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MNSPJ joins legal petition in Wetterling case

“The Minnesota Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists has joined a motion to intervene to review public information from files emanating from the Jacob Wetterling abduction case.

MNSPJ, along with other journalism organizations, filed to be part of a larger legal discussion on what records collected in the case may be public and which will remain private. We look forward to discussing these matters with the court and supporting public access, government transparency and First Amendment rights.”

The Minnesota Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists exists to support the First Amendment rights of all journalists in Minnesota and to promote the sound and ethical practices of journalism. The Minnesota chapter advocates for access to public information for the public at large and dedicates itself to pursuing openness and government transparency.

Contact: Joe Spear, MNSPJ board secretary


MPR reporter, Star Tribune staff among top 2017 Page One Award winners

Journalists from across the state were honored Thursday evening at the 2017 Minnesota SPJ Page One Awards.

Laura Yuen, a reporter for MPR News, took home Journalist of the Year honors while Andy Mannix, a reporter for the Star Tribune, was named Young Journalist of the Year.  The staff of the Star Tribune received the Story of the Year award for its coverage of music icon Prince’s death.

Hannah Allam of BuzzFeed News gave the keynote address

Meanwhile, Tony Webster, a public records researcher and data activist, received the 2017 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 130 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 San Diego pro chapter of SPJ.

Hannah Allam, a former Pioneer Press reporter who covers U.S. Muslim life for BuzzFeed News, gave the keynote address.  Allam called for a deeper and more nuanced coverage of Muslims, noting that many find themselves caught in the middle, “defending their faith from barbarism at one end and bigots at the other.”  To the journalists in the room who may cover issues related to Islam, she said: “I hope we focus on the facts — not the hysteria or alarm-ism.”

Minnesota SPJ also announced the winner of a $2,500 scholarship — Madeline DeBilzan, who recently completed her freshman year at Bethel University, where she is studying journalism and business.

The awards ceremony was hosted by Tom Weber of MPR 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

The full program, with the complete winner’s list, can be viewed here.

MNSPJ helps open state prisons to cameras again.

As a result of First Amendment advocacy efforts by the Minnesota Society of Professional Journalists, the Minnesota Department of Corrections has decided to allow photojournalists back into Minnesota State Prisons to take photographs and video under certain conditions. This is a significant step forward after cameras were completely banned by a policy implemented in 2015.

MNSPJ leaders met with Department of Corrections Commissioner Tom Roy and his communications staff in February. We heard Commissioner Roy’s concern for victims and had a chance to articulate our position — that photojournalists serve an important role in shining light on one of the largest and most powerful institutions of state government.

The updated policy now allows photography of groups of prisoners involved in activities as well as images of prison cells and facilities, although continues to ban all inmate faces and names. The DOC also retains complete discretion as to who is interviewed and which programs are covered.

Earlier this week the DOC updated their website to reflect the updated policy and are now taking media requests. A number of requests have already been granted, including:

While allowing cameras back is an important step, MNSPJ continues to object to the MN DOC’s policy banning all faces and names and will work for access that better aligns with the cameras in the court pilot program.

MNSPJ is committed to advocating for First Amendment rights for all journalists in Minnesota.

Tell Us Your Story: Martiga Lohn

Martiga Lohn, a former newswoman for the Associated Press who works for the state Department of Human Services, wrote the following for SPJ’s ongoing Tell us Your Story series, a salute to former journalists who have moved on to new adventures.

For more than 20 years, I gave journalism everything I could. 

But when I had a child and needed journalism to give me some flexibility back, it just wasn’t going to happen. Not in that job, not at that time. 

Martiga Lohn, who covered the state Capitol for the AP, now works for the state Department of Human Services.

While leaving journalism wasn’t an easy decision, it was the right move for me and my family.  I wouldn’t trade the extra time with my daughter for any number of bylines. 

It’s already been more than four years since I left.  Everything I learned in journalism along the way helped lead me where I am today.  I have a meaningful job with the Minnesota Department of Human Services, where I help people work with reporters and offer insight into how the media works. My skills are respected and valued, and my work-life balance is much more balanced these days.

