chi in 1909.  The Minnesota Chapter, which has about 100 members, was founded in 1956.

If you would like to order duplicate awards or have any awards-related questions, please contact Minnesota SPJ at minnesota.spj@gmail.com.

The full program can be viewed here: SPJ Page One Program 2016

Join Us for a June 21 Networking Happy Hour

IMG_0958Unwind and network with your fellow journalists at our After Deadline happy hour! This is one of many events that Society of Professional Journalists chapters are holding across the country on June 21 in order to give journalists a chance to meet others in the profession.

Event is open to members and nonmembers alike, though we’d love for you to consider joining SPJ. The event is being sponsored by MNSPJ, AAJA-MN and TCBJ.

When: Tuesday, June 21, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.

Where: Grumpy’s Bar & Grill

1111 Washington Ave S, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55415

Let us know on Facebook whether you’re interested in coming. We look forward to seeing you!

Candidate statements for the MNSPJ 2016-17 Board of Directors

The following statements are from Minnesota SPJ members running for the 2016-17 Board of Directors. Electronic ballots will be mailed to all MNSPJ members currently in good standing with both the national organization and local chapter.

Didn’t receive a ballot in your email but think you should have? Contact minnesota.spj@gmail.com.

Ballots must be submitted no later than noon on Wednesday, June 29. Results of the election will be announced at the Minnesota SPJ Annual Meeting on Wednesday, June 29 at 6:30 p.m. at Town Hall Lanes (5019 S. 34th Ave., Minneapolis). All MNSPJ members and local journalists are welcome to attend.

Please email minnesota.spj@gmail.com with questions or concerns.

Statements from MNSPJ Board Candidates

Ben Garvin was elected in 2015 and will serve as 2016-17 chapter president.

President-Elect (to serve in 2017-18)

Jenna Ross, Minneapolis Star Tribune

Jenna Ross writes about the five-state region for the Star Tribune, a beat that often brings her to Main Streets across Minnesota. Before joining the regional team, Ross covered colleges and universities, chronicling the rising cost of higher education and earning a few first-place SPJ Page One awards. Ross graduated in 2006 from the University of Minnesota, where she worked at the Minnesota Daily and was president of the SPJ student chapter. She lives in south Minneapolis with her husband, a musician, and enjoys reading, baking and a good cocktail.

I have been on the Minnesota SPJ board for two years and, after seeing the chapter’s work up close, am even more convinced of its importance and excited about what we can do next. Last year, as secretary, I helped plan events — including a panel on “Making a Murderer” — and coordinate the student scholarship. I also participated in the Ted Scripps Leadership Institute, learning more about SPJ’s work nationally and brainstorming ways to better engage the journalism community locally. As president-elect, I would work to strengthen the chapter’s efforts to improve our profession — standing up for journalists’ rights and providing frequent, meaningful programs.


Joe Spear, Mankato Free Press

Joe Spear is editor of the Mankato Free Press. He has worked at The Free Press for 25 years as a reporter and city editor and has been editor for the last 10 years. He is on the Minnesota Associated Press board of directors and is completing his first term on the SPJ board. He is also on the education committee for the Minnesota Newspaper Association. He also has been a mentor editor for his employer, Community Newspaper Holdings Inc.

I have become familiar with the workings of the Minnesota SPJ board over the last three years and have been an SPJ member for 20 years. The Minnesota SPJ chapter is very active and vigilant on standing up for all journalists on issues of press freedom and access to information. I am happy to support the causes and communicate the efforts of the board through the position of secretary. I have a good record of attending meetings in person or by conference call and keep abreast on the issues facing Minnesota journalists.


Christopher Snowbeck, Minneapolis Star Tribune

Christopher Snowbeck is a business reporter covering health care for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Previously, he worked for the St. Paul Pioneer Press (2006-2014), the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (1997-2006), the Daily Progress of Charlottesville, Va. (1994-1997) and the Indianapolis News as a Pulliam Fellow in 1994. He lives in St. Paul with his wife, two daughters and two cats.

