Tell us your story: Dave 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 third entry is from Dave Aeikens, who worked in Minnesota newsrooms for more than two decades:

Dave Aeikens, a spokesman for the Minnesota Department of Transportation, worked as a journalist in Minnesota for more than 20 years.

Dave Aeikens, a former journalist at the St. Cloud Times and other media outlets, works for the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

What I miss the most: The uncertainty and surprises that can happen every day.  You just never knew what would happen from day to day, who you would meet and who might be on the other end of the phone.

I miss meeting new people and sharing their stories.  I once got a call from a woman who told me that her daughter had been killed by her boyfriend. She called us before the police.  I was stunned by how matter-of-fact she was. We covered the homicide.  That call led to an investigation into the practices of the agency that oversees people on supervised release.

A former college football player and his father once walked into the office saying that the player’s coach had played a practical joke on him, requiring him to drive to the airport to pick up an international football player.  That player did not exist. We used open records requests to detail the discipline brought against the coach.

Life as a journalist was always full of surprises.  That is what I miss about being a journalist.

Dave Aeikens worked at newspapers in Albert Lea, Willmar and St. Cloud and at KSTP-TV in Minneapolis-St. Paul.  He served on the National SPJ board from 1999-2009, including one year as the board’s president.  He has worked in communications and engagement at the Minnesota Department of Transportation since August.

Have a reflection to share?  Send it to the Minnesota SPJ at minnesota.spj@gmail.com

‘In the Dark’ panel discussion slated for Tuesday at Murphy Hall

Reporters Madeleine Baran and Samara Freemark of APM Reports spent a year investigating the case of Jacob Wetterling, the 11-year-old St. Joseph, Minn., boy who was kidnapped in 1989 and whose disappearance remained unsolved for 27 years.  The culmination of their work, “In the Dark,” was named as one of the Top 10 podcasts of the year by the New York Times, Entertainment Weekly, Vulture, and iTunes.

Baran and Freemark will share their experiences Tuesday, Jan. 10, at Murphy Hall on the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities campus.  The panel discussion will be moderated by author Nora McInerny Purmort, host of the podcast “Terrible, Thanks for Asking.”  The Minnesota pro chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists is organizing the event with support from the Minnesota Journalism Center.

What: “‘In the Dark’: Shining a new light on the Jacob Wetterling case.”
When: Tues., Jan. 10.  Reception at 5:30 p.m.; discussion at 6:30 p.m.
Where: Murphy Hall, Room 100, 206 Church Street SE, Minneapolis, MN 55455.
Register here.

The event is free and open to the public.  Appetizers and a cash bar will be available.  Ample parking space should be available at the nearby Church Street garage or the Washington Avenue ramp (school is not in session).

Tell us your story: Emily Gurnon

gurnon

Emily Gurnon, a former courts reporter for the St. Paul Pioneer Press, works for PBS Next Avenue, a Website based at Twin Cities Public TV.

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 second entry is from Emily Gurnon, who worked as a newspaper reporter for two decades:

After 20 years working as a newspaper reporter, I left my last job in the field two years ago.  I was the courts reporter for the Pioneer Press, and I loved it.  I also hated it.  I loved having a beat, getting to know attorneys and judges and even defendants.  I loved developing that expertise and being known for it.  I loved the challenge of finding a scoop, or finding a new issue that was important but nobody else was reporting on.  I loved bringing a voice to people who didn’t normally have one.

And I loved the challenge of writing every day, the deadlines, the feeling that we newspaper types (or at least most of us) don’t have the luxury of gnashing our teeth over every single line.  Just get the damn thing in the paper.  That’s the goal.

What I didn’t like was the constant pressure, the feeling like we were a bunch of monkeys on an assembly line. The feeling that no matter how hard I worked, there would be more things to cover, more really important issues and cases that I felt it was my duty to get in the paper.

At my new job, I still have some of the positive things.  I now work as an editor and writer for PBS Next Avenue, which is a website for the boomer generation, based at Twin Cities Public TV.  I’m still in journalism, and I still have the opportunity to write about things that matter to me.

