Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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

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About this blog & commenting here August 10, 2017

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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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

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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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

 

When a small town Minnesota newspaper implements a “pay for” letter policy August 11, 2016

SHOULD A NEWSPAPER charge for publishing a letter to the editor?

My Minnesota State University, Mankato, journalism professor Robert Shipman would likely turn over in his grave if he read that question. He impressed upon me that the editorial page is the heart of a newspaper. A staunch supporter of community journalism, he would not advocate paying for letters to the editor. Neither do I.

I have great respect for this newspaper man who nearly 40 years ago taught me the basics of journalism—instilling in me a strong sense of fairness in writing balanced news stories. Opinion, he emphasized, should be reserved for the editorial page.

 

Gaylord Hub election letters policy - Copy

 

This brings me back to charging a fee for letters to the editor. Interestingly enough, my concern is prompted by a notice published in The Gaylord Hub, a third-generation family newspaper where I accepted a reporting job right out of college.

Decades after I left my two-year stint at this small southern Minnesota weekly, I still get The Gaylord Hub. Unlike most community newspapers, The Hub does not have a strong editorial page. Rare are the editorials. However, locals often voice their opinions in letters to the editor. There’s been significant controversy in Gaylord related to school issues.

But now the publisher/editor has established a new policy for election-themed letters. Policies for letters to the editor are the norm at newspapers. Many publications restrict length; monitor for libelous and offensive content and personal attacks, etc.; and don’t publish election-related letters in the final issue before an election. But, in a quick perusal of the internet, checking out several major dailies across the country and several Minnesota daily and weeklies, I found none with a “pay for” publication fee.

The Little Falls based The Morrison County Record, for example, states that “Letter writers are encouraged to stick to the issues and the positions on issues and qualifications of the candidates.” Letters that lean toward advertising aren’t published.

In Gaylord, though, under the new policy, if you want to write a letter supporting or opposing a candidate or a political party, you’ll have to pay for it. Thirty dollars for up to 300 words for a Paid Election Letter.

I get where the newspaper is coming from with this policy. Some people will abuse the system by viewing the editorial page as a free advertising opportunity. But to blanket apply that to all election-focused letters seems a suppression of opinions. The policies established by The Morrison County Record seem more appropriate, more balanced in curbing potential abuse while maintaining freedom of expression.

That said, there was a time when newspapers printed obituaries and engagement, wedding and birth announcements at no cost to readers. No more, at least in most publications. Would my college professor opine that change. He likely would. Robert Shipman was Old School community journalism. He was all about integrity, unbiased reporting, getting facts right and, above all, always always spelling names correctly. He taught me well. He taught me that the opinion page is the heart of a newspaper.

Thoughts?

Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

The new letters to the editor policy published in the August 4 edition of The Gaylord Hub.

 

A message from Minnesota officers: Let peace prevail July 9, 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 2:53 PM
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Peace ad published in Faribault

 

NEARLY NINE HUNDRED MILES from Dallas, Texas, and an hour from Falcon Heights, Minnesota, a message of peace published this morning in my local newspaper, The Faribault Daily News.

The full-page ad on the back page of the front section comes from the Faribault Police Department and the Rice County Sheriff’s Department. In a succinct 13 words, these law enforcement officers deliver a powerful statement to our culturally diverse community.

It is the final three words that I find universally hopeful: Let Peace Prevail.

Let. Peace. Prevail.

 

 

The connection between a pony, Preparation H & a liquor store June 22, 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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I’M NO MARKETING EXPERT. But I did take advertising and public relations classes in college, a requirement of my Mass Communications degree. Yet, degree and media experience aside, I rely primarily on my initial emotional reaction to rate the success or failure of media campaigns.

I find myself most drawn to advertising messages that tug at my heartstrings or offer a bit of unexpected humor. Flashiness and celebrity endorsements don’t impress me. Simplistic and relatable do. Punch out a strong message, boom, and you’ve got me. Word choice matters, as do music and setting in TV commercials and radio spots.

I photographed these little ponies at Sibley Park in Mankato.

I photographed these miniature horses at Sibley Farm in Sibley Park, Mankato, Minnesota.

