I was extremely excited to start working at the Reformer this summer. A small independent newsroom, punching above its weight, dedicated to telling stories others wouldn’t? Sign me up!
Then, I got cancer.
It’s fine, all things considered. It’s a type of lymphoma that’s highly curable, and I’m in the middle of chemotherapy that will hopefully do just that. But my year didn’t quite turn out the way I thought it would.
Nevertheless, I did manage to publish a number of stories I’m proud of. One of the trickiest was on Minnesota Senate Republican Donald Raleigh’s appearance on a leaked list of Oath Keepers members. Raleigh said he was never active with the group, that he only signed up to do market research on organizations targeting veterans, and that he repudiated all of their beliefs.
I believed him, and so did a number of other outlets who passed on the story for that very reason. But we still felt like the story needed to be told: By the time Raleigh signed up, the group had developed a national reputation for extremism and lawlessness. It’s squarely within the public’s interest to know whether one of their elected representatives ever affiliated with such a group, for whatever reason.
A piece I particularly enjoyed doing was this map of Minnesota land use. It’s striking to see how much of the state is given over to cows, corn and other crops. Fun fact from the story: If you were to randomly toss a dart at Minnesota from orbit, you’d be almost three times as likely to hit a patch of corn as you would one of our famous 14,380 lakes.
Another data story that helped me think about the state in a different way: While lots of election-year ink got spilled on Minneapolis’ crime rates, researchers found that air pollution from cars and fossil fuel combustion kills far more people here than crime. We often tend to focus on things like crime because it’s highly visible, generates an immediate law enforcement response and leaves a big paper trail. But there are more insidious risks to life and limb that work quietly over the long term.
Maybe it was the cancer diagnosis, but I did seem to have death on the brain. I wrote about the shocking number of Minnesotans drinking themselves to death — alcohol is another thing that’s far more dangerous than violent crime. And I also covered the continuing toll of the opioid epidemic, with fentanyl now the leading cause of drug overdose deaths both here and nationally.
In the coming year I hope to do more data-driven stories, and because I live in Red Lake Falls, I’d like to focus on issues affecting greater Minnesota, too. If there’s anything you’re particularly curious about, drop me a line.
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