Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

More than just a riddle February 20, 2019

DO KIDS STILL appreciate riddles?

When I was a kid, I loved them. Some riddles were stupid. Others silly. Many challenged me. Whichever, riddles usually made me laugh.

 

 

So when I saw one of my favorite childhood riddles posted in a newspaper stand outside the Faribault post office, I laughed, exited the van and walked across icy surfaces to photograph the posting.

Q: What’s black, white and read all over?
A: A newspaper.

I heard that riddle countless times when growing up. I liked it then, like it still, although the riddle no longer rings reality. Newspaper aren’t read all over. And that saddens me, a former journalist. Too many people no longer value newspapers. Rather, they get their news from other sources, not necessarily the most reliable sources either.

Newspapers and journalists are too often the targets of criticism, much of it unjustified. I’m not talking about the publications that call themselves newspapers, but truly are not in any sense of the word. I’m talking about legitimate “news papers” staffed by hardworking, unbiased journalists.

 

 

I value newspapers, especially community newspapers. I value the stories reporters write, yes, even the hard news. I value that newspapers keep me informed, expose me to differing viewpoints on the editorial page, alert me to happenings and issues in my community and elsewhere.

I recognize that my feelings about newspapers and journalists stand much stronger than those of most people. In my days working as a news reporter, I was attacked by individuals who disliked me quoting them or writing on an issue they’d rather not see in print. But their disdain didn’t stop me from doing my job.

We need a free press, a strong press, a press that does not cave to political or societal pressure. Our democracy depends on freedom of the press.

Q: What happens in a country without a free press?

A:

 

TELL ME: Share your thoughts or share a riddle. Please be respectful in your comments.

 

Here’s an example of a riddle my second daughter shared with the public many years ago at a roller rink:

A: How do you make a Kleenex dance?

Q: Put a little boogie in it.

 

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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When reporters cover tough topics… January 31, 2019

 

THE NEXT TIME YOU CRITICIZE a journalist or rant that reporters are nothing but a bunch of biased writers, consider this. My local newspaper, the Faribault Daily News, recently placed first in the Social Issues category of the 2017-2018 Minnesota Newspaper Association Better Newspaper Contest. For a series on domestic violence.

The award-winning series, titled “Abuse,” published over a period of a year and covered the gamut from information to interviews with survivors and their families, advocates, police and more. These were powerful pieces, written primarily by reporter Gunnar Olson but also by Regional Editor Suzanne Rook.

It is the personal stories which made this series. Emotional stories. Gut-wrenching, difficult stories. Stories that needed to be told, heard, written, read and, then, remembered.

 

 

When a reporter can take a topic like domestic abuse and violence, interview people in a caring and compassionate way, and then share those stories through dynamic writing, that work deserves recognition. By fellow journalists. And by readers. I applaud the Daily News for raising awareness, educating and connecting people to this social issue via deeply personal stories.

As a former weekly and daily newspaper reporter, I will confirm that writing stories like this is difficult. I once wrote a series on eating disorders that included interviewing a survivor and the mother of a young woman who died from anorexia. Although I kept my professional persona in place while working on the series, inside my heart hurt for every single individual I interviewed. Reporters have a job to do. But they are still human.

I often hear newspapers criticized for printing nothing but bad news. That raises my ire. Do not kill the messenger. Newspapers are not PR mouthpieces. They are newspapers. It is their job to report the news—good and bad. Features and hard news. They do not cause the bad news. People do.

Today, more than ever, journalists are under attack. For writing fake news. For not writing something they should have or for writing something they shouldn’t have. They are losing their jobs. The free press is threatened. That should scare every single person. Democracy needs a strong and free press.

Yes, I’ve sidetracked a bit. But I’ll circle back now and reaffirm how much I appreciate my community newspaper. Reporters keep me informed of local issues and happenings, of good news and bad. I am grateful for their hard work and their willingness to stretch beyond the everyday news to cover important topics. Like domestic violence.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From the perspective of a former reporter: Thoughts after The Capital Gazette shootings June 30, 2018

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I’M A FORMER NEWSPAPER reporter and photographer. As such, the killings of five employees in The Capital Gazette newsroom just days ago affects me in a way it may not non-journalists.

The single phrase that repeated through my mind: He (the suspect) really did kill the messengers (newspaper employees). The alleged shooter apparently held a grudge against the Gazette for writing about his conviction for stalking a woman.

Too often I’ve heard people attack and criticize reporters for doing their jobs of reporting the news. Journalists are blamed for whatever is negative. It’s an unfair accusation. Do not kill the messenger. The reporter did not cause the bad thing that now banners the newspaper.

If journalists report only the good news or whatever is spun to them, then they are nothing more than pawns, propaganda tools, mouthpieces. These are difficult times to be a journalist with the constant spewing of the words “fake news” and open hostility and name-calling at the highest levels of government. Democracy needs a free and open press. The press is not the enemy.

I experienced firsthand efforts to suppress my reporting while working in the profession decades ago. In small town Minnesota. How dare I attend a school board meeting and quote a teacher who didn’t want his comment, made at an open, public meeting, printed. My editor backed me up. But I had to endure the ire of that teacher and his superintendent for the rest of my stay in that rural community.

Likewise, a prominent businessman in the same county seat town harassed me for quoting him at a city planning meeting. When I moved to another job with a regional daily working in a satellite news bureau, I encountered the same hostility from a superintendent who didn’t like my story on a student walk-out. He treated me with absolute contempt, behavior which I found (and still find) totally unprofessional for an educator.

Then there was the sheriff’s department employee who wanted to withhold public information from me when I was gathering facts in a drug case.

There are those who will argue that the media deserve the contempt and criticism heaped on them. There are those who will say media people are nothing but a bunch of biased liberals. There are those who will blame journalists for anything and everything. Everyone is entitled to an opinion in a free country. Not all journalists are fair or balanced in their reporting. I agree with that.

But I also come from that perspective of working in the news profession. I know how hard I worked (long and odd hours with low pay) to accurately and fairly gather and report the news. I cared that I got the story right. I think most journalists do.

A reporter at the Gazette tweeted after the shootings: “I can tell you this: We are putting out a damn paper tomorrow.” That tweet shows remarkable strength when a man with a gun has just killed the messengers in a Maryland newsroom.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Billy Graham’s gift to Minnesota & indirectly to me February 22, 2018

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A snippet of the stained glass window in the balcony at Trinity Lutheran Church, North Morristown, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

IF I LISTEN to the memories within, I can still hear the song, see the people filing forward across the television screen to dedicate their lives to Christ.

Those are my thoughts as I remember the Rev. Billy Graham who died on Wednesday. I always connect “Just As I Am” to the evangelist. That was his signature hymn during his Billy Graham Crusades.

But there’s something I didn’t know about Graham. It’s his connection to Minnesota. And to my favorite radio station. Graham served as president of the University of Northwestern—St. Paul from 1948-1952. And he helped launch Christian radio station KTIS, still today a ministry of Northwestern.

I listen to KTIS every day. The music uplifts me, encourages me, gives me joy. But sometimes I cry at lyrics which connect to my soul, to something happening in my life. I find comfort and hope within contemporary Christian music and in the conversations, call-ins and overall ministry of this Twin Cities radio station.

I’ve always respected Billy Graham. Now I have another reason to appreciate him—for his legacy of faith at KTIS.

FYI: The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association also got its start in Minnesota, headquartered in Minneapolis for 50 some years before moving to North Carolina.

 

Whiteout, and not the kind you think August 16, 2017

 

 

 

MY MIND WAS ALREADY reaching for the phone, punching the number for the circulation department of the Faribault Daily News when I paused.

With a sports headline printed above the nameplate and an ad stretched across the bottom of an otherwise blank front page, I realized—kaboom—that the white space couldn’t be accidental. There was a reason the paper I grabbed from my front steps on Tuesday morning was devoid of front page news.

 

 

I flipped to page two. There I found my answer. The absence of news was intentional. According to an article published there, more than 200 Minnesota newspapers are participating in a “Whiteout” to remind readers of the importance of newspapers in their local communities during Minnesota Newspaper Week.

