By Rachel Johnson
The MJC's annual Premack Awards and Lecture celebrated Minnesota public affairs journalism and examined the media's coverage of Hurricane Katrina with guest speaker Michele Norris.
Media coverage and responsibility were at the core of the Minnesota Journalism Center's 29th annual Frank Premack Memorial Lecture, held on April 17, 2006 at the Coffman Memorial Union Theater. Michele Norris, SJMC alumna (B.A. '85) and host of National Public Radio's All Things Considered was the evening's keynote speaker, discussing her personal experiences in covering the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.
Prior to Norris's address, a dinner and awards ceremony was held in honor of the 2006 recipients of the Premack Awards. The awards celebrate the best public affairs reporting of the year in Minnesota newspapers. Named for Frank Premack, a reporter and editor at the Minneapolis Tribune who died in 1975, the competition is one of Minnesota's highest journalism honors. The entries are judged by a panel of citizens representing the Minnesota community and public life in the arts, education, journalism, law, and politics.
The Star Tribune and reporters Pam Louwagie and Dan Browning won in the Metro-Daily Newspaper category for "Shamed into Silence," a series exposing the sexual exploitation of young Hmong girls by Hmong gang members. The Mankato Free Press and reporter Mark Fischenich won in the Greater Minnesota Dailies category for a series of articles on the DM&E railroad project. City Pages reporters G.R. Anderson Jr. and Paul Demko won the Weekly Newspaper award for "The Hit Parade Revisited," an article examining multi-million dollar legal settlements made by the City of Minneapolis stemming from allegations of police brutality. The Star Tribune's Ron Meador won the Opinion Writing award for "Mercury Pollution," a critique of actions by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. The Star Tribune's Steve Brandt, a veteran public affairs beat reporter, won the 2006 Graven Award, given each year to members of the journalistic community whose contribution to excellence in the journalism profession has deserved special recognition. It is named after David L. Graven, a close friend of Frank Premack, who served on the Premack Board until his death in 1991.
After the awards ceremony, Michele Norris took the stage to talk about media coverage in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, and openly addressed the mistakes that were made by many news organizations. Norris asserted that although the national media "got the story, they did not necessarily get it right." According to Norris, this may have affected the recovery effort, since stories in the media about violence and unrest in New Orleans--stories that later turned out to be either false or greatly exaggerated--may have kept emergency workers away from the city out of fear for their own safety. But Norris also asserted that the media also made positive contributions in covering the aftermath of Katrina, noting that to many residents of New Orleans who were not able to evacuate, radio was often their only connection to the world beyond their devastated homes, neighborhoods, and city. After her remarks, Norris took questions from the audience about her experience in New Orleans and her thoughts on the current state of the media.
Pop Music Workshop
The Minnesota Journalism Center brought together music journalists and arts critics from across the Midwest to participate in the "Pop Music Critic as Cultural Critic" workshop held February 16-17, 2006.
Thom Swiss, visiting professor in the SJMC, approached MJC director Kathleen Hansen with the idea for the workshop in the fall of 2005. Swiss, a new media scholar with an interest in music journalism, wanted to bring music critics together with academics to examine the role of the pop music critic in the larger cultural landscape.
The workshop was led by three well-known experts in the field of pop music criticism: Jim DeRogatis, author and pop music critic at The Chicago Sun-Times; Ann Powers, author and pop music critic at the Los Angeles Times; and Mark Anthony Neal, associate professor of black popular culture in Duke University's African and African-American Studies program.
DeRogatis, Powers, and Neal led sessions on a number of topics, including "Best Practices for Reviewing Pop, Rock, and Hip-Hop," "Ethical Traps and How to Avoid Them," and "Censorship and Restrictions in Popular Music." Workshop participants also discussed how to move from short-form to long-form criticism and the differences in reviewing different forms of pop music.
Workshop participants appreciated the "rare chance to gab with music critic colleagues" and found the sessions helpful and informative. "This was a great opportunity to hear critics talk at length," said one attendee, "and it was great to talk to other critics, reporters, and editors." Another participant praised the MJC for its outreach efforts to professional journalists: "The MJC provides a bridge between the J-school and the complex 'real world' of journalism--bravo!"
Michele Norris receives University of Minnesota's Outstanding Achievement Award.
While on campus to deliver the keynote address at the Premack Awards, SJMC alumna Michele Norris received an award of her own: the University's Outstanding Achievement Award. The OAA is the highest honor the University bestows on its alumni. Norris received her award at a luncheon hosted by the SJMC a few hours before the Premack Awards ceremony began. The luncheon was held at the Eastcliff Mansion, the official residence of the President of the University, and attended by SJMC faculty and alumni as well as several members of Norris' family.
University Regent Cynthia Lesher presented the OAA to Norris, a Minneapolis native who graduated with a B.A. in journalism from the University of Minnesota in 1985. Norris is currently the co-host of National Public Radio's "All Things Considered," public radio's longest-running national program. Before coming to NPR, Norris was a correspondent for ABC News, reporting extensively on education, inner city issues, the nation's drug problem, and poverty. Norris has also reported for the Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, and Los Angeles Times. A four-time Pulitzer Prize entrant, Norris has received numerous awards for her work, including the 1990 Livingston Award and both an Emmy Award and Peabody Award.
In accepting the Outstanding Achievement Award, Norris thanked her family for supporting her in her career. She also thanked her professors and mentors in the SJMC, including professors emeriti Irving Fang and Jean Ward, who attended the awards luncheon. "I learned the mechanics of journalism and storytelling here at the University of Minnesota," Norris said. "The School of Journalism taught me how to put pen to paper with courage."