My husband will tell you I seldom pay attention to television commercials. For good reason. Most aren’t worth my time. But he’ll also tell you there are exceptions. When the Amazon Prime ad featuring a sweet little pony airs, I crank up the volume like I’m listening to a favorite rock band. I love everything about that commercial from the music to the horses to the pure cuteness factor. I am obsessed to the point of wanting to purchase a little pony for my granddaughter. Isabelle is only 11 weeks old. I’m not serious, of course. But if I lived in the country…

From ponies to Preparation H, a new hemorrhoid treatment commercial filmed in the small southern Minnesota community of Kiester also rates as a current favorite. I applaud the marketing genius who connected kiester to Kiester and came up with this humorous, thinking outside the box ad.

Small towns can be a hotbed for unique advertising. For example, I spotted this sign outside Wayside Liquor in Montgomery (Minnesota, not Alabama) on Sunday:

 

Wayside Liquor sign in Montgomery, 14

 

A quick Google search indicates Wayside Liquor staff didn’t create this message. But they clearly knew the humorous words would grab the attention of motorists traveling along busy Minnesota State Highway 13. The sign works in directing attention toward the liquor store. Boom.

How about you? Do you have a favorite TV commercial, radio spot, print ad, sign, billboard? What makes it a winner?

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A must-read Pulitzer prize winning report on domestic violence April 22, 2015

“IF I CAN’T HAVE YOU, nobody can.”

Then he shot her.

That story of a woman who was shot by her husband, and survived, is part of a powerful investigative report on domestic violence by the Charleston, South Carolina, The Post and Courier which Monday won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.

The Pulitzer Committee calls the seven-part “Till Death Do Us Part” series “riveting.”

That it is. It’s a must-read for anyone who cares about domestic violence. And we should all care. These are our mothers, our sisters, our daughters, our friends, our neighbors, our nieces, our granddaughters, who are dying and being abused (verbally/mentally/physically/emotionally) at the hands of men who supposedly love them. Men who control them. And then sometimes kill, or try to kill, them.

Whether you live in South Carolina—where the rate of men killing women ranks highest in the nation—or California or Minnesota or any place in between, you need to read this prize-winning series. Today. Now. (Click here.)

the logo

The logo for NO MORE, a national campaign for “No More Silence. No More Violence.”

The series addresses all facets of the issue. You will read stories and see images that will break your heart. You will read about survivors and grieving families. You will read about problems within “the system.”  You will read about frustrated law enforcement officers. You will read about lack of accountability and communication. You will read about warning signs and the reasons women stay in abusive relationships. You will read a list of problems and suggested solutions.

This is powerful information that will cause you to think and, hopefully, open your eyes and empower you to stand strong, to not look the other way. To care.

Here are some key bits of information that I gleaned from this series:

♥ Survivors often describe falling in love with “charming men who began abusing them well into their relationships.”

♥ Abusers are calculating and manipulative.

♥ Domestic violence is often mistaken as an “anger management problem.”

♥ Domestic violence is about control.

♥ Behavior such as choking/strangulation can predict a possible deadly outcome for those in relationships with domestic abusers.

♥ As South Carolina legislators recently debated domestic violence bills, all but one proposal died in committee. The sole surviving bill provided court-ordered protection for the pets of domestic violence victims.

♥ Domestic violence laws in South Carolina treat first-time offenders “about the same as shoplifters and litterbugs.”

♥ In dealing with domestic abuse offenders, it’s all about holding them accountable.

♥ When The Post and Courier emailed 30-plus clergy, asking whether they’d ever preached about domestic violence or heard a sermon on the topic, only four said they’d mentioned domestic violence. Most didn’t respond.

♥ Victims sometimes/often times fail to cooperate with law enforcement and prosecutors because “they are terrified of their abusers.”

♥ Zero tolerance of domestic violence leads to a drop in deaths.

The series concludes with the final section titled “Enough is enough.” Problems and solutions are presented therein.

Repeat that: Enough is enough.

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IF YOU ARE CURRENTLY in an abusive relationship, seek help. Call a local women’s shelter or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233. If you are in immediate danger, call 911.

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FYI: April 19 – 25 is National Crime Victims’ Rights Week which focuses on supporting victims of crime.

Click here to read the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women 2014 Femicide Report.

I understand that men can also be the victims of domestic abuse. But the investigative report by The Post and Courier focuses on women, which is why I also focus on women in this post.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling