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Sunshine at the Statehouse: a March 29 event

Join MNSPJ for Sunshine at the Statehouse, a conversation about efforts to improve transparency in government. MinnPost legislative reporter Briana Bierschbach and Matt Ehling of the Minnesota Coalition on Government Information (MNCOGI) will discuss bills at the Legislature that would affect what information would be open to journalists and the public. Have a beer and hear about what’s happening this session.

DATE: Thursday, March 29
TIME: Doors open at 6 p.m. Panel at 6:30.
LOCATION: Grumpy’s in downtown Minneapolis
1111 South Washington Avenue

Sunshine Week: MNSPJ supports open-government efforts

In recognition of national Sunshine Week, the Minnesota Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists declares its support for the open-government tenets behind several transparency initiatives at the Minnesota Legislature.
We support these efforts to ensure continued public access to government records in light of threats, to thwart efforts to keep secret public employee performance information and to shine light on instances of sexual harassment among public employees and elected officials. MNSPJ also wholeheartedly supports and endorses efforts to subject the Minnesota Legislature and its staff to the Minnesota Data Practices Act.
Among the bills being debated at the Legislature, MNSPJ calls attention to these three:
• HF 1185 – Three-year e-mail retention. The Minnesota Supreme Court’s reading of the word “official” in Minn. Stat. 15.17 (in the Kottscahde v. Lundberg opinion) has been used to narrow the types of records that must be retained by government entities. The effect of the proposed change would be to require that all government data be placed on a retention schedule that specifies the length of time it must be maintained for. Recently, some government entities (including the City of Saint Paul and Hennepin County) have started to destroy e-mails that contain data useful for government oversight. Read MNSPJ’s statement in 2017 about this issue:
• HF 1316 – Government cannot use “personnel data” exception to limit access to otherwise public video. Amends Minnesota Statutes 13.43 to specify that certain video recordings of government employees continue to be public data even when classified as “personnel data.” The bill is in response to the Minnesota Supreme Court’s decision in the KSTP TV v. Metropolitan Council case involving videos that contain recordings of two incidents involving the drivers of Metro Transit buses. Read more the case and MNSPJ’s position on it here:
• Rep. Lesch/O’Neill bill to institute new process to review sexual harassment claims at the House, including public reporting of certain matters. MNSPJ supports the public reporting and public process provisions of the procedural changes to the House rules.
MNSPJ along with the Minnesota Coalition on Government Information (MNCOGI) support the principles that define these bills. Without action on these important bills, the press and more importantly, the public, will be denied access to the information it needs for self-governance.
In this time of burgeoning threats to public access to information and attempts to obstruct and indeed punish journalists seeking to report the truth, MNSPJ calls on all journalists and the public to support these efforts by legislators who see the value in a free press.

Jenna Ross, MNSPJ president
Joe Spear, MNSPJ president-elect
Hal Davis, MNSPJ, FOIA committee
For more information, contact: 
Joe Spear
Managing Editor
The Free Press
Mankato Magazine
Minnesota Valley Business
Free Press Media
Twitter @jfspear


Alex Friedrich worked for Minnesota Public Radio News, the Pioneer Press and other newspapers during a 25-year career. He wrote the following for MNSPJ’s ongoing series, Tell us Your Story, a salute to former journalists who have moved on to new adventures.


The morning I was laid off from MPR News two years ago, I was stunned.

Me? I thought.

You’ve laid off ME?

That evening I considered calling friends at some Twin Cites news outlets. I’d show them who could bounce back.

After all, I’d had a rewarding career. I’d covered high-profile scandals and disasters here at home, and historic political moments in Europe and the Caucasus. I’d done investigations that brought about change, and written some goofy stories I still laugh about.

But I knew journalism wasn’t the gig it used to be. 

Budgets were tight, and travel budgets even tighter. By 2015, a big trip for me was an overnighter to an outstate Minnesota college. (Woo hoo!)

And the digital age had turned the old daily deadline into an all-day grind: news spots, debriefs, blog posts, tweets. Sometimes I had hardly a minute to think about what I was writing.

So when I thought about clawing myself back into the ring, I thought: Nah. Ain’t worth it. News is a young person’s game now.

And soon I started to think: This layoff is actually a good thing.

I’d long harbored the desire to teach. Getting the ax was the kick in the butt that I needed.

I rang up folks on my old higher-education beat, and they were surprisingly receptive. Who’d have thought I could use my old master’s degree in economics to teach at a community college?

By January 2016, I was running classes on two campuses.

Teaching is just like news, really: Take a complicated subject. Explain it in terms your average person can understand. Add a few anecdotes and some humor to make it interesting.

The students are your readers/listeners/viewers. They appreciate a good story. They seem to dig my old war stories as a business and economy reporter. And I use lots of news stories to illustrate the week’s topic.

I was up for one disappointment. At first I thought that being free from the newsroom meant I could show my political stripes. Not so.

I’m really under the same old constraint of political neutrality, though it’s self-imposed this time. I wear these shackles once again because I’d hate for a student to tune out my economic lessons because he or she doesn’t like my politics. And my students say they appreciate it.

What I relish most is the time and freedom I have – what reporters always crave. With no deadline hanging over my head, I can take plenty of time to research and actually think — THINK — about the material I’m about to present.

Make no mistake: It’s a lot of work. Most of it is outside of the classroom.

But I’m my own boss. My dean handles administrative matters, but I run the show in the classroom. My ideas. My approach. My voice.

I still don’t travel for work, of course. But when winter or summer break rolls around, I’ve got my airplane ticket in hand – and plenty of time to enjoy the trip.  

Page One Awards: Deadline Extended to March 2!

We’ve heard that you could use a bit more time to get those last Page One Award entries in. So we are extending the deadline to March 2 at 5 p.m.

Any entries submitted between now and then will be judged against the full set of entries. 

Did you know your Twitter account is eligible for an award? Under “Online,” categories include individual and institutional social media accounts. Yes, there’s an award for that!

Contest winners will be honored at MN SPJ’s Page One Banquet, an annual spring event celebrating excellence in Minnesota journalism. The date and location for the banquet will be announced later.

Important Links:

Please contact MN SPJ with any questions:



Sports and race event took on tough questions

Panelists at the sports and race event included from left to right Ray Richardson, KMOJ radio personality and former sportswriter for the Pioneer Press, Rebekkah Brunson, Lynx forward, and Carl Eller, retired Vikings defensive end and one of the illustrious Purple People Eaters. The panel was moderated by Rana L. Cash, NFL editor at the Star Tribune. Photo courtesy Melody Gilbert.


Twin Cities Black Journalists, along with the Minnesota chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and the Hubbard School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Minnesota, hosted a panel on “Where Race and Sports Intersect” on Jan. 23.

Turnout was great with about 80 people in attendance. The panel focused on how race, culture and sports have intersected and how it should be covered by the media.

Panelists included Carl Eller, retired Vikings defensive end and one of the illustrious Purple People Eaters; Rebekkah Brunson, Lynx forward; and Ray Richardson, KMOJ radio personality and former sportswriter for the Pioneer Press.

The panel was moderated by Rana L. Cash, NFL editor at the Star Tribune.

The panelists had a frank and open discussion on controversial subjects from NFL players kneeling during the National Anthem to Lynx players wearing T-shirts addressing the Philando Castile shooting.

Eller noted the tradition of players standing at attention for the national anthem started with longtime Vikings coach Bud Grant and his players. Brunson spoke about differences between players’ freedom of expression in professional football and professional basketball.

Richardson spoke about the different expectations for black players and white players to comment and participate in demonstrations.

Video of the panel can be viewed here. The Star Tribune published a story on the event and The Mankato Free Press published an editorial.

Hate in the Headlines seminar draws crowd

The “Hate in the Headlines” seminar drew a capacity crowd at the University of Minnesota School of Journalism. Photo courtesy of Melody Gilbert.

A seminar on covering hate groups and bias crimes that included prosecutors, victims, researchers and the FBI drew a capacity crowd Jan. 19 at the University of Minnesota Hubbard School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

The seminar was sponsored by the Minnesota Journalism Center, the Hubbard School and the Minnesota Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.

Participants heard from Assistant Anoka County Attorney Brenda Sund and victim Asma Jama as they retold the story of a hate crime that made headlines across the state. Jeff Van Nest, FBI Minneapolis Division Counsel,  gave a detailed analysis of how the FBI defines and prosecutes hate crimes.

The Southern Poverty Law Center Research Director Alex Amend, a U of M grad, provided a thorough report on the center’s nationwide tracking of hate groups and bias crimes. Jane Kirtley, Silha Professor of Media Ethics and Law at the school of journalism, detailed the legal and ethical implications of covering these groups and these events.

Participants picked up reporting tips and learned of resources that can bolster their coverage of this emerging topic in today’s divided America. The Southern Poverty Law Center’s presentation can be found here…t/uploads/UMN-Presentation.pdf

News organizations large and small gave the event high marks for the depth and breadth of the materials covered.