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Veteran MPR News journalist, mentor and teacher Toni Randolph dies

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Toni Randolph
Toni Randolph
Caroline Yang for MPR News

Veteran journalist and longtime MPR News editor Toni Randolph, whose quiet, steady presence guided colleagues, young reporters and listeners to a deeper understanding of each other and of journalism, died Sunday after being hospitalized for a medical procedure.

She was a tireless champion within her newsroom — and far beyond, as an active member of the National Association of Black Journalists — for voices unheard and voices that needed lifting up. She challenged her colleagues toward inclusion, broad thinking and deeper empathy, in their reporting and in their work. 

"Having diverse voices in our news stories should be part of the fabric of what we do," Randolph said in 2014. "We'll reap more benefits than we can imagine when newsrooms truly reflect our communities." 

She had a special devotion to young journalists — and steered the stories and reporting of countless high school and college students through MPR News' Young Reporters Series, its Generation Next training program and the University of St. Thomas' ThreeSixty Journalism high school program, whose board she joined in February. At the time of her death, she was in the midst of preparing for the fall season of Generation Next's young journalist classes.

"She was a gifted and dedicated journalist whose great joy was working with aspiring writers and mentoring young," American Public Media Group president and CEO Jon McTaggart said Sunday.

And she was an award-winning journalist in her own right. Hired as a reporter for MPR News in 2003, she covered homelessnessimmigration and politics. She added newscasting, editing and hosting to her repertoire, then moved into her most recent role as editor for new audiences six years ago, during which she focused on responding to the news needs of the state's increasingly diverse population

"She was crucial in her work connecting us to new audiences around the state and training the next generation of young reporters," MPR News executive editor Nancy Cassutt wrote to staff on Sunday.

In 2014 ThreeSixty Journalism recognized that work by giving Randolph their annual Widening the Circle award, which was established "to honor individuals who have made extraordinary contributions to the next generation of journalists, particularly while promoting inclusion and diversity." 

Randolph dedicated the award to her mother. "I don't feel like I am widening the circle," she said. "I feel like I'm completing one."

Her Young Reporters Series was honored with a 2015 Gracie Award by the Alliance for Women in Media. 

A native of Buffalo, N.Y., Randolph began her public broadcasting career as news director at one of the public radio stations in her hometown, not long after earning a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. She then moved to Boston, covering Massachusetts politics, airport security and the clergy sex abuse scandal for public radio station WBUR. She traveled to China and Liberia on journalism fellowships, to better understand the global nature of Minnesota's growing, transforming communities.

"Just as Toni inspired countless young people, she has been one of the strongest voices for diversifying newsrooms — including our own," Cassutt said Sunday. "May we all follow Toni's example and build on her amazing legacy."

By Monday morning, as word of her passing spread, colleagues whose lives and work she'd touched in Minnesota and far beyond shared their memories, their grief — but mostly, their gratitude for this elegant, thoughtful woman whose grace, patience and kindness had mentored and guided and inspired them for decades.

"Toni has been an important part of the fabric of Minnesota Public Radio," McTaggart said. "She made countless, meaningful contributions to our public service. She believed in our mission, and she believed in her colleagues and friends. She will be greatly missed, every day."

Arrangements are pending.

Toni's reporting: Thoughtful, empathetic storytelling

As a reporter, Toni Randolph covered Minnesota — and the people who lived in its heart and on its margins — with a thoughtful and empathetic touch. 

Here's a collection of some of the stories she's reported over the years.

Statement from Gov. Mark Dayton on Toni's passing

Lt. Governor Smith and I extend our deepest condolences to the family, many friends, and colleagues of Toni Randolph as they grieve their tragic loss. During her 13 years with Minnesota Public Radio, Ms. Randolph told the stories of our citizens and communities, which contributed greatly to the recognition of our shared values and aspirations. The many young journalists, whom she inspired and mentored, will continue her legacy through their own careers for many years to come.