Civic Journalism Initiative Projects

THE MINNESOTA PUBLIC RADIO CIVIC JOURNALISM INITIATIVE was started in August, 1995 after the successful "Minnesota Action Plan to End Gun Violence" project initiated by Leonard Witt when he was editor of Minnesota Monthly magazine. Here is the quick synopsis of the civic or public journalism projects conducted by the Civic Journalism Initiative.

  1. The River Question and Answer Project
  2. Getting There: Building Ideas for a Better, Smarter Transportation System in Minnesota
  3. Color of Justice
  4. Covering Native American Issues
  5. The Universal U: Searching for a Vision of Its Future
  6. Sharing the Wealth: Charitable Giving in Prosperous Times
  7. Guinea Pig Kids: A Look Inside Minnesota's Graduation Standards Experiment
  8. Minnesota in the .Com Age Summit
  9. The Minnesota Public Radio Y2K Summit
  10. Welfare to Work
  11. Urban, Rural Conversations: The Crookston/Lucille's Kitchen Connection
  12. Rural Diversity
  13. Civic Journalism Symposium
  14. Economic Literacy Summit/National Symposium
  15. Public Religion Symposium
  16. Minnesota Citizens' Forums
  17. Minnesota Family Strength Project
  18. Low-income Housing
  19. The Economic War Among the States
  20. Journalists, Violence and the News
  21. The Minnesota Action Plan to End Gun Violence


The River Question and Answer Project The River Question and Answer Project
On April 29, 2002, some 50 citizens and river-oriented stakeholders gathered at St. John's University in Collegeville, Minnesota, for "Build a Question; Find an Answer," a Civic Journalism Initiative event produced by Minnesota Public Radio, The College of St. Benedict/St. John's University Environmental Studies Program, and KNSR in Collegeville.

The goal of the participants was to develop a set of questions they thought are important for policymakers, opinion leaders, and citizens to answer. Their work was distilled into 13 questions. This was part of MPR's Changing Currents news project.

Getting There: Building Ideas for a Better, Smarter Transportation System in Minnesota Getting There: Building Ideas for a Better, Smarter Transportation System in Minnesota
The Getting There summit is a gathering of some 70 stakeholders to discuss transportation issues facing Minnesota. Held at the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs on Thursday, April 11, 2002. The participants develop transportation visions for improving congestion, safety, access, the environment and return on money spent. They also build action steps to help make those visions become realities. Reports from the summit and the MPR newsrooms transportation project can be found at the Are We There Yet? site. The summit production partners include Minnesota Public Radio, the Humphrey Institute, the Center for Transportation Studies at the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota Historical Society.

The Color of Justice Color of Justice: Is There Racial Bias in the Minnesota Criminal Justice System?
On June 14, 2001, MPR's Civic Journalism Initiative produced a live radio summit to ask "Is there racial bias in the Minnesota criminal justice system?" Some 80 Minnesotans from academic, legal, and citizens groups met to seek action steps to confront biases identified by summit participants.

Featured speakers Marc Mauer, of the Sentencing Project and editor of Reducing Racial Injustice in the Criminal Justice System, and David Cole, Georgetown University professor and author of No Equal Justice: Race and Class in the American Criminal Justice System, provided a national perspective. Barry Feld, a University of Minnesota criminologist, John Powell, executive director of the Institute on Race and Poverty, and B. Todd Jones, former U.S. Attorney for Minnesota, gave a Minnesota perspective.

On November 14, 2001, the Civic Journalism Initiative held the Color of Justice Issues and Answers Forum with citizens from communities most affected by the racial disparities in Minnesota's criminal justice system. Attendants produced questions for Sen. Jane Ranum (DFL-Minneapolis), Rep. Rich Stanek (R-Maple Grove), St. Paul Police Chief Bill Finney, Hennepin County District Court Judge Tanya Bransford, Hennepin County Public Defender Leonardo Castro, and Minnesota Department of Corrections Commissioner Sheryl Ramstad-Hvass. It was broadcast live from the Sabathani Center in Minneapolis on MPR's Midday with host Gary Eichten.

The two Civic Journalism summits, the final summit report, citizen comments, and the MPR Newsroom's five-part series on racial disparity issues can all be read or heard at the Color of Justice Web site.

NEWDownload final report: Read and download the 24-page final report from the summit: Is There Racial Bias in the Minnesota Criminal Justice System? (PDF | Adobe Reader needed)

This project was produced in partnership with the Institute on Criminal Justice at the University of Minnesota Law School and the Minnesota Journalism Center. Funding support comes from The Minneapolis Foundation.

Covering Native American Issues
On March 11-12, 2001, the Minnesota Public Radio Civic Journalism Initiative and the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development produced a special one-and-a-half-day workshop in Minneapolis for Upper Midwest journalists who cover Native American issues. Workshops were taught by Native American scholars and Harvard University professors. Some 50 people participated. Issues covered included Indian history, culture, governance, sovereignty, and economic development. Perhaps the most powerful message was a call for American Indian sovereignty to enable Indian Country success. For a quick synopsis on that issue, read Deborah Locke's opinion piece in the St. Paul Pioneer Press, March 15, 2001.

For a more in-depth look at the sovereignty issue, read position papers by Stephen Cornell and Jonathan Taylor, and Joe Kalt. Watch this site for a practical guide for journalists who cover the Native American issues discussed at this workshop.
You'll need the free Adobe Acrobat reader to read these files.

The Universal U: Searching for a Vision of Its Future
During the week of February 19-23, 2001 the Minnesota Public Radio newsroom runs a series of in-depth stories looking at the University of Minnesota during this its 150th Anniversary. On Thursday, February 22, the MPR Civic Journalism Initiative and Midday host a live two-hour town meeting at the Ted Mann Concert Hall. Many of the 50 or so participants give their visions of the U's future and then hear University President Mark Yudof react to what was said. Other special panelists include DFL Senator Deanna Wiener, chair of the Senate Higher Education Budget Division, and Republican State Representative Peggy Leppik, who is Chair of the House Higher Education Finance Committee. Project also included a special online forum, running from February 15-23, open to the public to express their visions.

Sharing the Wealth: Charitable Giving in Prosperous Times
Minnesota Public Radio's Civic Journalism Initiative and Sound Money produce an invitation-only summit/national symposium in St. Paul, September 7-8, 2000, entitled: Sharing the Wealth: Charitable Giving in Prosperous Times.

Approximately 80 high-profile people from the world of philanthropy seek what causes people to give, what hinders giving, and finally what action steps are needed to increase giving in this high-tech, new-wealth era. Keynote speakers include Paul G. Schervish, director, Social Welfare Research Institute at Boston College, and co-director of the ongoing Study on Wealth with Responsibility.

Watch the Sharing the Wealth Web site for a post-summit report, an interactive guide to putting philanthropy into your financial plan, interesting facts, in-depth papers, summit speeches, MPR newscasts, and Chris Farrell's Sound Money Guide to Philanthropic Giving, of which more than 100,000 copies will be distributed nationally.

Guinea Pig Kids: A Look Inside Minnesota's Graduation Standards Experiment
From February 7-11, 2000 Minnesota Public Radio's News and Information services broadcast a news series entitled: Guinea Pig Kids: A Look Inside Minnesota's Graduation Standards Experiment. The series focus was on students, parents, and teachers, those most affected by the state imposed basic skills test and higher standards now required for graduation. Three reporters spent months in North High School in suburban North St. Paul; Roosevelt in urban Minneapolis; and Hills/Beaver Creek in rural southwest Minnesota. The MPR Civic Journalism Initiative ran daylong forums at each of the schools where students, parents, and teachers got to tell their stories. The project culminated with a live on-air radio broadcast from the three schools, during which many of these same students, parents and teachers got to speak out to MPR's statewide audience and state officials.

Minnesota in the .Com Age Summit
Is Minnesota out in front, holding its own, or falling behind in the high technology revolution? On December 2, 1999 the Civic Journalism Initiative brought together some 100 policy makers and opinion leaders from academia, business, citizens groups and government to ask how we are doing? The consensus was that Minnesota has some work to do if it doesn't want to be left behind. Hear from the summit participants, Minnesota-bred venture capitalist Ann Winblad, and researches Ross DeVol, Randolph Court and Jay Hare to see just where Minnesota stands and what it must do to maintain a stake in the high-tech revolution.

The MPR Y2K Summit
On July 21, 1999, Minnesota Public Radio's Civic Journalism Initiative hosted a Y2K Summit at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota, to assess the state's Y2K preparedness. The summit corresponded with the visit of John Koskinen, the president's Y2K advisor, to St. Paul, and was also attended via videoconferencing by U.S. Senator Bob Bennett. Overall, 75 people attended the summit, including representatives from Cargill, 3M, Northwest Airlines, US West, USBank, the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, the FDIC, and Allina.

From noon to 1 pm, MPR broadcast conversations with Senator Bennett, state Senator Steve Kelley, and founder Mike O'Connor, plus all of our summit participants. MPR's Y2K coverage was back on the air that evening from the Great American History Theater with Mayor Norm Coleman and Koskinen. For a complete MPR Y2K overview, go to the MPR online news coverage.

Welfare to Work
On October 2, 1998, Minnesota Public Radio's Civic Journalism Initiative and the Institute on Race and Poverty at the University of Minnesota Law School convened a summit of more than 115 stakeholders from around Minnesota at the Sabathani Community Center in Minneapolis to evaluate the state's welfare to work effort. Participants dealt with two questions concerning welfare to work in Minnesota: What's working and what's not and why? and Where do we go from here? The report and testimony from summit participants were presented to a Minnesota Legislature subcommittee on Welfare Reform Oversight and the Commission on the Economic Status of Women on December 18, 1998.

LaDonna Pavetti, a senior researcher at Mathematica Policy Research, Inc., was the summit keynote speaker. Dr. Pavetti has nearly twenty years of experience working in social welfare. Her speech entitled Welfare Reform: A Work in Progress described how states have used the new flexibility provided to them by the federal government, examined their programs' effectiveness, and discussed the challenges ahead. Throughout her remarks, Dr. Pavetti described how Minnesota's experience compares with that of other states.

In addition to the summit, MPR News and Information Service did a series of radio stories on the Minnesota Family Investment Program (MFIP), which is the state's welfare to work initiative.

Urban, Rural Conversations: The Crookston/Lucille's Kitchen Connection
What can rural Crookston and urban North Minneapolis learn about each other from simple conversations? Between February and April, 1999, Minnesota Public Radio, the Star Tribune, KMOJ radio, and Insight News hosted four audio- and teleconference conversations between the two communities. Read and listen to the discussions here.

Rural Diversity
The Minnesota Public Radio Civic Journalism Initiative and Minnesota State Colleges and Universities host an invitation-only summit in late April, 1999, at St. Cloud State University to ask how Minnesotans can ensure that diversity will help strengthen rural communities. The summit helped inform a MPR News & Information Service series on diversity, The Hidden Rainbow, broadcast in May.

Civic Journalism Symposium
The Batten Award Symposium and awards dinner was held in Minneapolis this year from May 2-4, 1999. This year's central symposium question was: What do civic journalism and other civic engagement movements have in common, and can they and should they work together? The goal was to have 50 journalists and 50 civic engagement leaders from around the country come together to help answer the question. The symposium was cohosted by the Pew Center for Civic Journalism, the Minnesota Public Radio Civic Journalism Initiative, The Star Tribune, Pioneer Press, KTCA-TV, and the University of Minnesota Journalism Center. For more information contact Christina Fiebich, Minnesota Journalism Center, or 612-625-8095.

Economic Literacy Summit/National Symposium
The Minnesota Public Radio Civic Journalism Initiative, MPR's Sound Money and the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis' The Region magazine will sponsor a summit/national symposium on May 13-14, 1999. The summit participants will take a look at the nation's level of economic literacy, talk about why economic literacy is important and finally build a blueprint to increase economic literacy in this county. Unlike many summits, the power of radio, online, and print will elevated the discussion into a national symposium. The summit outcomes, survey results and conference papers will all be amplified to a national audience via Sound Money, MPR's News & Information Service, MPR Online, and the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis's The Region magazine.

The Public Religion Symposium
Dr. Martin Marty The Civic Journalism Initiative brought together 100 high-profile Minnesotans on April 28, 1998 to ask: What Role Religion Should Have in Public Life? (see the Symposium report) The group was diverse in every way, from religious and ethnic backgrounds, to points of view. This Civic Journalism Initiative project helped world-renowned theologian Dr. Martin E. Marty frame his two-year national Public Religion Project ( funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts. MPR's News and Information Services broadcast complementary radio programming during its month-long Religion in Everyday Life project, including Marty's address to the Minnesota Meeting.

The Minnesota Citizens' Forums
During the 1998 primary election season, the Civic Journalism Initiative and the MPR newsroom partnered with public television's KTCA-TV, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, and the Minnesota Journalism Center in a series of Minnesota Citizens' Forums to enhance citizen participation in the gubernatorial and legislative elections. The citizen forums will help inform MPR newsroom's coverage of candidates during this election series. It will be coupled with call-ins on MPR's Midday programming so Minnesotans around the state can join the discussion.

Minnesota Family Strength Project
Family Strength Project
This project fully bloomed during the week of October 20, 1997 beginning with a kick-off celebration at the History Center in St. Paul and a multi-cultural family dinner at the Powderhorn/Phillips Wellness and Cultural Center in Minneapolis. October 20 also marked the beginning of a radio series looking at family life in Minnesota. A special 36-page family section produced by the Civic Journalism Initiative appeared in November, 1997's Minnesota Monthly. It detailed the findings from the extensive research findings produced by Family and Children's Service and the findings from the Civic Journalism Initiative forums in Willmar, Moorhead, Virginia, Burnsville and Minneapolis/St. Paul. A special four-page Family Album earmarked for the History Center allowed Minnesotans to share their family stories with future generations. The project was capped off in November with a special family celebration November 9 at the History Center. This project was a partnership among the MPR Civic Journalism Initiative, the Minnesota Historical Society and Family and Children's Service. It was funded by the Allina Foundation. Allina and Family and Children's Service will use what was learned to work on strengthening Minnesota families in the future.

Low-Income Housing
The Civic Journalism Initiative went to affluent communities and asked what their responsibility is when it comes to low income housing. A public report on our findings was distributed to policy makers and people interested in housing issues. A Civic Journalism Initiative produced videotape entitled "A House Divided" was also made available. A synopsis of the project, written by Leonard Witt, executive director of the Civic Journalism Initiative, appeared in the Star Tribune's "News with a View" section on March 27, 1997. The Civic Journalism Initiative later partnered with some 20 other community organizations in sponsoring study circles in the Twin Cities to discuss housing and how it relates to children's educational and life opportunities. It was funded by the Minneapolis Foundation.

The Economic War Among the States
Economic War Among the States
The Civic Journalism Initiative successfully elevated the discussion surrounding the bidding wars states have in trying to keep and lure businesses in its The Economic War Among the States national symposium in Washington, DC in 1996. Some 60 participants attended from around the country to discuss what action, if any, should be taken concerning the bidding wars. This national symposium was held at the National Academy of Sciences. Alice Rivlin, then director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, and Robert Reich, then Secretary of Labor, were the key note speakers. Public Radio International's Marketplace ran a three-part series on the issue, and Ray Suarez had a national call-in on Talk of the Nation. The Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis' The Region magazine did a special 68-page report on topic in its summer, 1996 edition, and Harvard University did a special online case study exclusively for this project. The project was funded by the Ford Foundation.

Journalists, Violence and the News
A 1996 project was done in cooperation between the Civic Journalism Initiative and the Minnesota News Council. The idea was to make journalists statewide more aware of how they cover violence and the coverage's effects on pubic policy. In the day-long symposium, 50 Minnesota journalists heard from experts and then met face-to-face with 50 citizens about the coverage of violence. Funded by Minneapolis Foundation, Ethics and Excellence in Journalism, Cowles Media Foundation, and the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

The Minnesota Action Plan to End Gun Violence
This project was published in Minnesota Monthly magazine in February, 1995 prior the formation of the Civic Journalism Initiative. Some 1,000 Minnesotan adults and kids met in 13 forums and talked about how to reduce gun violence. The 32-page special section of the magazine won numerous awards, and statewide acclaim from violence prevention groups around the state.


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