I started working as a reporter when I was still in high school, covering my school’s sports teams and writing features for my hometown weekly.  They taught me to typeset and drafted me to stuff circulars into the printed papers, sending me home with inky hands. 

Years later, when I went to work for a daily newspaper, I would wake up and run downstairs to get my paper every morning — so thrilled to see my work and the work of my fellow reporters in print. 

Journalism took me to a lot of places, from earnings news conferences for pharmaceutical companies in Germany to the press corps campouts outside end-of-session negotiations at the Minnesota Capitol (or sometimes at the Governor’s residence or State Office Building).  I got to write about presidents and artists, bus drivers and mechanics, voters and visionaries.

What really sticks with me now are the times I had to go out and talk to “regular people” — outside grocery stores, inside restaurants and bars and American Legions, at protests on the streets. Approaching people with an open notebook never came to me naturally, but I appreciate now even more how necessary it was.  The news needs their voices. 

There aren’t many jobs that challenge you to get out of your comfort zone by walking up to strangers and asking them to share deeply held opinions and feelings.  Looking back, it’s moving to me that so many people were generous with their time and willing to be quoted in my stories.

And then suddenly one day, I was on the other side of the equation.  I was surprised when a reporter approached me.

It was the middle of the day during the week in downtown Minneapolis, about a year ago.  I had just gotten my preschool-age daughter out of the car and was plugging the meter before we headed inside to a music class.  A white SUV with a TV station logo pulled over across the street.  A reporter jumped out and bounded over to us.  He asked for an interview about something to do with one of the stadiums.  It happened so fast I didn’t fully register what he wanted to talk about.

Even though I’m not a reporter anymore, I have yet to unlearn all the rules of journalism.  Reporters can’t use other reporters as sources, so I would never have agreed to be a “regular person” for another reporter while I was a reporter.  It felt so odd to be asked.  I also felt camera-shy, and caught up in the throes of trying to get my preschooler somewhere on time.  So I said no, and he went on his way.

I guess I’m still coming to terms with myself as a former member of the profession. 

Martiga Lohn worked as a reporter for the AP, Bloomberg News, the Duluth News Tribune and several non-daily newspapers.

Have a reflection to share?  Send it to the Minnesota SPJ at

Tony Webster receives 2017 Peter S. Popovich Award award for fighting for First Amendment rights

The Minnesota Society of Professional Journalists is excited to announce Tony Webster, a public records researcher and data activist, as its 2017 Peter S. Popovich Award winner.  Webster’s dogged work to make government more transparent exemplifies the spirit of the award, which honors those who fight for First Amendment rights.

 Journalists could learn a lot — and many have — by watching how Webster, a software engineer and researcher, uses the Data Practices Act and Freedom of Information Act. He requests records early and often about topics important to Minnesotans, like law enforcement’s use of emerging surveillance technology and housing fraud in North Minneapolis. Over the past two years, Webster has been in court challenging a sheriff’s denial of access to emails about facial recognition technology. The Court of Appeals recently rejected the sheriff’s argument that requests to access emails by topic or keyword are too difficult to comply with.
This spring, Webster plans to launch Goverage (, a non-profit organization to help journalists and the public use and enforce their rights under state public records laws. In addition to making data policies and court documents about freedom of information litigation more accessible, Webster says Goverage will do research on how compliant government agencies are with the many transparency provisions of law.
Webster publishes much of what he finds on his website,, where he calls himself a “web engineer, public records researcher and policy nerd.” Through his Twitter account, @webster, Webster raises awareness in real time about efforts to keep public information secret, calling out public officials and their offices for bad — and sometimes good — handling of data requests.

Webster will accept the award and speak at this year’s MNSPJ Page One Awards banquet scheduled for June 15th.

Candidate Statements for the MNSPJ 2017-18 Board of Directors

Minnesota SPJ members running for the 2017-18 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 on Friday, June 30. Results of this year’s election will be announced at the MNSPJ annual meeting July 18th at the Cardinal in Minneapolis. All MNSPJ members and local journalists are welcome to attend.

