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Tell Us Your Story: Nicole Garrison

Nicole Garrison and her children

By Nicole Garrison

I still have the sheet of paper Dave Orrick and I used to keep track of the web of companies and people involved in the Ramsey Town Center scandal. We called it “the map.”

With each phone call we made on the story, a new player or tidbit of information would surface and we’d add it to “the map.” He sat on one side of the block-long Pioneer Press newsroom and I sat on the other. We’d run across the newsroom with that map in hand multiple times a day to share with each other what we had learned. We were connecting many, many dots. It took months to see the pattern, but in the end, we published a three-part series that uncovered what led to the failed real estate project’s demise. It was exciting, exhausting and rewarding all at the same time.

I truly loved what I did. I loved the people I worked with and so many remain good friends still to this day. As our editor-in-chief at the time, Thom Fladung, would always say, “We did good journalism.” Yeah, we did.

But the buyouts got to be too much. With each new round of cuts, my spirits sank. Everyone’s did. The veterans I hoped to learn from were leaving. The bustling newsroom I first walked into was starting to look more and more like a ghost town.

Then there were the hours. I was the banking reporter during the financial services crisis of 2008-09. I was committed to telling our readers what they needed to know. That meant I woke up early and stumbled down to my home office to listen to bank earnings so I could file a quick web story before I drove in for the day. By the time I would arrive, some new crisis had emerged – the freeze on auction rate securities, collapse of Bear Stearns or the Reserve Asset Fund breaking the buck.

I stayed late into the night to cover these important stories. And I loved it.

But I loved my two-year old son more. I regularly missed dinners with him, and after a while I was missing bedtimes. I knew I needed to give up the career I loved, the one that I knew I wanted since I was 10 years old, so I could be the mom I wanted to be. The mom my little guy deserved.

So I defected to the “dark side.” Today, I run corporate communications for the U.S. brokerage arm of RBC, one of the largest financial services companies in the world. The skills I developed as a journalist – writing, critical thinking, the ability to tell a story – have helped me immensely in my new career.

What’s interesting to me is how much more valuable those skills have become in the social and digital age where content is king and the organizations that are best able to tell their stories are the ones that thrive!

I am often asked if I miss journalism. I do. I would never trade those years in a newsroom, especially because they led me to where I am today.

Nicole Garrison is now director of communications for RBC Wealth Management-U.S.

How to cover protests: Panel offers tips, lessons for packed classroom

Students and professional journalists packed a classroom at the University of Minnesota recently to hear tips and lessons about covering protests.

The Sept. 27 panel, presented by MNSPJ and other organizations, offered stories and advice for preparing for and reporting on these key news events.

“You don’t know if you’re going to be there for 30 minutes or three weeks,” Doualy Xaykaothao, an MPR News reporter, told the crowd.

Lindsey Seavert, an MNSPJ board member, moderated the discussion. In addition to Xaykaothao, the panelists included Mark Anfinson, a media and First Amendment attorney; Rod Adams, of Neighborhoods Organizing for Change; Officer Corey Schmidt, a Minneapolis police spokesman; and Anthony Souffle, a Star Tribune photojournalist.

Several panelists talked about the importance of building relationships with the people who organize protests. “If you have time, go to these community meetings” so that by the time a demonstration occurs, you know the activists involved, Adams said.

Photos by Xavier Wang, of the University of Minnesota’s chapter of SPJ

Souffle listed tools he’s used to cover protests: a helmet, a gas mask, a bullet-proof vest. But most importantly, “education and experience,” he said.

If you missed the event, check out the live video, recorded by the fine folks at Midwest Emmys:



The panel was sponsored by the Minnesota Journalism Center at the UMN Hubbard School of Journalism & Mass Communication, the UMN student chapter and Minnesota professional chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, SAG-AFTRA, NABET-CWA and the Minnesota Newspaper & Communications Guild.

Finally, check out the Guild’s tips offered at the event:

Tips for Covering a Protest




Minnesota Sampler: Covering a ’round trip’ from Baxter to Bemidji

Photo provided by the Brainerd Dispatch

A man in central Minnesota decided to walk this fall from Baxter to Bemidji in what looks like a human-sized hamster wheel. 

Renee Richardson, managing editor of the Brainerd Dispatch, chronicled the journey. 

“The wheel brings with it a monotony of measured steps,” Richardson wrote in a September story. “And moving it around curves and corners is a bit like asking the person using the stair-stepper to get down and move the exercise machine just five feet every now and again.” 

The newspaper’s coverage of one man’s ambition to make the 200-mile round trip is the latest subject for Minnesota Sampler, a periodic MNSPJ feature that spotlights great work by journalists across the state. 

Gary Walters, the subject of the stories, is known in Brainerd for annual challenges that raise funds for charities benefiting children, Richardson says. One year, he swam Lake Mille Lacs.  Another year, Walters lived on a water tower’s edge for nine days. 

He’s been doing this sort of thing for more than a decade, with Richardson nearby to tell most of the tales. She included a list of the adventures in a July article that introduced the big wheel challenge. Richardson covered the journey’s finale on Wednesday, complete with the video.

What gets me interested about the story is that, a lot of it is about conquering fear — he will pick a project that will be a real challenge, both mentally and physically,” she said. “Each time I think: ‘This might be the one he doesn’t finish.'”  

Richardson has worked for the Brainerd Dispatch since 1996. She graduated from Pacelli High School in Austin and earned degrees at University of Minnesota in Waseca, Central Lakes College and St. Cloud State University, at which point she interned at the St. Cloud Times.

While a lot of her work involves coverage of local government and new businesses, Richardson also likes writing about the lives of people around her — whether its an Iraqi war veteran’s struggles with P.T.S.D. or the memories of a local woman on the eve of her 100th birthday.

Those stories can help illuminate what a community is about,” Richardson said. “And they can help connect people in the community, which in this day and age is one of the most important things we can do as journalists. 

Photo courtesy of the Brainerd Dispatch

Minnesota Sampler: Noise from the Depths of Lake Superior

Photo courtesy of the University of Minnesota-Duluth.

Reporter John Myers listened closely when a researcher he knows mentioned something “you probably wouldn’t be interested in.” 

The result is a feature story published this summer in the Duluth News Tribune that’s also the latest installment of Minnesota Sampler, a periodic MNSPJ feature that spotlights great work by journalists across the state.

Myers was interviewing Jay Austin, a scientist at the University of Minnesota-Duluth who has a knack for stumbling into intriguing curiosities.

Austin was the first to look at temperature data from buoys on Lake Superior, and wound up publishing landmark climate research showing a warming trend for the lake’s surface water. His latest pursuit is underwater noise in the big lake that involves the burbot, which Myers described as “a prehistoric fish in the cod family that looks like a cross between a catfish and an eel.”

“I just like doing stories on science, especially now when so many are dumping on science,” Myers said. “It’s fascinating.” 

Myers, 56, has worked at the News Tribune for 30 years. His beat is the environment and natural resources, including extensive coverage of mining issues. 

Myers is prolific, with stories that regularly capture unique aspects of the region – from a barred owl that landed on a Duluth police car, to operations of the Madeline Island ferry. He also pitches in on public safety coverage, including a long feature in February about a couple that froze to death on the deck outside their locked home, despite having keys that could have let them in. 

“I really try to do stuff that other folks haven’t,” Myers said.

You’re Invited: Covering Protests

Hear from veteran journalists, a media attorney, a community organizer and police on how to report on protests, with tips for protecting yourself and your data.

This panel presentation will take place at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 27, with networking to begin at 6 p.m. Head over to Nicholson Hall, Rm 35, 216 Pillsbury Dr SE, Minneapolis, U of M East Bank.

This is a free event, open to all. Please RSVP at:

Panelists include:
• Mark Anfinson, media and First Amendment attorney
• Wintana Melekin, Neighborhoods Organizing for Change
• Corey Schmidt, Minneapolis police spokesperson
• Anthony Souffle, Star Tribune photojournalist
• Doualy Xaykaothao, MPR News reporter
• Moderated by: Lindsey Seavert, KARE 11 reporter

College students: Register for Intern Night

Looking for an internship at a media outlet?

The 2017 Minnesota SPJ Intern Night is a great opportunity to learn about journalism internships throughout the state, network with media professionals and meet fellow journalism students. No previous internship experience is required to attend.

Panelists will include media professionals and intern managers from WCCO, the Star Tribune, the Pioneer Press and other major media outlets. Afterward, tour WCCO studios as time allows.

Thursday, Oct. 19
7 p.m.
90 S. 11th St.
Minneapolis, MN 55403

Register here.

Space is limited at this event: Only 60 spots are available. If you register and cannot attend, you must notify MNSPJ immediately so we can open spots to those who can attend.

Parking is available at metered spots on the street or in nearby parking ramps. Please give yourself time to find a parking spot and arrive on time to the event, resume in hand.

Please contact with any questions.