Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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

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

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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

 

The not-so-surprising results to a diversity question March 23, 2011

 

An immigrant family in downtown Faribault represents the changing face of our community. I took this photograph in October 2010.

I DON’T KNOW WHY I was surprised. I should have expected the results given the many racist comments I’ve heard through the years.

Yet, when results of an online poll conducted by The Faribault Daily News were published in Tuesday’s edition, I was still shocked or, more honestly, embarrassed by the numbers.

The newspaper, after publishing stories on changing demographics in Faribault,  polled readers on this question: “Do you enjoy the increased diversity in Faribault?”

An overwhelming majority, 70.2 percent, responded with a “No.”

Only 20.8 percent voted “Yes.”

The other nine percent checked the “What increased diversity?” option.

Granted, polls like this, printed in each issue of the paper and then open for online voting, are not scientifically controlled and therefore could be substantially flawed. We have only the number of respondents, 312 for this question, and the tallied results, from which to draw conclusions.

However, when you live in a community long enough—I’ve been in Faribault for 29 years—you know how people feel. And, I think it would be fair to say that many residents in my community are not all that welcoming of minorities.

I hear it in the off-the-cuff negative comments about Somali men hanging around downtown or about the Hispanic family that moved in down the street. I hear it in the warning to avoid certain retail destinations at night. I hear it in the spewed words, “I don’t want any Somalians moving in next door.”

I read it in the comments submitted to the local newspaper whenever race or diversity is the subject of an article.

The words are mean, cutting, derogatory, and, most definitely, prejudiced.

 

Downtown Faribault businesses include Banadir Restaurant, a Somali restaurant.

Many times I find myself defending the Hispanic, Somali and Sudanese people who comprise most of the nearly 17 percent of minorities living in my community of 23,352.

My standard answer is something like this, “There are good white people and there are bad white people, just like there are good Hispanics (or fill in the blank with another race) and bad Hispanics. The only bad experiences I’ve had are with white people.”

That is almost true. Several years ago my husband and I, unbeknown to us, sold a car to a Minneapolis-based Latino gang member who then used our vehicle in a gang-related shooting.

I really struggle with individuals who negatively label an entire ethnic group. It is unfair and unjustified.

That said, many individuals, churches, schools and organizations in Faribault are working hard to welcome and assist our minority population. Such examples are the Society of St. Vincent de Paul Center for Charitable Services and The Faribault Diversity Coalition. Unfortunately, The Welcome Center closed late last year.

 

Different cultures, all the faces of today's Faribault, mingled during the Fall Festival in October 2010. Our town's current Black or African/American population is 7.5 percent.

But, really, efforts to embrace the newcomers in our community begin with each of us, on a personal level, in our hearts.

On my personal level, I’ve come to better understand other cultures because my second daughter is a Spanish language major who has lived and studied and done mission work abroad. She is currently a Spanish medical interpreter.

I try to attend ethnic events in Faribault like the annual summertime International Market Day celebration.

 

A member of Ollin Ayacaxtli dances at Faribault's International Market Day celebration. Faribault's Hispanic or Latino population numbers 3,026, according to the 2010 U.S. Census.

I’d like to see The Paradise Center for the Arts, reach out to minority artists, and that is a project I hope to help the local art center pursue.

I’ve wondered, too, and this might seem odd to mention, but why do I seldom, if ever, see obituaries published in the local newspaper for minority members of our community? We need to recognize these seemingly small things that set us apart.

If we take small steps, first as individuals, in educating ourselves, then our attitudes toward each other can change. We will have a stronger, better community that is built on understanding and acceptance rather than on differences.

 

A family matriarch oversees the making of pupusas from her chair at the International Market Day in Faribault in 2009. This is one of my all-time favorite portraits that I've ever taken.

CLICK HERE for 2010 U.S. Census results from Minnesota. Scroll down to Rice County, which includes Faribault, and shows a county minority population of 9,576 or 14.9 percent. Statewide, our minority population is 16.9 percent.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling