After years of following their respective careers across the country, KSTP’s Kirsten Swanson and Greg Mees of the Star Tribune have settled in Plymouth. Mees and Swanson tell us more about their college newspaper, the challenges facing journalists in 2017 and finding a home in Plymouth.
When did you meet?
Greg Mees: In class at Colorado State in 2012. I had a friend set us up and after years of moving around the country, we both ended up in Minnesota.
How did you get into journalism?
Kirsten Swanson: I really liked writing for the newspaper in high school and I knew I wanted to pursue that. In college, I wrote for the newspaper but never got on the staff, where Greg was already working. While I was pursuing that, I started working at the campus TV station. I learned it was a profound way to tell stories, so I switched my major from journalism to broadcast halfway through college.
GM: I was on the yearbook staff in high school and decided on journalism in college. In a way I swapped paths with Kirsten, who started on the newspaper. It was a fun hobby until the Boston Globe called about an internship and I had to make a decision. That’s when I decided on newspaper design for a career.
What do you like about working in Minnesota news?
GM: One of the great joys of journalism in Minnesota is how connected the readers are and the size of the overall readership. I can walk into a coffee shop and see four or five people reading newspapers. Minnesotans still rely on traditional print and we take great pride in that at the paper.
KS: We’ve seen that even in the short time we’ve been here. Minnesota is a really wonderful confluence of the Midwest. There’s a wonderful attitude when approaching people. And there’s a long history with the Hubbard name too. I walk into work and see photos of when Hubbard started the first broadcasting radio, and then TV station, in Minnesota.
What are some of the challenges in journalism now?
GM: I’m a 26 year-old working on printed product at a newspaper, so there are quite a few challenges. In our newsroom, we’re constantly looking for ways to stay relevant, specifically for our printed work. We do more and more digital storytelling, using our tools as print designers on a digital platform, including work for Instagram and Twitter. A challenge for print design is catching readers and grabbing their attention, especially on Sunday. On the front page there’s a high priority for print space. It becomes about balance.
KS: Right now there’s a stigma around media with the fake news phenomena. As TV journalists, we fight that with today’s political climate. As a local TV station, we’re here to serve a purpose for you and investigate in our backyard about issues that matter to you directly. In the last six months we’ve had to work harder to prove what we do is prevalent and valuable.
Conversely, what do you like about it?
KS: I love that I get to meet people and do something different every day. I meet wonderfully strong people who are trying hard to make a difference in the world. Hopefully we expose wrongdoing and hold officials accountable for decisions that affect Minnesotans. The TV perspective allows for moments to be enjoyed visually, even hard moments that connect people.
GM: In my job now, I design the Sunday front page. Big breaking news situations are where we shine. The day Prince died, I did the design and led for the next couple weeks. That’s where we get the chance to tell our stories most and the way they’re presented on paper is really important.
What are your thoughts on the amount of sources out there now?
GM: At the Star Tribune, we’ve recommitted to our journalism. Locally we tell our stories accurately, but nationally we’re going to hold those in power just as accountable.
KS: Same for us at KSTP. Our Minnesota code is to report ethically and fairly about issues that affect Minnesotans. For me, as a reporter out in the field, it’s more important than ever to have positive interactions with people and make sure they know what we do.
How has social media changed the way you work?
GS: I think it has already but won’t completely overtake what we do. From what we’ve seen at the Tribune, people still read the news and still care about reading the news. As far as interacting with the stories, people will be going to social media.
KS: For TV news, we’re on the air, so it becomes more important. You want trust, especially when there’s a breaking news story. Social media is a way to connect with viewers and let them into your life. Even four years ago I wasn’t comfortable on social media. Now I’ll post pictures of Greg and our cat. When someone turns on the TV, you want them to feel like they know you. It’s been an evolution and I think it’s a good way of inviting viewers into the process. At the scene, you’re watching, but on social media, you’re engaging.
Do you feel like there’s too much “shop talk” at home?
GM: That’s really interesting. Since Kirsten moved to Minnesota, I’ve had my hands on some of the biggest stories of the year. Kirsten works for the competition, so it’s hard because there are a lot of things I don’t talk about. On the other hand, big stories are always part of our conversation because we both love journalism and storytelling.
KS: There’s a code of silence we respect. There’s an understanding at home because we work for competitors.
What brought you to Plymouth?
GM: We just bought a new house. We’re millennials who love suburbia!
KS: It’s a great little suburb of Minneapolis.
GM: We did long distance for three and a half years when she was in another market. We wanted to settle in and find somewhere that would be our home. The stars kind of aligned in the western suburbs.
Plans to get married?
KS: August 2018.
GM: We wanted to get through the move and buying the house before planning the wedding.