On the radio

CSB’s Heather Beckius and SJU’s Will Moore spend summer at MPR as Gary Eichten News Fellows

September 11, 2012

By Mike Killeen

On the first day of their summer fellowship at Minnesota Public Radio in St. Paul, Minn., Heather Beckius and Will Moore were handed a card by Gary Eichten.

It wasn't a typical business card. In fact, it was more like a baseball card, featuring a picture of Eichten that MPR had handed out at the Minnesota State Fair when Eichten was host of the popular "Midday" show.

What Eichten had written on the card was far more important for Beckius, a junior at the College of Saint Benedict, and Moore, a senior at Saint John's University - his cell phone number.

"He (Eichten) said, 'Call me if you need anything, even if it's not related to journalism or MPR,' " Beckius recalled. "He just came to be a mentor and a role model. Everything he was willing to share with us was valuable."

That helped set the tone for the MPR Gary Eichten News Fellowships for Beckius and Moore. They completed their 10-week fellowship Aug. 10, learning the basics of news writing, reporting and production work with a goal to write and produce material for MPR newscasts.

The fellowship for CSB and SJU students was created in honor of Eichten, a 1969 graduate of SJU who wore many hats during an over 40-year career at MPR. He retired from his on-air duties in January, although he remains an editor-at-large for MPR News - as well as a mentor for Beckius and Moore.

"Gary is the greatest," said Moore, an English major who graduated in 2009 from St. Cloud (Minn.) Technical High School.

Actually, Eichten was one of several mentors the two students had. Kate Smith, managing editor at MPR, created a curriculum for the students to follow week-by-week. Smith said Beckius' and Moore's experience was "very different" from other newsroom fellowships at MPR.

"This was a course of study in a working newsroom designed to teach as much about news writing as we could in 10 weeks," Smith said. "My goal was to have them writing newscast stories that would be used for broadcast - and they did!"

Each week, Beckius and Moore were given reading and writing assignments that "taught them a range of skills," Smith said. They also trained on state-of-the-art digital editing systems and audio recording gear, "and when they were ready, they got their daily assignments," Smith said.

Smith and Eichten also completed the writing assignments, allowing Moore and Beckius to hear how the professionals would have handled the question at hand and turning the sessions into a discussion. "Writing is subjective enough so there isn't one right answer," Smith said.

"Kate would have us doing these little exercises, and she'd also give them to Gary, who would kind of jokingly complain about it," Moore said. "We would have the work done, and Gary would come in and say this is how he would write it. It was like, 'Why didn't I think of that? That's a good idea.' He'd show us why he did that. That was amazing, because of his 45 years of radio experience."

"I couldn't sing Kate's praises more clearly, because the fellowship ... it wasn't one of those things where we're grabbing coffee and doughnuts for the reporters," said Beckius, an English major who graduated in 2010 from Albany (Minn.) High School. "Kate really sat us down and ran us through the curriculum. She was very intentional with everything."

Although Moore had done some on-air work at KJNB Radio at CSB and SJU and KVSC-FM at St. Cloud State University, the biggest difference the two had to adjust to was writing news stories for broadcast.

"Right away, we had to switch gears mentally in writing," Moore said. "We're both English majors, so we're kind of used to writing long, stretching things out. This was completely the opposite. We had to get as much information into a small space, and still make it interesting."

"Basically, I had to throw everything I knew about writing those lyrical English papers out the window, because news (writing) is straight to the point," Beckius said. "The structure was just so different - even different than print (journalism). In print, you're writing for the eyes, and in radio you're writing for the ear."

Moore, who did about 20 stories on the air, said his most memorable moment of the summer was when former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura had what was supposed to be a 15-minute interview stretched to 30 minutes. "I just remember what a character Jesse Ventura was. That was a lot of fun," Moore said. He also cited a health care rally in Minneapolis in June just after the Supreme Court upheld the legality of President Barack Obama's health care plan that he and Beckius got to cover on their own.

Beckius said she enjoyed getting to meet the reporters and the staff. "It was unbelievable how helpful everyone was. It's a newsroom, so people are on deadline. People are in and out of the newsroom on assignments. Will and I were always welcome to tag along. In the car, they would explain what they were doing. They were all teachers, and they were all so willing to help. It was unexpected, and it was more than I could have hoped for," she said.

The same could be said for Smith.

"I was impressed with the outcome and that's truly a testament to Will and Heather," Smith said. "We brought in two students who'd never spent time in a newsroom, and in a few weeks they were interviewing sources, holding their own in the newsroom and taking any assignment that came their way. They reached out to mentors and spent time soaking up as much as they could from every experience."

Both Moore and Beckius would encourage their peers to pursue the fellowship in 2013 or 2014 - regardless of their major at CSB and SJU.

"I would say 'Go for it' - even if you're kind of iffy on it," Moore said. "Just do it, because you will not regret it. We were very much a part of the news team, and we were treated like that."

"I just want people to know that they will be taken care of there, and they shouldn't have under-confidence in their ability to thrive in the newsroom," Beckius said.