MNSPJ seeks the return of emergency dispatches, radio traffic for journalists

The Minnesota chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists (MNSPJ) is troubled by a recent decision to encrypt law enforcement emergency dispatches and other radio traffic by the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office and agencies that use the county’s service.
MNSPJ urges Hennepin County Sheriff David Hutchinson to drop this new practice, or let journalists continue using this information, which helps news organizations inform readers and viewers about public safety incidents while ensuring accountability and transparency from the police and fire departments that respond.
For decades, journalists have used scanners to monitor radio transmissions from public safety agencies, and respond in real time to breaking news. These radio transmissions are typically a starting point for journalists, who go on to investigate and evaluate whether the incident rises to the level of general public interest.  Reporters know to contact the agencies for more information. They can get to the scene to talk with witnesses. The information helps journalists assess how quickly they must react and with what degree of resources.
All this improves the quality of reporting at the time of an incident, so community members can understand if there’s a broader threat.  Later, it helps ensure that final news reports provide detailed information on a timely basis about the substance of incident — whether it’s a crime, a fire or an accident — and the response by public safety agencies.  Particularly with incidents that involve a police response, this transparency helps hold authorities accountable if something should go wrong — an essential part of building trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve. It also can help readers and viewers better understand the actions of law enforcement.
In September, radio transmissions in the shooting death of Ronald Davis in St. Paul provided important context, as journalists listening to scanner traffic heard a police officer yell: “Drop the knife! Drop the knife!”  The detail helped readers and viewers understand the story, and also helped journalists evaluate accusations from activists that Davis had been shot down by police in the street in cold blood.
In September 2018, when a teen stole an SUV and raced down Cedar Ave. in Minneapolis at high speeds before crashing and killing three people, journalists listening to police radio could quickly address a key question via scanner traffic: “Our guys were not in pursuit; they were not in pursuit,” a member of the State Patrol said immediately after the incident. The accident came a few months after the State Patrol faced criticism for pursuing at high-speeds a vehicle that crashed into a playground and hit three children.
These are just two examples of why MNSPJ is asking Sheriff Hutchinson to consider alternatives. When a similar change was made in Lincoln, Neb., police decided to publish an unedited online feed that was delayed by 10 minutes. A spokesman for the sheriff has suggested that news organizations might be able to use devices to decode scanner traffic.  We’re encouraged by this, but hope the sheriff will simply revert to the old practice.
Public safety personnel already use alternate, confidential communication channels when needed for tactical reasons.  Other public safety agencies aren’t following Hennepin County’s lead. As a spokesman for the Minneapolis Police Department told a Star Tribune editorial writer: “We have no intention of going to encryption. … We haven’t seen the need.”


MNSPJ Intern Night, Oct. 24, at WCCO Studios


About this Event

The 2019 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 from local colleges.

No previous internship experience is required to attend!

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


Thursday, October 24

7:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.


90 S. 11th St.

Minneapolis, MN 55403

Space is limited at this free event: Only 60 spots are available. If you register and cannot attend, you must notify MN SPJ immediately so we can open available spots to those who can attend. Limited to two tickets per person.

Register here:

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! Enter by the back door. Please contact with any questions.

Journalists shine light on their role

ThreeSixty Journalism student Safiya Mohamed found time during St. Paul Central High School’s spring break to interview three Twin Cities journalists about their profession. Safiya asked them to describe what they do, explain why their job is important and share advice they would give to a young, aspiring journalist.

The interviews with Star Tribune reporter Nicole Norfleet, Minnesota Public Radio reporter Brian Bakst and Fox 9 reporter Iris Perez were recorded at the studios of the St. Paul Neighborhood Network, a cable access station. Funding was provided by the Minnesota Society of Professional Journalists.

Brian Bakst, Minnesota Public Radio political reporter

Nicole Norfleet, Star Tribune business reporter

Iris Perez, KMSP/Fox 9 general assignment reporter, fill-in anchor

MNSPJ Election Results for 2019-20

Emma Nelson, a reporter with the Star Tribune, has been voted president-elect of the Minnesota Society of Professional Journalists (MNSPJ) for the coming year. Frederick Melo of the Pioneer Press will serve as the chapter’s secretary while Briana Bierschbach of Minnesota Public Radio will serve as treasurer.

All three officers were elected via ballots submitted in June-July 2019. Election results were certified during the chapter’s annual meeting Thursday, July 19, at Dual Citizen Brewing in St. Paul.

Other election results include: Hal Davis was elected to a one-year term on the MNSPJ board of directors; Nicole Norfleet and Jackie Renzetti were elected to two-year terms.  All three currently serve on the chapter’s board. 

Christopher Snowbeck will serve as the chapter’s president for the coming year, with Joe Spear serving as past-president.  Emma Nelson will become president in July 2020.

Thanks to all those who voted. We have big plans for the coming year, so we hope you’ll consider becoming a member. For more information about the chapter, please contact us at

Annual Meeting Thursday in St. Paul

The annual meeting for the Minnesota chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists (MNSPJ) is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, July 18, at Dual Citizen Brewing, 725 Raymond Ave., St. Paul. (

We’ll certify results from the election of board members and socialize. Please join us!

Meet candidates for MNSPJ board and officers

Ballots will be mailed out tonight to members in good standing. You’ll have 30 days to vote. The board will certify the election at its annual meeting sometime after July 18. There are four open director seats with two-year terms and one open director seat with a one year term. Officer positions (president-elect, secretary and treasurer) are one year terms. 


Emma Nelson for president elect

Emma Nelson is the lead St. Paul City Hall reporter at the Minneapolis Star Tribune. She previously covered Minneapolis City Hall and the exurban south metro and worked on reporting teams that covered the aftermath of the Norwood Teague sexual harassment scandal and the death of Prince. She is a graduate of the University of Minnesota and a St. Paul native.

Candidate statement

My name is Emma Nelson, and I am running for president-elect of the Minnesota Pro chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.

When I graduated from the University of Minnesota with a journalism degree, the doomsday predictions for our industry were all about money. How would publications stay afloat in the digital age? How could we convince people – especially young people – that news is worth paying for? Was journalism over?

I strongly believe that the past few years have proven good journalism is very much alive, even as the ways we create and consume it change. The challenge now is one many of us never predicted: the growing lack of trust from the communities we serve, and the fight to prove that the stories we report are fair and true.

During the past year, the SPJ board has tackled this head-on with a series of powerful and informative events designed to educate the public about our work and the state of the media today. I want to build on that effort over the next two years.

Minnesotans need to know who their local journalists are, and SPJ is in an ideal position to connect reporters with people across the state. As president-elect and then as president, I want to work with the board to organize events in the Twin Cities – and possibly outside the metro, depending on our resources – where community members can meet journalists and learn about what they do. I’m envisioning panels organized around specific coverage areas – similar to the food critics event this spring – with reporters from different publications coming together to talk about their jobs, whether they cover sports, crime or city hall.

At the same time, I want to continue to put on the kinds of community and industry events that we have in the past, from panels and happy hours to a revamped version of Page One Awards banquet. Bringing journalists together to share successes and worries and ideas for the future is just as important as connecting with the public.

More than anything, I see this role as an opportunity to support Minnesota journalists, including SPJ board members. I’m excited about the ideas that the board has already brought to fruition and am looking forward to seeing what’s next. In my time as a board member, I have found SPJ to be a truly welcoming and supportive community. My goal is to make sure that continues.

Fred Melo for board secretary

Fred Melo has been a reporter with the St. Paul Pioneer Press since January 2005 and currently covers St. Paul City Hall and all things St. Paul that are not crime-related. He resides in a St. Paul home with his St. Paul-reared wife and their two small St. Paul children.

Candidate statement
It’s truly been an honor to serve on the board of MNSPJ these past three years, including spending the last two years as a board officer (Secretary). I’m asking for your vote to re-elect me to that position. I will continue to maintain the minutes at meetings, write regular newsletters and occasionally update Twitter and live-Tweet events.

The board has repeatedly called for freedom of the press in the courtroom, on social media and in local government, and I’ve been proud to have a hand in that.

Just as importantly, I’ve aimed to connect younger folks to MNSPJ, to jobs, to scholarships, and to the good work that journalists do.

Through a contract I negotiated with ThreeSixty Journalism and the St. Paul Neighborhood Network, we had a high school student interview three working journalists for a video series that will air on the web shortly.

I co-chaired our scholarship committee, which awarded $3,500 in funds to college students this year. I also oversaw Intern Night at WCCO, which draws employers for a panel discussion with students each October.

My goals for 2019-2020 include organizing another fall mixer for board officers from 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!

Briana Bierschbach for treasurer

Briana Bierschbach is a political reporter with nearly a decade of experience covering the Minnesota Capitol. Prior to joining the Minnesota Public Radio Capitol bureau last year, she covered the Capitol for MinnPost, Politics in Minnesota and the Associated Press.

