Playing to the crowd

Most memorable stories of 2009


Over the course of a year, MPR News talks to hundreds of people from all walks of life. Some make a bigger impression than others. Our journalists each chose a story that was the most memorable to them.

  • One family's fight against the flood
    The Red River flooding in Fargo-Moorhead last spring brought out the best in people as they fought to protect their homes and families. The Witthoeft family of south Moorhead is a good example. As the river churned just a few feet from their back door, they pulled together as a team with courage and determination to save their property. -- Tom Robertson
  • Saving Riverview Circle
    I spent eight days in the Red River Valley, following three families who were fighting against the Red River in a neighborhood where nearly everyone else had given up. Not once did I hear any of them whine about their predicament. When it came time to raise the neighborhood dike another foot, they raised it another foot. It was an illuminating display of the sensibilities of western Minnesota and North Dakota. When things need to get done, you do it; you don't wait for someone else to do it for you. I remember their attitude every time the snow plow blocks in the driveway I'd just shoveled. -- Bob Collins
  • Time lapse video: Filling sandbags at the Fargodome
    The video captured the incredible amount of work that went into making millions of sandbags to keep the Red River at bay during the flooding last spring. The sandbagging went on around the clock, without complaint. Just quiet people with the strength to do what needs to be done. -- Than Tibbetts
  • Minnesota potter makes art at 2,400 degrees
    This is a story which spread out over several visits, at odd times, including one session that lasted until three in the morning. The dark, the flames, coyotes in the distance, great people, it all made for a memorable time. -- Mark Steil
  • Domestic abuse among elders remains a hidden problem
    This story was memorable for me because of Mabel's courage in telling her personal story, a story painful for her to recount, in hopes that it would help others seek help. -- Elizabeth Stawicki
  • Last call at the Uptown
    The Minneapolis music landmark The Uptown Bar closed its doors after more than 60 years in business. We talked to those who played a part in its storied heyday in the late 1980s. -- Michael Wells
  • Life as a Jewish partisan
    I originally did this piece as a tie-in to the release of the movie "Defiance," about a Jewish partisan group fighting for survival in the Polish forests during World War II. I talked with Jack Sutin, who had written a book about his similar experiences a decade before. The story Jack told me about his war, and how he fell in love with his wife Rochelle, is remarkable. -- Euan Kerr
  • Hope for brain cancer treatment after canine success
    You might expect me to pick something related to H1N1, since that has certainly been a memorable story this year. But I'm choosing Batman the dog because his recovery from brain cancer was amazing. I also love the picture of him staring up at the surgeon who helped save his life. -- Lorna Benson
  • Watching history with millions
    Although I was in Washington DC and near the Mall for the inauguration of Barack Obama as president, I didn't hear the speech. I couldn't get close enough to one of the jumbo screens to witness the ceremony. What will stick with me the most about that day is seeing the groups of people huddled around radios. They bowed, as if in prayer, hanging on every word of Obama's speech. -- Brandt Williams
  • Northstar: Train vs. car
    I loved doing this story -- a race on the first day of the Northstar commuter rail service, between reporter Laura Yuen in a car, and me on the train. I was surprised with the outcome -- we arrived at our destination in downtown Minneapolis at the same time. -- Tom Weber
  • Local inventors frustrated over patent office bureacracy
    This story reminded me that news is all about being surprised. I went into this story thinking that the recession would make life difficult for inventors, and discovered that the opposite was true. I was surprised again to learn that despite an invention-hungry market, an even more obscure obstacle stood in the would-be inventor's way. -- Sanden Totten
  • Duluth businesses test sustainable approach
    The story focused on three businesses, but there are many more trying to reduce their energy consumption. It was inspiring to see how creative and effective people can be when they decide to keep the earth in mind as they go about their business. -- Stephanie Hemphill
  • Old equipment gets second life at U of M
    The U stores thousands of items, from office chairs to old medical equipment, in a huge warehouse in Minneapolis. Sometimes it's reused by the university. Other times a member of the public finds a way to use it. For me it was fascinating, and a little strange, to stand in a warehouse stacked floor to ceiling with decades worth of old office equipment. -- Tim Post
  • Job market even tougher for ex-offenders
    I'll remember this story for the day I spent frantically stalking a sex offender. The man eventually admitted on tape that he'd considered committing another crime because he hadn't been able to find a job. While it seems obvious that in a tough job market, people with criminal records would have a higher-than-usual unemployment rate, and that might lead to increased recidivism, there was no current data on the phenomenon. I was astounded to find a range of honest voices to prove the story. -- Rupa Shenoy
  • Comparing Walden to Wobegon; what kettle lakes mean to America
    While Robert Thorson's book, "Beyond Walden: The Hidden History of America's Kettle Lakes," sounds like a geology text, it's actually much more about the history of people than rocks. His book gave me a deeper understanding of Minnesota's lake culture, where it came from and why it matters more here than in New England, even though the same kinds of lake are common there. He ties the theology and mythology of Walden Pond and Lake Wobegon together in a fascinating way. -- Jeff Jones, All Things Considered producer
  • Recession can be even tougher for low-income families
    My favorite story from 2009 looks at how the recession is impacting the working poor. People who were on the economic edge before the recession suffer dramatic displacements, including homelessness. With so much focus on foreclosures and the financial crisis, the stories of people like "Cheryl" have often been overlooked. -- Annie Baxter
  • My first recession
    Going through a recession during childhood or adolescence can shape the way you see the world for the rest of your life. I loved meeting the teens who let us into their lives, and hearing from adults whose outlooks were shaped by previous recessions. I was particularly struck by the parallels between these stories from the past and what today's teens are going through. -- Molly Bloom
  • When Somalis are in the news, so is Omar Jamal
    Love him or hate him, activist Omar Jamal is the most controversial figure in Minnesota's Somali-American community. And although he appears in countless news stories about the community, rarely is he the subject of any kind of in-depth coverage. After the story ran, I heard from both his supporters and detractors. The supporters thought I was too hard on him, and his critics said I wasn't hard enough. The story, like Omar Jamal, was a lightning rod for people's differences. -- Laura Yuen
  • Immigrant detention grows in Minnesota
    It was eye-opening for me to try to penetrate the world of immigrant detainees. Detention court and jail are two places reporters (and the public) don't usually see. David Soto's interview from the Ramsey County Jail was a memorable opportunity for me. -- Sasha Aslanian
  • Fascination with pirates goes back centuries
    I'm drawn to stories where the serious and the seemingly absurd intersect. And I'm fascinated by how drastically pop culture's take on reality can differ from actual reality. Therefore, doing a story on the popularity of pirates was ideal for me. In the news, pirates are dangerous criminals. But in the world of pop culture, they're fun-loving adventurers with fancy costumes and parrots for pets. I wanted to find out how these disparate images can co-exist. What I found was both somber and silly. Just like life. -- Nikki Tundel
  • Former St. Paul speakeasy avoids demolition, for now
    Amateur historian Kurt Gegenhuber proved that a little bit of curiosity and a few hours of research could solve questions that trained historians have been asking for decades. On a Saturday morning at the Minnesota Historical Society a few years ago, he uncovered the connection between a famous folk music anthology and a 1920s-era St. Paul speakeasy. When the building faced demolition this year, his research sparked a community-led preservation effort. -- Madeleine Baran
  • New book makes the case that Bob Dylan has a great voice
    It's fun to do a story that challenges a popularly held notion, in this case the belief that Bob Dylan is a terrible singer. This story is memorable because of the passion that University of Minnesota music theory professor Sumanth Gopinath has for the subject. -- Jim Bickal
  • Joblessness among older workers jumps
    I prefer to get my reads on the economy from regular people, not Wall Street analysts, politicians, academics or economists. I found many such experts at St. Andrew Lutheran Church in Eden Prairie, where Pastor Rod Anderson conducts weekly networking and support meetings for unemployed folks. Many baby boomers once believed they'd have job security, good health and retirement benefits, and the highest wages of their lives when they hit their 50s. It's not turning out that way. -- Martin Moylan
  • Minneapolis doctor gives artists a health care option
    How refreshing that a man with an artist's soul and a doctor's compassion bypassed all the mega-lobbying and political posturing in Washington, and created a unique model for addressing America's health care crisis. Dr. Sam renewed my faith in the average citizen's ability to solve our deepest dilemmas.-- Chris Roberts
  • More is more when it comes to neo-Victorian fashion
    I thoroughly enjoyed reporting on this story because it involved young people taking fashion design into their own hands. Neo-Victorian fashion draws from both English and Japanese style scenes, and has a literary element to it, too. This look is definitely more than skin deep. -- Marianne Combs
  • Teaching the art of conducting an orchestra
    As part of an initiative to get young professionals interested in classical music, the Minnesota Orchestra invited 60 people to a seminar on what an orchestra conductor does. Then, some of the participants got a chance to try it for themselves. A quartet of highly trained musicians were instructed to follow every twitch and jolt of the baton -- speeding up, slowing down, changing time signature and grinding to a halt -- as the amateur conductors tried unsuccessfully to keep the tempo. The results were hilarious and made a perfect story for the radio. -- Curtis Gilbert

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