Playing to the crowd

Most memorable stories of 2012


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.

  • Teachers hope to boost test scores with fresh air, food, mints
    This is a story that came from my two best education sources, my daughters Maddie and Janey. They told me that their teachers handed out mints, the little red and white striped ones, before tests. "Why?" asked dad, the reporter. "Because our teachers say it helps us do better on tests," was the response from my two education experts. The jury is still out on whether mints help students do better on tests, but it turns out teachers try all sorts of things in an effort to help their students do better on test day. (Tim Post)
  • Revolting sea lamprey an environmental success story
    This is the first time I've ever screamed in a story. Most reporters I'm sure would have edited that out of the final mix. And that was my initial impulse, until I realized that no words could better describe the feeling of having a foot-and-a-half long eel-like thing with a suction cup mouth ringed with hundreds of hooked teeth stuck dangling from my hand. I also like this story because, for all the damage invasive species like zebra mussels have caused, here's one of the very few if only cases where we've figured out a way to keep a destructive invader in check, if not totally eradicate it. (Dan Kraker)
  • Home vigil honors a mother's last wish
    This story on Georgia Ramin and her mother's home vigil resonated with me on many levels but the most memorable aspect for me was the family's kindness and hospitality. Georgia, her mother Anne, and the rest of the family was so open, honest and welcoming during a very tough time. I was honored to be able to share their important story. (Jeffrey Thompson)
  • Some employment seekers fearful, sabotage own job hunt
    I'm really proud of this story I produced about laid-off workers' fears; I think the story captures an emotional side of unemployment that many people have never considered. As job counselor Mary White points out in the piece, it's totally understandable why people would lose their self-confidence after a layoff and fear returning to work. I found it interesting that this anxiety can be so intense that some workers may even sabotage their job hunt by doing a shoddy job with cover letters or networking. (Annie Baxter)
  • Kurdish refugees want visas for relatives, friends who helped US military
    Stories are most often memorable because of the people I meet. I've never met Mohammed Salih face to face. We've only spoken by phone from his home in Iraq. But he's a memorable character nonetheless. Salih worked for the U.S. military during the war in Iraq. When the war ended he expected to get a visa through a special program for Iraqis employed by the military. He wanted to join relatives living in Minnesota. But his application apparently disappeared (along with many others) into State Department bureaucracy. Even the Army officer Salih worked for in Iraq is frustrated by the inaction. Salih gets death threats because he helped the military. The story aired in January. I recently checked on Salih. He's still waiting. He's still confident America will protect him and his family. (Dan Gunderson)
  • What happens to the Princess Kay butter heads after the fair?
    It's a story that was borne from my actual, genuine interest in the answer to that question as I stood in the Dairy Building this year, watching the carving. I had a really fun time visiting the Daningers' dairy farm in Forest Lake and finding the butter head that was carved in 2011. (Tom Weber)
  • Man receives first artificial and portable heart in Minn.
    Alvin Carter became the first person to leave a Minnesota hospital without a human heart. For four months, he carried a backpack with the pump that kept the artificial heart inside his chest beating. After the interview, I asked if I could feel the beat of that heart. He said yes. I reached my arm out, held my palm to his chest and for a few seconds, felt the beating of a man-made heart. It was a remarkable moment, indeed. (Elizabeth Baier)
  • Veterans, Pentagon contend with sexual assault in military
    The stories I heard while reporting this have haunted me. Each woman I spoke to, and lots of tape ended up on the cutting room floor, had tales of harrowing abuse and maltreatment while in the military. Each person struggled to recover in a military culture that until recently denied the scope of the sexual assault epidemic. Now, as government and military leaders take new action to prevent and better handle military assault cases, victims' voices are being heard. But those who have experienced the unimaginable must continue to live with their painful memories. (Jess Mador)
  • "I'm beginning to understand what the Civil War was like": How has Wisconsin changed?
    I think most people in the upper Midwest were surprised to see the political chaos that engulfed Wisconsin in the last two years. Just before the final act in the state's "Right to Work" saga -- the gubernatorial recall election -- we asked sources in our Public Insight Network how the political divisions were affecting their everyday lives and relationships. I was really struck by the sadness of the stories we got back. This story inspired the team at This American Life to collect similar tales about politics and relationships across the country that aired just days before the presidential election. (Jeff Jones)