Please email with questions or concerns.


Joe Spear, editor of the Mankato Free Press

Biography: I have been the board secretary for the Minnesota Society of Professional Journalists for the last year and a member of SPJ for more than 20 years. I am the editor of the Mankato Free Press, a position which I have held for 12 years. I have worked as reporter and editor at The Free Press for 27 years. I have also been on the board of the Minnesota Associated Press Association for approximately 15 years. I am on the journalism education committee of the Minnesota Newspaper Association and a mentor editor for Community Newspaper Holdings Inc., the parent company of The Free Press. I have a bachelor’s degree in Mass Communications and a master’s degree in economics from Minnesota State University, Mankato. I have been part of the MNSPJ FOIA committee for the last couple of years and have been involved in freedom of information and public access issues, including helping craft public statements by SPJ on important First Amendment issues. Working with our chapter President Ben Garvin, we met with the Minnesota Department of Corrections Commissioner to lobby for repealing the ban on cameras in Minnesota jails and prisons. We made a small inroad on this issue and plan a bigger push in the coming year. I represented SPJ at meetings with the Minnesota Coalition On Government Information in their efforts to change Minnesota law to increase the time government must retain emails and other correspondence. I am the media coordinator for the Fifth and First Minnesota Judicial Districts for the Cameras in the Court pilot program. Our news organization has made dozens of requests under this new program and I assisted in organizing media pools in some cases for access to court hearings. I plan to be a participant in the review process for this pilot program at the end of this year.

Statement: As president-elect, I would continue to emphasize and support the important FOIA and public access issues critical to all Minnesota journalists. We will continue our efforts to defend journalists in pursuit of First Amendment rights wherever they play out. I also plan to support and continue the important events that SPJ sponsored this year. Those programs included events with top notch journalists including Pulitzer Prize winners, and an ethics event with the Silha Center for Media Ethics and Law at the University of Minnesota. The Minnesota chapter also sponsored a journalists/lawyers panel, and a “big story” panel. My goal would be to continue to offer our members these kinds of quality programs and networking events. I would also like to work with board members to upgrade the Minnesota SPJ website and bolster our online communications with members and the public at large. We live in an environment and time when good journalism is critical to the preservation of our democracy. Groups like SPJ play a key role in supporting journalists and defending the First Amendment. I welcome the support of SPJ members for the office of president-elect.


Christopher Snowbeck

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

Statement: I believe there’s a learning curve to some of the work we do on the SPJ board, particularly when it comes to the chapter’s budget.  I’d like to draw on what I’ve learned thus far to continue work on stable financials, updating our IRS status and developing new approaches to fundraising.  I think I’ve had some success in the past year generating financial reports that help the board analyze revenue and expenses, so I’d like to continue that work, as well. During the past year, I worked with board member Jenna Ross to plan an SPJ-sponsored event at the Guthrie Theater to honor the centennial of the Pulitzer prizes.  We drew a very nice crowd of nearly 200 people for a panel discussion featuring some of Minnesota’s past Pulitzer winners in the wake of the 2016 election.  In the coming year, I’d like to dedicate energy to highlighting more of the good work produced on a daily basis by Minnesota journalists.  Given all the noise about journalism these days, it’s important for our profession to explain, with sincerity and humility, how we’re trying to make meaningful contributions.


Fred Melo

As I approach the midpoint of my two-year term, I would be honored to be elected secretary of this board. We do important work and the public needs to be reminded that press freedoms matter. A selection of my contributions to date:
1. As a member of the Scholarship Committee, I’ve helped select the recipient for a $2,000 – $2,500 college scholarship.
2. I attended the EIJ (Excellence in Journalism) conference in New Orleans last year and voted on national resolutions.
3. I helped launch a web series called “Tell Us Your Story” that recruits retired journalists to pen 300 words on their life since journalism. Kind of a “Where are they now?”:
4. We as a board are judging the “Page One” awards from a sister chapter.
5. I helped coordinate and presented the “Tickling Giants” movie screening at St. Anthony Main through the U of M. This excellent but harrowing documentary focuses on press freedom in Egypt.
6. I’ve promoted the board and board events through social media and word of mouth, helping to garner press coverage, and helped staff events.


Board Members

Georgia Ellyse

Biography: Georgia Ellyse, Anchor at KBJR 6, wakes up the city of Duluth each morning with the most critical information they need to start their day. The St. Paul native has nearly a decade of broadcast experience that spans from public radio and government television to national commercial television broadcasting. As a journalist she publicly explores her passion for philanthropy and community involvement by giving a visual platform to the stories and individuals that continuously shape her community. Her coverage of a controversial officer involved shooting was nominated for an Emmy and received honorable mention by the Southeast Chapter of the National Academy of Television. Before her promotion as an anchor, Ellyse was the court and crime reporter for the ABC and Fox affiliates in Columbus, GA where she covered gruesome murder trials and uncovered a series of investigative pieces. In 2007, after her oldest daughter passed away, she became an Ambassador for Faith’s Lodge, a non-profit that provides retreat for parents who have lost a child. Ellyse graduated from the University of St. Thomas where she advocated for student parents and diversity inclusion. She has a 9 year old daughter and is engaged to St. Paul Business owner and professional boxer Cerresso Fort.

Statement: The Society of Professional Journalists is such a unique organization because it provides a vehicle to connect with other people in the industry. If granted the opportunity to serve on the board I hope to build awareness about SPJ among professional and student journalists in Northern Minnesota. I would love to contribute editorials to the website including a video series of the impact digital media has had on the Minnesota Television industry and as a former teacher, I would also like to participate with the scholarship aspect of MNSPJ. Finally, as a board member, if there were any other opportunities to offer the MNSPJ my knowledge and expertise of radio, television (both non-commercial and commercial formats) and digital media I would be more than grateful for the opportunity.

Youssef Rddad
Biography: I am the newly-minted investigative and enterprise reporter for RiverTown Multimedia, a chain of community weekly and semi-weekly newspapers tightly scattered about the east metro, southern Minnesota and western Wisconsin. A Minneapolis native and University of Minnesota Journalism grad, I got my humble start at the Minnesota Daily where I kept tabs on university officials at a school rocked scandal after scandal. Not wanting to stray too far from home, I took a job at the Woodbury Bulletin. In the past year, I’ve covered everything from local government to eating contests, high-profile criminal proceedings to a woman who lost her chair. She has yet to find it but hasn’t abandoned hope. As of June 1, I will be leading our chain’s special projects and investigations team. I am also a member of the National Association of Black Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. St. Paul is my home.
Statement: I want to contribute to SPJ’s mission of advocating for freedom of information, diversity and our profession. They are among my core values as a journalist, as I’m sure they are for others. Growing sentiment among public agencies to make information and data non-public is a deep concern of mine. As news organizations have been forced to scale down, they aren’t always able to fight the good fight and look to the local SPJ chapter to support their pursuit of reporting the truth. I also feel my background and recent navigation of the J-School to career pipeline will lend guidance and fresh insight for young and aspiring journalists who look to SPJ as a resource, especially minorities and those from diverse backgrounds. Their presence in newsrooms is sorely absent at all levels. My peers who took me under their wing and gave me a nudge in the right direction while interning at Pioneer Press and Star Tribune in college were monumental to my career. I’d like to be in a position to return the favor to others. Thank you for your consideration.
Libor Jany
Biography: Libor Jany covers crime and punishment in Minneapolis as part of the Star Tribune’s public safety team. He joined the newspaper in 2013, covering community events in Washington and Dakota counties. He’s also worked for newspapers in Mississippi, California, New Jersey and Connecticut
Statement: A recent trip to Pakistan highlighted for me the importance of advocating for and defending freedom of the press. While we usually don’t face the same constraints as some of our colleagues in other parts of the world (or the country, for that matter), journalism here still needs protecting. It seems that working with SPJ is a good place to start.
Lindsey Seavert
Biography: Lindsey was born not far from KARE 11 in Golden Valley, Minn. and grew up in the northwestern Twin Cities suburb of Plymouth, Minn. where she graduated from Osseo High School. She began her news career in Minnesota, reporting at KCCO-TV in Alexandria before heading out west to KTVN-TV in Reno, Nevada. Lindsey also spent several years at WBNS-TV in Columbus, Ohio and worked at WCCO-TV in Minneapolis before joining KARE 11. She’s earned several Emmy awards, a regional Edward R. Murrow award and a National Headliner award for her writing and reporting.

Statement: I am a reporter at KARE 11 striving to serve our community with stories that uplift, educate and inspire. I’m passionate about giving underrepresented communities a voice, and feel called to use my storytelling gifts for social good. I would like to apply to serve on the Board of the Minnesota Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists to give back to an industry that has given me a privileged front seat to the world. I feel it is my duty to mentor and guide the next generation of journalists in our rapidly evolving industry and the MNSPJ chapter would be a great vehicle to connect and strengthen the network of journalists across our state. By lifting up fellow journalists, we serve the public more effectively, which is an opportunity and victory for all Minnesotans.

Nicole Norfleet

Biography: My name is Nicole Norfleet. I’m a business reporter at the Star Tribune, where I have worked for almost seven years covering everything from small town politics to St. Paul crime. I’m also the vice president of print for the Twin Cities Black Journalists, the local chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists. Journalism has always been a way for me to combine my love of writing to my weird habit of shooting the breeze with literally anyone. I’m originally from the East Coast, but I have claimed Minnesota as my home. I live in an old house in Dayton’s Bluff with my wife Liz and orange tabby Max.

Statement: After a push from a well-intentioned friend, I want to join the board of SPJ for a multitude of reasons. I have always admired the role that the local SPJ chapter has played in our journalism community from the Page One awards to standing up for the First Amendment in the KSTP petition, and I would like to contribute in my own ways. I think that there are some ways the local chapter can continue to improve. For one, I think we can do a better job amongst the local journalism associations (SPJ, TCBJ, AAJA) to coordinate programming that can benefit all of our members. With me being a board member of TCBJ, it could only help to make our communication and collaboration easier if we want to plan events or initiatives together. I also think that SPJ should provide more outreach to local youth in high school and college and help them connect with working journalists. There are several programs at community centers and schools in which students are already working on journalism-related projects and could use mentors. I also think it is SPJ’s role to help connect journalists to community members in general. During a time of strained relationships between the general public and mainstream media, I think there are actions that SPJ can take to educate the community about the media and provide resources for consumers. I hope to help SPJ explore some of these ideas in a board member role.

Hal Davis

Biography and Statement: I’m Hal Davis. I’m running for a seat on the board so that I can pay back SPJ for keeping me in the game. I had worked in New York as a reporter for UPI and the New York Post, and as an editor for Bloomberg Business News, the National Law Journal and, in Ohio, the Dayton Daily News. I joined SPJ while in Dayton. When I moved to the Twin Cities in 2007, the only byline I recognized was Ruben Rosario’s. I called on Dave Beal and Art Hughes of the Minnesota Pro chapter, who gave me the lay of the land and provided contacts. At the 2007 Midwest Journalism Conference (where I heard Maria Reeve introduce a panel of her mentors), I spoke from the audience at a public records panel. I recommended the Minnesota Open Government Guide published by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. A panelist, Paul Hannah, said, “I wrote it.” I landed a job as team leader for public safety at the Pioneer Press. When Senior Editor Sue Campbell asked me to succeed her as the PiPress representative on the Minnesota Coalition on Government Information, it became my honor to serve alongside Professor Jane Kirtley. During her tenure as executive director of the RCFP, it had begun to produce the indispensable Open Government Guide. I took a buyout from the Pioneer Press and retired in March 2016.

But these are turbulent times. So I’d like to keep at it. It is a great and challenging time to be a journalist. The landscape is constantly shifting, but not our commitment to reporting the world accurately. The more we can share the vision of our profession – accuracy, accountability, and fairness – the more we can promote the flow of information, the more we can help journalists do their job, the better off our community will be.