Brilliant, simply brilliant. What an incredible visual way to make a point.

Quotes supporting freedom of the press ran in a sidebar:

“Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press and that cannot be limited without being lost.”—Thomas Jefferson

“Freedom of the press is not just important to democracy, it is democracy.”—Walter Cronkite

“Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press…”  First Amendment to the Constitution

As a former newspaper reporter, I especially value freedom of the press. I hope the average person realizes just how important a free press is to our democracy. When a government controls the media, we lose our freedom.

I can’t recall a time in the U.S. when the media have been more ruthlessly attacked by people in power than now.

 

 

 

When I think back to my years as a community journalist, though, I recall efforts by some locals to curtail my reporting in several small Minnesota towns. A high school music teacher once attempted to intimidate me after I wrote about controversial discussions at a public school board meeting. Likewise, a realtor verbally attacked me when I wrote about city council proceedings that involved him. A school superintendent in one community treated me with disdain after I covered a student walk-out. Thankfully my editors backed me up and I continued to do my job.

Being a journalist isn’t easy, especially in today’s world. I expect the pay, the long and odd hours and stress are just as awful as when I worked in the profession decades ago. And the criticism is fierce. People complain all the time about the media. Sometimes those complaints are justified. But mostly not.

I say, “Stop blaming the messenger.” Journalists do not make the news. They are only reporting it. And we should all value that they have the freedom to do so.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

About this blog & commenting here August 10, 2017

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That’s my post, labeled “Barn Memories,” published on November 30, 2013, on Freshly Pressed, a feature of WordPress, my blogging platform.  My work has been highlighted on FreshlyPressed thrice. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I’M NOT A PARTICULARLY opinionated person, at least not publicly. I mostly steer from conflict, discord and disagreement. I’m more the mediator type, the “let’s work things out” and treat others with kindness and respect. That includes the topics I generally cover here on this blog. My blog.

In recent weeks, several particularly mean-spirited comments filtered into this site. They were inflammatory and accusatory and just plain awful, with some directed at me personally. I chose not to publish them. I refuse to allow this blog, my blog, to become a platform for hatred, false accusations and unproven allegations.

Yes, I’m aware some may term this as censorship or a denial of free speech. I have worked as a newspaper reporter and value freedom of the press. Suppression of the media rankles me. In recent months the media have been under intense attack unlike anything I recall. This scares me. Freedom of the press is essential in a democracy. I hope the general public understands that.

We may not like what the media report. But we also need to stop blaming the messengers for the news they deliver. They are just doing their jobs.

That brings me back to Minnesota Prairie Roots. This blog is not mainstream media. No one pays me to write here. I earn some income from photos that people/businesses/organizations find here and buy from me and also from writing jobs tracing to this blog. But I am not on anyone’s payroll nor do I have an agenda other than to share my images and words with you. Writing and photography are my passions.

If you choose to submit hateful, accusatory and inflammatory comments, I won’t publish them. This is my blog. It’s as simple as that. I won’t bend my values, morals and beliefs.

To the many faithful readers and commenters who write with respect, thank you. I appreciate you and value your thoughts.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

About that McDonald’s muskie billboard… September 16, 2016

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McDonald's muskie billboard in Minnesota

 

WHEN I SPOTTED this billboard about six weeks ago in the north metro, I wondered about the muskie part of the message. I still do. Other than catching muskie in the summer and preferring a smoothie in the heat of summer, I don’t see much connection between the two in this McDonald’s ad.

I wondered if I was missing something. So I googled the topic to find a column by Pioneer Press Outdoors Editor Dave Orrick titled “Some people really do hate muskies. There, I said it.” He then laid out the polarizing story of muskie stocking in some Minnesota lakes. It should be noted that his opinion piece is not tied to the McDonald’s ad. It just happened to rank third in my Google search.

After reading Orrick’s column, I offer two suggestions to McDonald’s: Don’t erect an identical billboard in Cass or Crow Wing counties. Or choose a different, less controversial, fish.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling