By Michael Popham
Throughout the summer a plucky group of interns has been toiling away in the electronic warrens of American Public Media Group | Minnesota Public Radio's digital laboratories. These "innovation interns" were asked to brainstorm ways to reach new digital audiences - particularly younger people who may not currently listen to APMG programs.
Summer's almost over, and the interns packed up their mess kits and headed home. We wanted to know how things went - so we asked. Our correspondents were: Alex Pardue, Robert Carpenter, Noah Rissman and Elizabeth Hansen.
MPR: Tell us about your background - where you go to school, and what you're studying.
Alex: I am a senior at UNC-Chapel Hill pursuing a double major in public relations and political science.
Robert: I'm a graduate student at the Harvard Business School. I previously attended Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas and studied mathematics.
Noah: I graduated from Vassar College this past May, where I studied mathematics with minors in philosophy and Spanish.
Elizabeth: I went to Arizona State University for both my undergraduate and graduate degrees. For undergrad, I graduated in May 2015 with a B.A. in creative writing (poetry), a B.A. in communication and a writing certificate. I again graduated from Arizona State in August 2016 (the actual ceremony was in December) with an MMC (M.A. in mass communication, though the classes were technically journalism-focused).
MPR: What kind of projects were you able to work on during your internship?
Alex: As part of the Research & Development Intern team, I was tasked with trying to understand millennials' news consumption habits. We developed strategies to help MPR better engage with this target audience in the future. I had the pleasure of creating a news prototype, called "The Lamest Generation," which was a millennial-to-millennial interview focused on describing the human experience as related to a specific news topic.
Robert: Two projects: Millennials in the news, with the team of interns. And a second project for Mike Reszler about Voice on Demand, looking at the impact of technology like Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant on audio media. Busy summer!!
Noah: I worked with four other interns researching millennial news consumption and developed strategies to help MPR better engage this market moving forward. Ultimately, I created a prototype: "Sing Me the News," a video that takes news headlines and puts them to the tune of a popular song. The whole process was super fun, and I'm proud of what we accomplished.
Elizabeth: I helped with a research and development project with the goals of learning how millennials consume news and building out prototypes to better engage millennials with the news.
MPR: Were you able to develop any new skills here, or learn something new?
Alex: I gained first-hand experience working in a collaborative, team-driven environment that inspired creativity. I also was able to enhance my skills in primary research, social media strategic planning and human-centered design.
Robert: I learned a ton! Voice on Demand was a completely new space for me, so getting to dive into that space was a real pleasure from a pure 'curiosity' perspective. This was also my first professional exposure to broadcast media, and I learned a lot being surrounded by the professionals in the business!
Noah: I gained lots of valuable skills in my time here. Generally, I learned how to approach a large problem, work effectively in a team, and take risks. More specifically, I learned much about primary research, data analysis, and human-centered design.
Elizabeth: I was better able to develop my team work skills, specifically in working creatively as a team on a long-term project. Teams I worked with in previous internships were more focused on completing individual tasks and bringing the resulting content together at the end (e.g. a group essay or presentation). With this team, however, we got together nearly every day to continuously get feedback and bounce ideas off each other. Even when we began to work on our individual prototypes, we would still go back to our other team members to ask for ideas, what they liked or didn't like, etc. The creativity of this project was very much integrated into the collaboration of all the interns.
MPR: What were some of your favorite moments about your summer at APMG?
Alex: The trip to Ely was by far my favorite moment of the summer. While there, my team grew even closer as we ventured north towards the boundary waters. We participated in the MPR Day where we helped run an information booth, tested our news prototypes, and wore garbage bags on our feet in order to keep our socks dry (which is something I never thought I would do).
Robert: The trip to Ely for MPR50 really stands out - a great car ride with our team, being outside in the freezing cold testing our prototypes (I'm from Texas - so 50 degrees Fahrenheit is hard for me!!), and Julia and I went out on the water to fish in a beautiful evening. We didn't catch anything, but what a great day!
Noah: I loved seeing everything come together. We worked hard to understand millennials and provide the organization with ideas moving forward, and it was immensely satisfying to see all that hard work pay off. However, many of my favorite moments had very little to do with the work itself. I shared great jokes and bonding experiences with my coworkers, forging not only professional connections, but personal ones as well.
Elizabeth: One of my favorite moments was the "Ideate" stage of our project. During this part, we all went down to the basement training room and brainstormed potential prototype ideas. We put these ideas on post-its and posted them to the wall. What I loved about this stage was that our creativity was only limited by our imagination. We posted ideas like a dog news anchor, fear factor news, Minnesota walkabout and many more.
MPR: What was the one thing that surprised you most about APMG?
Alex: For me, the most surprising thing was the amount of autonomy that I was allowed in all my projects, especially in my secondary work. Julia [Senior Digital Producer Julia Schrenkler] gave me the green light to be creative and trusted my instincts when working on social media projects and revamping some parts of the MPR 50 timeline. She and [Chief Digital Officer] Mike Reszler also connected me with several key people working in a variety of sectors I am interested in that I otherwise would never have had the chance to meet without their help.
Noah: For me, the most surprising thing was the level of agency I was allowed here. In previous jobs, my responsibilities had been laid out cleanly before me, with little room for creativity or input. That was not the case at APMG--I was given a huge amount of influence and creative control. This was daunting at first, but ultimately very rewarding. I felt like I was genuinely able to contribute and that my ideas were helping the organization.
Elizabeth: Something that surprised me about APMG is how quiet it is here, especially on the fifth floor. But, despite the silence, everyone talks to everyone. They always ask how your day is going, how your project is going, when do I get to see it, how can I help. I was especially surprised by that--how can I help? Even people who weren't sure what we were doing or weren't even affected by our project offered to help. Whether they listened to our apprehension on doing cold-call interviews, gave input on ideas we weren't sure how to pursue or just wanted to know how they could help us after our internship was over, everyone wanted to help. That's something I don't think you'll find at many other companies.
MPR: Who were the most interesting people you met while here?
Alex: Everyone that I met at MPR brings their own unique drive, interests and ambitions to the table, so it is very hard to narrow down who stood out the most. However, I have to stay I was truly blessed with the opportunity to work under the guidance and direction of Julia Schrenkler. As many at MPR already know, she has her hands in a lot of different projects, and allowed me to tag along and take the lead on a few of them. Julia is one of the most sincere, genuine and real people I have ever met, and I cannot thank her enough for all that she has done for me this summer. I have Mike Reszler to thank for affording me the opportunity to work with Julia, and more importantly, granting me an internship at MPR. He is a great leader who is passionate about the work he does for MPR. He was an amazing mentor to me and my fellow interns and relentlessly pushed us in the right direction, even after it appeared that all hope had been lost.
Robert: Ka Vang really stands out to me. She has such an incredible story, and I was continually humbled by who she has become after being a refugee and experiencing all the hardship that entails. Sometimes you meet people who make you look at world events in a totally new way - hearing her story and getting to know Ka this summer made it possible for me to better understand what it means to be displaced from your home due to circumstances out of your control. Thank you, Ka.
Noah: This is a tough question--everyone is so interesting! I would have to say, though, that the people I worked with closely were especially interesting and engaging. My fellow interns amazed me with their ingenuity and drive. They constantly inspired me to push myself. Danielle Stellner, as anyone who works at APMG knows, is a character in the best way. She combines enthusiasm and intelligence in a way I've never seen before. Finally, Mike Reszler astounded me with his ambition and insight. He was a great mentor and always believed in us, even when we didn't believe in ourselves.
As part of our 50th anniversary, we want to acknowledge and celebrate the many people who make MPR happen every day. Throughout the year, we'll be sharing the stories of MPR Members, staff and volunteers here and on our social media channels, and featuring some of those here.