Candidate statement: During my first two years on the board, I’ve gained an appreciation for how SPJ works to promote quality journalism in Minnesota.  I’d like to build on the experience by helping organize events in the coming year that spotlight positive contributions from our community.  I’d like to investigate ways to diversify the chapter’s revenue base, and perhaps help coordinate volunteer opportunities for journalists. As treasurer, I’ve learned the mechanics of the job during the past year, and would like to continue.  Our chapter is on a sound financial footing.  I take seriously the responsibility that comes with watching over our funds.

Board Members (Four candidates for four seats)

Nathan Hansen, La Crosse Tribune

Nathan Hansen is the education reporter at the La Crosse Tribune, part of the River Valley Media Group with newspapers in Southeast Minnesota and Western Wisconsin. He has been a watchdog reporter for five years and has completed his second term on the Minnesota Society of Professional Journalists board of directors. He is also a member of the Education Writers Association and Investigative Reporters and Editors.In November, he was one of three Minnesota SPJ members to complete Scripps Leadership Training in the Twin Cities.

Nathan has three goals for a third term on the SPJ board. One is to work to increase membership, both to help keep the Minnesota chapter diverse as well as to help bring journalists together in common cause sharing experience and knowledge. The second is to help fundraise, especially in regards to creating an endowed scholarship fund for student journalists. Last but not least, he hopes to continue promoting freedom on information and the First Amendment, which are essential for an informed public. I am looking forward to bringing my passion and talents to the board for another term.

Laura Yuen, Minnesota Public Radio

Laura Yuen is a national award-winning correspondent for MPR News. She has a passion for producing stories that combine deep reporting with memorable narratives, particularly on issues of race, immigration and inequality. Her series on Somali-American youth in Minnesota won SPJ’s New America Award in 2011. Laura started her career working for daily newspapers, from rural Kentucky to St. Paul, and is equally comfortable telling stories on the radio, in print and online. Laura has also worked on the Next Generation Radio project, an audio and digital storytelling bootcamp for college students. She’s a graduate of MPR’s Emerging Leaders program and enjoys mentoring young reporters.

As one of the newest additions to the Minnesota SPJ board, I have been deeply honored to serve with an organization that is a strong voice for journalists across the state. I am committed to increasing the diversity of journalists in Minnesota and supporting our colleagues in every phase of their careers. I also hope to advocate for ethical, fair and accurate reporting.

Stephen Montemayor, Minneapolis Star Tribune

Stephen Montemayor reports on federal court and law enforcement agencies for the Star Tribune, a beat he has covered since the beginning of the year. Previously, Montemayor wrote about policing and the courts in the south metro suburbs for the newspaper. He has also worked as an online editor for Twin Cities Business Magazine, which was his first journalism job in Minneapolis after moving here in 2014. A University of Kansas alum, Montemayor grew up around the Kansas City area.

A strong media market in the Twin Cities factored heavily in our decision to make a new home here. Now, I am eager to work to maintain the chapter’s high standards for impactful reporting while further advocating for the importance of a healthy journalism industry on our society. I also want to help the chapter continue to expand its network of professional and student journalists and encourage more diversity in our newsrooms.

Frederick Melo, St. Paul Pioneer Press

My name is Frederick Melo and I’ve been a reporter with the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Minnesota’s capital city newspaper, since January 2005. Why am I running for the local board of the Society of Professional Journalists? The primary reason is because I was asked to by MPR reporter Laura Yuen and KARE 11 videographer Ben Garvin. That aside, I feel strongly that Twin Cities newsrooms and news coverage have failed in recent years to adequately reflect the diversity of the communities we cover, especially in the urban core, and I hope to encourage a broader discussion of these issues.

Not only does the reader or viewer lose out on potential stories that are hard to tap without a more culturally-aware newsroom, but newsrooms lose out on the creativity and potential revenue that comes with breaking big stories in emerging communities. I believe we can collectively do better to cover the Hmong, Burmese/Karen, Somali, Oromo, Mexican-American, Central American and other immigrant groups that will increasingly make the Twin Cities home in the coming decade, and we can do so without avoiding the difficult and often unflattering stories about crime and corruption that unfortunately become our chief gateway to ethnic neighborhoods and ethnic circles.