  • Homeowners appeal to city council to curb student housing rentals
    I don't think I'll ever forget the night I crashed a college party and watched as one of the students rode away on my bike. Luckily, he brought it back! (Curtis Gilbert)
  • 18 months to history: How the marriage amendment was defeated
    This story capped more than a year of coverage on the marriage amendment, and explored how amendment opponents were able to defeat a measure that had never lost in 30 states. As a reporter covering the marriage amendment, it never ceased to be interesting. Minnesotans with deeply-held views on both sides gave it their all, and in the end, opponents pulled off a victory that surprised many. (Sasha Aslanian, Eric Ringham, Molly Bloom)
  • 40 years later, Minneapolis parents recall busing's start
    Until I did this story, I didn't know that as a young child I was one of thousands of African American kids in Minneapolis participating in a voluntary busing program. It was fascinating to hear the stories of the parents who, like mine, put their young black children on a school bus that took them from a pretty well-integrated section of south Minneapolis, to a nearly all-white neighborhood school. Although, by the time I started being bused, the program was not controversial anymore. Several times during my interviews with the parents, I would discover that one of their children was a classmate of mine at either Hale or Field school. Small world indeed. (Brandt Williams)
  • Engaging teens in pregnancy prevention may be paying off
    I'll always remember this story because I worked on it while being nine months pregnant. It made interviewing teens about pregnancy a little awkward, but then they assured me that it wasn't weird because, of course, I wasn't a teenager! (Elizabeth Dunbar)
  • Deformed Minnesota frogs still largely a mystery 17 years later
    It was a privilege to spend time with Judy Helgen, the MPCA biologist who spearheaded the years-long investigation of the mystery of the deformed frogs. She wrote an absorbing memoir about the episode, "Peril in the Ponds -- Deformed Frogs, Politics, and a Biologist's Quest." She consented to an interview with Minnesota Public Radio as her first contact with the media, because - she said - we had treated her respectfully years earlier when it became known she was writing the book. That cemented my determination to explore the topic thoroughly, and the result is this piece. It's longer than usual; it lays out most of the current theories about the causes of the deformities; and it brings the story full circle by introducing some of the young people who first found the frogs 17 years ago, now bringing their children to the same pond, where they've built a nature center. (Stephanie Hemphill)
  • Stealth donor gives millions to GOP candidates, causes
    Two stories stand out to me. Both are profiles of individuals that offered a glimpse of some of the more mysterious aspects of Minnesota politics: big money and political spin. This is the first -- a profile of Robert Cummins, a major donor to conservative causes and candidates who also happens to be exceedingly elusive. The story not only highlighted how wealthy donors are influencing Minnesota's elections, it also presented numerous reporting challenges largely because Cummins refused to speak to us, as did many people who know him best. The story was also challenging to write: We could have crafted a one-dimensional portrait of Cummins as a rich man who likes to get involved in politics, but instead, we also captured Cummins' deeply-held faith, his social conservatism, and his generosity to children -- all without having spoken to him. (Catharine Richert)
  • Dem. PR consultant created alternate identity to promote clients
    This is the second profile. Unlike Robert Cummins, Democratic operative Nate Dybvig lives in the spotlight, and his story shows how far public relations professionals will go to shape a political narrative and influence elections. Joe Forkeybolo is Dybvig's Republican alter ego, which he has used for years to present a conservative view on Democratic candidates and issues. Once I confronted Dybvig about his potentially unethical tactics, I had to move fast. Dybvig declined to comment, his Forkeybolo Facebook page was down immediately, and he ultimately outed himself minutes before my story posted. Aside from being a good read, it was seriously fun to report. Now when I really screw up, I just call it a "major Forkeybolo." (Catharine Richert)
  • A political firebrand, prone to acts of kindness
    This piece allowed me to communicate something that had been on my mind for 10 years. (Eric Ringham)
  • The Revolution reunites to benefit heart health
    In February, Prince's former band The Revolution reunited for a benefit concert in Minneapolis. On the eve of that event, I interviewed Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman who played with Prince at the peak of his popularity. Unlike Prince, who has reputation for being guarded and aloof when he is interviewed, I was struck by how candid and down to earth Wendy and Lisa were when I spoke with them.

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