What’s more, I now work for an organization that is not run by a hedge fund.  There’s a lot to be said for that.  I actually feel treated well and valued as an employee.  At the Pioneer Press, because of all of the contract give-backs and shortened work weeks and furloughs, I made about the same salary when I left after nine and a half years as I did when I started.  This year, at TPT, I got a raise.  That felt good.

I don’t write as much, but I’ve gotten experience editing other people’s copy, and I’ve learned new digital skills.  So that’s cool.

What do I miss the most?  We have a small team, just 10 people, on the Next Avenue website.  Just a handful of us are writers.  Many of the other staff at TPT are clueless about what we do.  The organization is made up of people in lots of different silos.  There’s no one product we’re all putting out every day.

That was the great thing about the paper, and every other newsroom I’ve worked in.  You’ve got one goal, and everyone has their part in it.  You’re also surrounded by people who are as cranky and cynical and yet idealistic as you are.  And they’re all crazy smart.

So to everybody still fighting that good fight, I know it’s exhausting and I know you’re not getting rich and there’s not a week that goes by when you’re not taking shit from someone.  But what you’re doing matters.  Don’t ever doubt that.  Thanks.

Have a reflection to share?  Send it to the Minnesota SPJ at minnesota.spj@gmail.com

Tell us your story: Former newsies reflect on their time in journalism

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.  Here is the first entry, from John Welsh, who spent two decades in the trade:

John Welsh, a registered nurse, worked for the St. Cloud Times and the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

John Welsh, now a registered nurse, worked as a reporter for the St. Cloud Times and the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

Here’s what I miss most: the non-fatal fire.  In 20-plus years of newspaper work, I covered high school wrestling meets, regional trash commission meetings, mass shootings, Presidential appearances and funny pet stories.  But, really, does anything else reflect the joy and fun of being a reporter like a good non-fatal fire?  Each time, whether the fire was big or small, you had the classic ingredients for a story: a villain (the fire) and a hero (the fire fighters).  And, unless it was a springtime grass fire that lingered for days, the hero usually got the fire out before deadline.

Non-fatal fires always got better play than they deserved because flames and smoke equal good art and that’s the ticket to the front.  Of course, sometimes people or pets died in the fires.  Then the story arc became tragic and while some reporters may secretly yearn to write about tragedy, I never did.  Heroes bravely rushing in to save life and property to knock down a fire — that’s the story I wanted to tell.  I miss that.  It was fun.  And here’s the important part: when reporting is done well — on a fire story or any story — it is extremely valuable for our society.  It connects people to one another.  It builds community.

I commend those who are entering or sticking it out in journalism as it reinvents itself.  This messed-up world desperately needs good reporters.  And as you tweet, post online, create a podcast or write the story for the next day’s paper, I hope the fun of being a reporter remains, whether it is at the scene of a fire, a city council hearing or one of those awful regional trash commission meetings.

John Welsh worked for 20 years at newspapers across the Midwest, including six years at the St. Cloud Times and ten years at the St. Paul Pioneer Press.  In 2009 he became a registered nurse.  Twitter: @JohnWelshRN.

Have a reflection to share?  Send it to the Minnesota SPJ at minnesota.spj@gmail.com

December Sampler: Bemidji Pioneer reports from Standing Rock

The Bemidji Pioneer recently sent reporter Grace Pastoor to the anti-pipeline demonstrations at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota.  The protests drew a handful of residents from Bemidji, the deep-woods northern Minnesota city with a significant indigenous population and a history of environmental activism.

The story, this month’s Minnesota Sampler, can be read here.

Murphy Hall panel to discuss state Data Practices Act

Join the Society of Professional Journalists for a public forum on the Minnesota Data Practices Act.

The forum, which will be held Dec. 8 at at the School of Journalism & Mass Communication at the University of Minnesota, will include a panel of journalists and state administrators who will share their thoughts about collecting public data and interacting with public officials.

When: 6:30-8:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 8.
Where: Room 130 of Murphy Hall at the University of Minnesota, 206 Church St. N.E. Minneapolis.

The event is being co-sponsored by the SPJ Minnesota pro chapter, the SPJ student chapter at the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota Coalition on Government Information.