MPR receives $250,000 grant to expand community engagement

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A $250,000 grant will support Minnesota Public Radio’s efforts to engage more deeply with communities of color in its state, including news staff training and the hiring of a community engagement officer. 

The community engagement officer, who will begin in mid-February, will connect staffers to communities of people of color across Minnesota to improve news coverage. Meanwhile, training will help MPR news staff deepen relationships with those communities. Topics will include addressing biases and perceptions, U.S. history that contextualizes racism today, and reporting through different cultural lenses.

MPR is focused on improving the newsroom’s “cultural fluency,” helping reporters more accurately cover and understand different cultures, said President Duchesne Drew.

“If reporters don’t have enough self-awareness to understand the difference between right and wrong versus what is just someone’s legitimate take on things, they’re more likely to frame stories inaccurately — stories that fall short of capturing and reflecting what people are saying and what their motivations are,” Drew said. “That makes it highly unlikely we’ll be able to reflect that out to our listeners.”

The grant, awarded by the Otto Bremer Trust, will also fund listening sessions in which people of color will discuss how they perceive MPR’s coverage, with the goal of helping reporters cover their communities’ stories more accurately. The virtual sessions will connect with communities beyond MPR’s home base in the Twin Cities.

While the sessions will center on race and ethnicity, Drew said that they will also encompass gender, sexuality and socioeconomic status. 

MPR executives applied for the grant in 2019. In recent months, MPR employees and staffers at American Public Media, a corporate sibling of MPR, have urged the organizations to take steps toward a more equitable workplace for people of color and to improve board representation of marginalized communities.

“Our company culture and our news coverage routinely prioritizes white audiences and their stories, neglecting communities of color,” an MPR/APM union committee on antiracism and inclusion wrote in a September letter to listeners and readers. “The company, over its 53-year history, has also fostered a harmful working environment for women and journalists of color.”  

APM also faced criticism in September over the firing of Garrett McQueen, then the sole Black host on its Classical 24 music service. The network said McQueen was fired over how he made changes to music playlists.

Dismissing McQueen was actually an example of MPR/APM doing “the right thing despite the challenges that come along in terms of doing the right thing,” Drew told Current.

“The September events were a mix of very real issues we are taking seriously and have been taking seriously and working on and also some fiction,” Drew said. 

In a statement to Current, the union committee on antiracism and inclusion said that it supports the Otto Bremer grant and that members hope it will lead to addressing the goals outlined in their letter.

“We hope the company will use the resources at its disposal to move quickly and transparently toward the goals we laid out,” the committee said. “We appreciate Otto Bremer’s support and hope they’ll join us in holding company leadership accountable for making measurable progress toward equity and inclusion.”

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