MNSPJ and U of M Journalism Center offer seminar for journalists

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MNSPJ calls on St. Louis County to release emails in accordance with law

The Minnesota Society of Professional Journalists calls on St. Louis County to release to the public county-based emails and campaign communications by county commissioner and Congressional candidate Pete Stauber in accordance with Minnesota law and a recent ruling by the Minnesota Department of Administration.

MNSPJ supports the Star Tribune in its quest for emails between Stauber and the Republican National Congressional Committee where the county email system was apparently used, despite Minnesota law prohibiting such uses for campaigns.

The Data Practices Office of the Minnesota Department of Administration has ruled in an advisory opinion that St. Louis County should have released the emails, yet the county denies that the public has a right to know in this case.

St. Louis County determined the political campaign emails are not public because the RNCC is an “individual,” relying on an unreasonable interpretation of state statute.  As the Data Practice Office correctly stated, this interpretation of the law would make all emails by public officials secret. It ignores the purpose and meaning of the governing section of the Minnesota Data Practices Act, where the paramount principle favors the public’s right to know.

It is troubling that St. Louis County not only denied the Star Tribune’s request to seek truth and report it, but also doubled down on the denial even after the state’s authoritative body on public information called for its release.

St. Louis County is engaging in an egregious violation of the Data Practices Act and MNSPJ calls on it to immediately reverse its decision.



Joe Spear, president, MNSPJ


Seven elected to MNSPJ board

Four new board members and three officers have been elected to the Minnesota Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists for the 2018-2019 year.

Briana Bierschbach, Amy Forliti, Reed Fischer and Emma Nelson joined the board as directors for two-year terms. Board member Fred Melo was re-elected board secretary, and board member Chris Snowbeck was voted president-elect. Anna Pratt was voted treasurer.

Bierschbach is a reporter for Minnesota Public Radio News and has covered the State Capitol for eight years. She also worked for the Associated Press, MinnPost, and Politics in Minnesota.

Forliti is a reporter at The Associated Press in Minneapolis, where she has focused on top national breaking news stories, law enforcement and courts. She has also worked at the AP in Indiana, managed the AP’s Rhode Island bureau and worked for the Star Tribune.

Fischer is the senior editor at Minnesota Monthly and also worked at GoMN as the editorial director and was the music editor for City Pages. He has done freelance work for Rolling Stone, Village Voice and other national publications.

Emma Nelson began working as a reporter at the Star Tribune shortly after graduating from the University of Minnesota’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication. She has covered various government beats and now covers the city of St. Paul.

Chris Snowbeck has been a business reporter for the Star Tribune since 2014 and worked at the St. Paul Pioneer Press for eight years before that.
Fred Melo has worked at the Pioneer Press since 2005 and is currently the St. Paul City Hall bureau chief.

MNSPJ to city: Drop confidential source hunt

The Minnesota Society of Professional Journalists supports efforts of the Star Tribune to vigorously seek truth and report it with regard to the questionable practice of Minneapolis police encouraging the use of the tranquilizer ketamine involving people suspected of crime and others.

Efforts by the city to investigate confidential sources who leaked a critical ketamine use report to the Star Tribune go against the spirit of the Minnesota Free Flow of Information Act that protects journalists from revealing confidential sources. The investigation will have a chilling effect on whistleblowers who are sometimes the only access a free press has to the secrets of government malfeasance.

The damage by the city’s inquisition to the free flow of information and government accountability and transparency outweighs any purported or imagined damage to the city’s information security systems.

We urge the city of Minneapolis to drop its investigation of the Star Tribune’s confidential source or sources, abide by the spirit of the Free Flow of Information Act and instead use its public resources for addressing the serious problem of the use of ketamine against suspects and others without their consent.

Joe Spear, president, MNSPJ

Hal Davis, FOIA committee

Fred Melo, secretary, MNSPJ

For media inquiries, contact Joe Spear. 507-317-8073.

Meet the journalists running for the 2018-19 MNSPJ board

Minnesota SPJ members running for the 2018-19 Board of Directors have submitted the following statements. 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

Ballots must be submitted no later than noon Saturday, July 21. Results of this year’s election will be announced at the MNSPJ annual meeting Monday, July 23 at Lake Monster Brewing in St. Paul. (Location has been updated.) All MNSPJ members and local journalists are welcome to attend.

Please email with questions or concerns.


Christopher Snowbeck, of the Star Tribune

Biography and statement:

My name is Christopher Snowbeck and I’m seeking re-election to the board as the chapter’s president-elect. Currently, I’m completing my fourth year on the board, and third year as treasurer.

These are challenging times for journalists. I want to help MNSPJ explain the work we do as journalists, while highlighting the positive contributions we make in our communities. We’re lucky in Minnesota to have so many strong news organizations that live up to the promise of our profession on a daily basis. MNSPJ is in a unique position to put a spotlight on these efforts and explain, with sincerity and humility, how journalists are trying to make things better.

I believe it’s important for the chapter to maintain and improve the already strong tradition of the Page One awards and banquet. I’ve developed an appreciation for the mechanics of running both events, and believe I can help future boards meet and exceed expectations. Newsrooms and journalists across the state have shown great support for Page One over the years, including increased attendance at this year’s banquet earlier this month. I’d like to build on that momentum. The awards do a good job of recognizing excellence in newspapers, television, magazines, radio, online and photography. I’d like to build across all these categories not only participation in Page One, but also membership and participation in chapter events.

Having served as treasurer, I have a good understanding of the chapter’s financials. I appreciate the trust members place in us by virtue of their dues, and am serious about providing responsible stewardship of those funds. I think MNSPJ should do more via partnership with other community groups. Along these lines, I’m proud of my work with current president Jenna Ross to collaborate with other organizations on an event at the Guthrie Theater in 2016 to honor the centennial of the Pulitzer prizes. MNSPJ also must join with others in strong advocacy on FOI matters.

I’ve been a business reporter at the Star Tribune since 2014, and worked eight years before that at the Pioneer Press. I’ve been a reporter for a number of newspapers since graduating from Carleton College in Northfield in 1994. I live in St. Paul.


Frederick Melo, of the Pioneer Press


A Boston boy who lost his way and landed far from home, Frederick Melo has been a reporter with the St. Paul Pioneer Press since January 2005. From 2005 through 2010 he covered crime and legal misdoings in Dakota County, a hotbed of rural-suburban angst. He is currently the St. Paul City Hall Bureau Chief, from where he maintains an eagle-eyed domain over all the city and keeps mayors and city council members as honest as he’s able. He resides in a 1916 Sears catalog St. Paul home with his St. Paul-reared wife and their two tiny St. Paul children. He likes St. Paul.


It’s been an honor to serve on the board of MNSPJ these past two years, including spending the last year as a board officer (Secretary). I’m asking for your vote to re-elect me to that position so I can continue to maintain the minutes at meetings, write regular newsletters and occasionally update Facebook and Twitter and live-Tweet events. More importantly, I’ve worked hard on efforts to connect younger folks to MNSPJ, to jobs, to scholarships, to our national conference and to the good work that journalists do. I chaired our scholarship committee, which awarded $3,200 in funds to college students this year and last year. I also spoke to the college SPJ chapter and oversaw Intern Night at WCCO, which draws employers for a panel discussion with students each October and — believe it or not — results in some actual hiring! My goals for 2018-2019 include all that and a bag of chips — including a fall mixer for board
officers from other media associations such as the Asian American Journalists Association and the National Association of Black Journalists. We all do better when we all do better!


Anna Pratt, of PRI International

Biography and statement:

I’m a digital editor at PRI (Public Radio International) focused on a project highlighting women’s stories across the globe. Before that, I did a stint as copy editor at City Pages (filling in) and was a longtime freelancer with my byline appearing in local and national publications including the Daily Beast, New York Daily News, People magazine, Southwest Journal, Star Tribune, The Line. The many beats I’ve covered include development, education, neighborhood news, arts, government and business. I’ve also served as a director and officer, including president, for the Minnesota Pro Chapter of SPJ for a number of years. I’m also a past chair of national SPJ’s Freelance Community. As such, I have a good handle on the hard work and high journalistic standards it takes to participate and lead the organization. I hope to oversee the continuation of our state chapter’s nationally recognized educational and outreach efforts and make sure we take a strong stand on the ethical, legal and professional issues important to journalists. I would appreciate your vote of confidence.


(listed in alphabetical order)

Briana Bierschbach, of MPR News


I’ve covered the Minnesota state Capitol for the last eight years with various publications, including the Associated Press, Politics in Minnesota, MinnPost and now MPR News. Prior to joining the statehouse press corps, I worked for the University of Minnesota’s campus newspaper, the Minnesota Daily, where I covered city government and eventually joined a special projects team. I’ve also interned with the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Minnesota Premier Publications and the Minneapolis-St. Paul Business Journal. I live in Northeast Minneapolis with my husband and two cats, Sunny and Cassy.


This year I was lucky enough to participate in two events with the Minnesota chapter of SPJ, talking about my coverage in the wake of the #MeToo Movement and on the issue of transparency in state government. It reminded me how important it is to have groups like SPJ engaging journalists and the broader public in conversations about how we do our job. It helps journalists to hear from other reporters about best practices, and it also breaks down barriers with readers when we talk about how we cover challenging topics. As a member of the Minnesota SPJ Board, I hope I can bring to the table more ideas about how we keep that conversation going, both through events and broader social media campaigns.

Reed Fischer, of Minnesota Monthly


There’s no time like the present for the Minnesota Society of Professional Journalists. Our industry is under fire from all directions, but our colleagues are putting out work that informs and entertains with an inspiring urgency. Although competition is always going to be a part of our field, it’s important to celebrate our collective successes, share professional wisdom, and hold each other accountable. The SPJ has done an admirable job to keep journalism vital locally. With my managerial, editorial, and writing background across all formats of print and digital, I know I’d be able to help this incredible team.


I’m currently the senior editor at Minnesota Monthly. Previously I was the editorial director for GoMN and the music editor for City Pages. At various times, I’ve been responsible for editing, writing, project management, strategy, data analysis, and staff development. I’ve managed staff and freelance producers, videographers, and photographers to create thrilling experiences for a digital audience while meeting web traffic and social media goals. I’ve also spearheaded edits, production, design, and delivery of many print products. Plus, I’ve conducted successful social media campaigns (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube), interpreted Google Analytics data, led web and app redesigns, optimized email newsletters (Mailchimp), and developed new editorial products. Also I’ve done a bunch of freelance work for Rolling Stone, Village Voice, and other national publications.

Amy Forliti, of the Associated Press

My name is Amy Forliti, and I am a reporter at The Associated Press in Minneapolis. Please consider my application for a board member position with MNSPJ. Here is a brief biography, followed by a candidacy statement, as requested.


I am a seasoned reporter with 19+ years of experience at The Associated Press. I excel at reporting in the field during competitive breaking news situations, including the investigation into Prince’s sudden death, a nightclub fire that killed 100 people, mass shootings, the Interstate 35W bridge collapse and Hurricane Katrina. I have developed the law enforcement and courts beat in recent years, with an emphasis on high-profile police shootings and the terrorism recruiting of Somali youth in Minnesota. I was selected as an AP Future Leader in 2013 and conceived new training and development opportunities for worldwide staff. I also shoot video, and as part of the national weekend writing rotation I am tasked with reporting and writing the largest national story of the day. My prior work history includes jobs as the supervisory correspondent (manager/editor) in the AP’s Rhode Island bureau, reporting at the AP in Indianapolis, copy editing at the Star Tribune, and producer at WEAU-TV in Eau Claire, Wis.


I would like to join the MNSPJ Board because I believe it is now more important than ever for journalists to hold people accountable, fight for access and rise above the chatter as we share truth with the public. I have been thoroughly impressed with MNSPJ’s work in recent years as it supports hard-working journalists, and I believe my experience will be an asset to the board as that work continues.

As a board member, I would like to explore educational events that focus on investigative journalism, data gathering and other tools of the trade that can help reporters discover stories and expose problems. I would also like to see more events on “multimedia” skills, which all journalists are being asked to master these days. At this point in my career, I would also like to mentor and connect with new journalists and find ways to offer them support as they jump into this challenging, yet fulfilling, field.

I would be thrilled to join the amazing journalists on the MNSPJ Board and contribute to the great work they are already doing to promote responsible journalism and protect the public’s right to know. Thank you for the opportunity.

Emma Nelson, of the Star Tribune

Biography and statement:

My name is Emma Nelson, and I cover the city of St. Paul for the Star Tribune. I started working at the paper shortly after graduating from the University of Minnesota’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication, and since then have covered local government beats from Scott County to Minneapolis City Hall.

I didn’t grow up planning to become a journalist. It wasn’t until halfway through college that my vague dreams of working as a writer brought me to the Minnesota Daily, where I started out as a reporter without the slightest idea of how to craft a news story. As challenging as those early days were – and as challenging print journalism continues to be – I’ve stayed because I believe strongly in this work, and because I love the community I’ve found through it.