For instance, I fully agree that if it bleeds it leads, but that doesn’t preclude putting some energy into a how-to guide on cooking Hmong squirrel stew or Nigerian curried goat — two ideas that might get a surprising number of web hits, too!

I’m not entirely sure I belong in any club with “professional” in the title, but I do feel that a more corporate media environment sometimes prevents reporters from cultivating unlikely sources, pushing boundaries, reporting on stories that don’t rigidly cater to a specific target audience, defending the freedom of speech and pointing out obvious and widespread concerns. It sometimes takes rubbing elbows with tainted, rough-around-the-edges, everyday people to tell a more honest story, rather than a more self-conscious, sanitized one.

As for my credentials, I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain, but I’ve never seen a journalism degree or even tried to obtain one. Born in Manhattan to and raised in Boston, I graduated with a Political Science degree from Brown University in 1999, having served as assistant news director for 95.5 WBRU FM, a largely student-run alternative music station in Providence, RI. When the Internet was still young, I spent the summer of ’99 interning at Boston.com, in the center of the Boston Globe newsroom (but I didn’t get the briefest of cameos in the “Spotlight” movie!).

I spent the next nine months working for a corrupt German ex-pat in Costa Rica, where I was the English language editor of Central America Weekly, a weekly travel and tourism rag based out of San Jose. While the newsletter published little in the way of actual news and the editor repeatedly pressured me to offer business owners flattering articles in exchange for ad sales (I did no such thing), the job did allow me to remain in Costa Rica well past my three-month visa. That, in turn, allowed me to freelance for publications such as the Boston Globe and the Denver Post.

Stateside, I spent a year and a half writing for the Boston TAB group of weekly newspapers Monday-Friday; worked as a greeter at the original CHEERS! bar on Saturdays; and wrote for WBZ Radio, the country’s first AM all-news radio station, on Sundays. From 2001 through 2004, I served as the county government / regional reporter for the Cape Cod Times in Hyannis, Mass.

That experience led to a brief period of unemployment on my sister’s couch in Brooklyn, New York, from where I launched a four-month career as Manhattan’s most fun-loving caterer. Entering exclusively from the servants’ entrance, I attended some of the the most prestigious weddings, museum events and memorial services in the city that never sleeps, working alongside aspiring actors, artists and opera singers, none of whom I’ve ever heard of again.

Having conquered New York, I soon traded the MET and the MOMA for Hastings, Minnesota, and from January 2005 to late 2010, I covered homicide, sex crimes and civil cases in the Dakota County courts, while also pitching in the occasional municipal piece about Dakota County government, the city of Hastings, the city of Farmington or the city of Eagan.

As a result of my news coverage, I was once sued for $2 million, cash I didn’t quite have on hand at the time: https://www.minnpost.com/braublog/2010/07/ex-radio-host-sues-star-tribune-pioneer-press-over-ponzi-reportage.

For the past five years I’ve covered anything that moves in the city of St. Paul, from city council and mayoral doings to churches, universities, affordable housing, immigrant concerns, major real estate projects and construction of the Green Line light rail corridor, CHS Field (the home of the St. Paul Saints), and the Minnesota United stadium proposed for the Midway.

My official title is “Urban Life Reporter,” but I type these words from the third floor of St. Paul City Hall, where I also double as the newspaper’s City Hall bureau chief, overseeing a staff of 1 (me). I’ve won a few journalism awards over the years, but my biggest accomplishment at the age of 39 is procreation. My daughter Zoe recently turned a year old, and from our humble home four blocks from the corner of Snelling and University avenues in St. Paul, we have an excellent vantage point to Hamline Law School, SuperTarget, Walmart, the light rail, the Turf Club and a vacant piece of land that may become home to a 21,500-seat Major League Soccer stadium.