Candidate statement

It’s my first year on the MNSPJ Board and I’ve been blown away by all the things the group takes on. Recently becoming the board’s treasurer, I have a new appreciation for the investment MNSPJ puts into informative community events, awards ceremonies and legal battles for First Amendment protections.

I’m asking for your vote to re-elect me treasurer of MNSPJ. In that role, I will continue to help manage the board’s accounts and file quarterly and annual reports. I will also help the board find new ways to pay for things that are core to its mission: celebrating quality local journalism, protecting the rights of journalists and promoting best practices with other journalists and the broader community.

Hal Davis for director

I’ve worked in wire and print+digital newsrooms in New York City; Dayton, Ohio; and St. Paul.

Candidate statement

I’ve seen news organizations thrive with impressive talent. At the 2019 MNSPJ Page One Awards, we saw what that talent can do. I want to help SPJ help that talent thrive.

One way is to promote open access to information.

During my first term on the board, I submitted a request to the national SPJ Legal Defense Fund for a grant to fund a court challenge to view public information from files emanating from the Jacob Wetterling abduction case. SPJ supported the disclosure of the investigative files, and granted $10,000 to share with the Minnesota Coalition on Government Information.

MNCOGI brought the motion to intervene in the case; I also serve on its board. Judge Ann Carrott ruled that all the state documents in the investigative file must be released to the public.

SPJ also took part in the successful effort to make sure the media and public had access to all videos and photos in the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor. Judge Kathryn Quaintance ruled media would have access to body cam video and other evidence.

We also discuss issues important to journalists.

Two defamation cases before the Minnesota Supreme Court may affect how journalists here can report what police say after they arrest someone, and how anyone not a journalist may be prevented from reporting what happened to her. But does this mean the court gets to define who’s a journalist? I plan to bring media lawyers together to let us know the state of the law as we do our jobs.

I hope to expand this with more media-law discussions.

It’s been a great first term. I’ve learned how much I’ve yet to learn about Minnesota journalism. I hope to continue.

Nicole Norfleet for director

Nicole Norfleet is a business reporter at the Star Tribune covering commercial real estate and professional services. She has been at the Star Tribune for about 10 years after graduating from the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. Besides her involvement with SPJ, she is also president of Twin Cities Black Journalists.

Candidate statement

I would like to serve as an SPJ board member for the second time. I think with my involvement leading Twin Cities Black Journalists that I bring another important voice to the group. I’m passionate about media literacy and newsroom diversity, and I hope to help SPJ prioritize both in the coming years.

Jackie Renzetti for director

Having filled in for Youssef Rddad on the MNSPJ board since February, I’d be honored to have your vote to continue serving for another two-year term.

While studying journalism and political science at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, I spent most of my time at the offices of Radio K, where I hosted our local music show and co-produced the station’s podcast, and the Minnesota Daily, where I held multiple leadership positions, including editor of our special projects desk.

I also interned at the Minneapolis-St. Paul Business Journal, The Current, Star Tribune and APM Reports. After graduating in May 2017, I taught media literacy for Minneapolis Community Education and the Journalistic Learning Initiative in Eugene, Oregon. I also regularly freelanced for Oregon’s second-largest daily newspaper, the Register-Guard.

In April 2018, I returned to the Twin Cities for an enterprise reporting position with RiverTown Multimedia, which is owned by Forum Communications and publishes several newspapers in the southeast St. Paul suburban area and western Wisconsin. In my first year here, I’ve written two award-winning stories on social issues and I’ve helped establish a business and development beat.

Candidate statement

Since moving back to Minnesota, I’ve been grateful for opportunities provided by MNSPJ to strengthen my reporting skills. These experiences inspired me to apply for a vacant spot on the board in early 2019. I’d embrace the opportunity to continue serving on the MNSPJ board and to contribute as much as I can, especially with our new media literacy efforts.

For instance, I’ve been tasked with boosting the national #Press4Ed initiative in Minnesota, and I’d like to explore ways we could support student newsrooms statewide. Additional top journalism concerns of mine include fostering a more diverse industry and expanding ways local journalists can engage with their communities.

I believe MNSPJ provides key resources and protection for journalists as newsrooms continue to shrink and endure difficult circumstances, including attacks on press freedom. I am deeply thankful to have learned the ropes of reporting in the Twin Cities’ vibrant journalism community, and I want to do as much as I can to preserve and strengthen it. With a passion for teamwork, I’d be honored to do so by working with the MNSPJ board. Thank you for your consideration.