Editor's Note: 'Culturally responsive journalism': North Star Journey breaks new ground for MPR News

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MPR News presents North Star Journey
MPR News

Greetings Friends of MPR News,

Our newsroom launched North Star Journey on March 14, 2022. Many of you have already heard the numerous installments of our “journal exploring the history and culture of Minnesota communities.”

Race, Class and Communities editor Brandt Williams jumpstarted the series explaining the power of names, from the Dakota origins of Minnesota to the power of George Floyd’s name.

Senior reporter Nina Moini visited the historic Rondo neighborhood to hear about ongoing efforts to “reclaim what was stolen” from the largest Black community in St. Paul, which was drastically altered and decimated by the construction of I-94 more than 60 years ago.

And then there’s the saga of Rochester’s racial covenants and the city’s effort to confront its segregated housing history and the role Mayo Clinic founders played, as uncovered by correspondent Catharine Richert.

The North Star Journey does more than showcase a reel of diverse, inclusive storytelling. It’s an effort to respond directly to the news and information needs of people across the state of Minnesota. We craft this response by purposefully telling stories about diverse communities that move beyond the tropes and trauma to truth telling and celebrating community champions. This is a deliberate shift. 

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If I were to apply a term broadly in practice that speaks to this next level of public service journalism, I propose this work at MPR News is “culturally responsive journalism.” 

While referenced in pedagogy and academics, I’m offering a definition of culturally responsive journalism from the lens of a journalism practitioner. In practice, culturally responsive journalism listens to the complex needs of all communities, recognizes the power that inclusive stories shape for people, focuses on culture and responds to community news and information gaps through journalism.

Journalists don’t just report what is happening, they also engage citizens on topics that are of concern to and resonating with underserved communities. Local news has a powerful sense of purpose when using the lens of culturally responsive journalism. 

Representation, content decisions and listening to communities — that’s what makes this work poignant and gives our work new purpose here. And culturally responsive journalism can be done anywhere. 

MPR News is a mission-driven news organization and we take our responsibility as members of the Fourth Estate seriously. We recognize there are local news deserts across our state. Yet, MPR News is in a unique position as our radio signal reaches about 95 percent of Minnesotans. We understand and fill our audiences’ information needs. 

Senior reporter Peter Cox talked with health care leaders in the Hmong community who stepped up during the COVID-19 pandemic. Other stories have struck a chord — Somali families in St. Cloud seek home ownership by senior reporter Kirsti Marohn; correspondent Dan Kraker explores Duluth’s East-West high school divide; Native women work to curb poverty and prison outcomes in their communities from correspondent Dan Gunderson; and Minnesota’s Black farmers aim to reconnect to the land by senior reporter Jon Collins.

MPR News recognized the need for more rich storytelling of all communities. Going forward we will integrate this brand of storytelling in all that we do. We are more aware, more intentional, more responsive to communities than before.

And yet, MPR News, like all newsrooms, has more work to do. We are working to ensure our news staff looks more like all the people we cover. We are training employees to improve cultural competency and working to raise the diversity of our sources in all of our reporting. 

Newsrooms make choices every day regarding what to cover. MPR News made a significant commitment to the authentic coverage of diverse communities via North Star Journey.

As a star has five points, we dedicated five months to telling two stories per week that represent dispatches from across our fine state. Those stories surfaced from about 130 pitches from the staff and outside the organization. 

The newsroom dedicated resources, effort and creativity to develop North Star Journey. Moreover, the news staff worked with freelance journalists to deepen our footprint in diverse communities, collaborate on storytelling and swap expertise in some instances. We’ve also worked to expand our news partnership strategy. The project also was made possible by our members and in part by the Legacy Amendment’s Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.

MPR News recognizes and is reacting to the needs of communities we serve. We are listening to our audience and producing more grassroots reporting. More time has been spent consuming content in our North Star Journey section and audiences are downloading our podcast RSS feed of all of our North Star Journey stories. Our content distribution methods have been organic and these results tell us North Star Journey is resonating with our audience. 

So what’s next? 

MPR News is developing a good news beat. We are hiring a community reporter in the summer of 2022. We are launching a new podcast called “Untangled Roots” on June 7 with Brandt Williams as a co-host.

In addition, we plan a few “IRL” or in real life events this summer;  at the Black Market in St. Paul on June 11, and an event in Duluth at a later date. The staff expects to weave North Star Journey-esque stories into our workflows henceforth and beyond our five-month journey. 

Thank you for your support of the MPR News team. Our journalists work hard each day to earn your trust. I’m so proud of the North Star Journey, and MPR News’ improved efforts to respond to the communities we serve. Culturally responsive journalism is here to stay. 

Have a story idea to share? Reach us at northstarjourney@mpr.org.

Yours in Journalism, 

Sarah Glover

MPR News Managing Editor

North Star Journey was made possible in part with funds from the Legacy Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.