In the Twin Cities, SPJ is essential in building and sustaining that community. Since starting my job, I’ve cherished the opportunities that SPJ has provided to meet and learn from other journalists, and to reflect on and celebrate the work that we do.

I want to join the SPJ board because I want to support the organization and help sustain the local journalism community. Thank you for your consideration.

Alex Veeneman, freelance journalist

Biography and statement:

I am a freelance journalist based in Minneapolis who has worked published in both the US and the UK. I also am an active member of SPJ’s national Ethics Committee and a contributor to its editorial platforms. I previously served as a coordinator of SPJ’s national community network.

Minnesota is one of the most vibrant markets in all of journalism – and allows for unique opportunities – from the Twin Cities to Duluth, Fargo/Moorhead to Rochester, and points in between. In addition, Minnesota has the opportunity to lead in the ability to help promote, strengthen and enhance journalism for our peers across the United States. This is especially true in times of change and unease, where the prospects of working in journalism are uncertain, especially for those early in their careers – and the identity of journalism’s future is unknown.

Being an early career journalist myself, combined with my national SPJ experience, I have the opportunity to help Minnesota’s SPJ chapter put a human face on journalism, advance journalism ethics in the digital age and help early career journalists be ready for the evolving field. A position on the Board of Directors would allow me to do that and more in the pursuit to help journalists be at their best.

We help audiences be at their best through the work we do every day – Minnesota SPJ helps journalists across the state and region be at their best, for if we are at our best, so are our audiences. Helping journalists be at their best benefits everyone – and election to the Board would be a commitment to do just that – for the benefit of the communities and journalists not just in Minnesota, but across the region and nationwide.

I appreciate your consideration.

2018 Page One Awards Honor great journalism in Minnesota


Scholarship winner Nick Kelly at the Page One Awards

Local journalists gathered to celebrate the best in reporting, photography, broadcast, and digital production Thursday night at the 2018 Minnesota SPJ Page One Awards.


Jennifer Bjorhus, an investigative reporter for the Star Tribune, took home Journalist of the Year honors while Sam Brodey, the Washington correspondent for MinnPost, was named Young Journalist of the Year. Chris Serres of the Star Tribune received the Story of the Year award for his “Left to Suffer” series on the abuse of residents in senior homes across Minnesota.


In other news, Ken Goulart, Larry Gubbe, Tom Funk, Alan Kildow, Sonya Braunschweig and other members of a citizens group in Victoria, Minn., received the 2018 Peter S. Popovich Award, which is given to a person or organization that exemplifies the fight for First Amendment rights. Over the span of five years, the group had pushed their City Council for access to basic public records like council meeting minutes and email communications, and later the group was victorious in court when several council members were found to have violated the state’s Open Meeting Law.


The Page One Awards honor the best in Minnesota journalism. About 150 journalists working in print, TV, radio and online attended the event, which was held at the Town & Country Club in St. Paul. The entries for this year’s awards were judged by members of the Florida pro chapter of SPJ.


Christopher Ingraham, a Washington Post reporter who became infamous in Minnesota after publishing a report that ranked Red Lake County, Minn., last in the nation in terms of “natural amenities,” gave the keynote address. Ingraham, who described himself as a “born again Minnesotan” after he moved his family to Red Lake, talked about his new life in rural Minnesota as well as the importance of data especially in a world where some are suspicious of media and “fake news.” “The challenge we face is that we know there are a lot of misconceptions out there,” he said. Visual data such as charts and other graphics can often be more convincing than just plain text, Ingraham said.


Minnesota SPJ also announced the winner of a $2,500 scholarship — Nick Kelly, a sophomore at the University of Missouri-Columbia who has interned at the St. Paul Pioneer Press, the Star Tribune, ESPN Radio, the Rochester Post Bulletin and several other outlets. He currently has an internship with The Athletic.


Minnesota SPJ President Jenna Ross awarded the President’s Award to treasurer Christopher Snowbeck highlighting his meticulous financial bookkeeping and invaluable contributions to the chapter.


The awards ceremony was hosted by Star Tribune metro columnist Jennifer Brooks.


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


The complete winner’s list can be viewed here. Check out a gallery capturing the night’s speeches, music and socializing. 

Emcee Jennifer Brooks crafted a mascot for the evening.