Nancy Barnes: We're beefing up coverage of veterans, philanthropy

  • Article by: NANCY BARNES
  • Updated: September 21, 2009 - 11:10 AM

Meanwhile, the Sunday paper will now include Parade magazine.

We are constantly assessing how and where we deploy our reporters, to make sure we are capturing the depth and breadth of life in Minnesota. We add new beats and phase out old ones as times change.

One change we've seen over the last decade is the increasing dependence on our National Guard. We've been at war now, in Iraq and Afghanistan, for most of this decade. Since the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks in 2001, more than 19,000 Minnesota National Guard members have been deployed in more than 33 countries. Today, there are 1,600 troops in Iraq and 20 in Afghanistan, with more on the way.

These protracted wars take a toll on the Guard, on their families and on our communities, in ways we do not always capture. How are they holding up after all these years? Are our injured soldiers being cared for properly? Are their jobs still here when they come home? How are their spouses and children faring during these long absences?

To help us better tell those stories, veteran reporter Mark Brunswick has moved from the statehouse to our general-assignment team, with a focus on veterans' issues and the impact at home. "I'll be doing stories about deployments of the Minnesota National Guard, veterans' issues like post-traumatic stress disorder and the GI Bill, how families cope with multiple deployments of their loved ones, and the impact on the state's military contractors," Brunswick said. Today, he brings you the story of Col. Pat Meagher -- and a war of an entirely different sort that Meagher has been battling.

Meanwhile, reporter Jean Hopfensperger is taking on a new role covering nonprofits, charity and philanthropy. We're calling this the Giving beat, and it fills a void in our reporting.

Minnesota, Hopfensperger knows, has long enjoyed a national reputation for civic-mindedness. It ranks near the top of national lists for charitable giving, volunteerism, and the size of its nonprofit and philanthropic communities. Minnesotans, for example, donate more than $5 billion annually. There are more than 5,000 nonprofit organizations in the state. Collectively, these organizations had $56 billion in assets in 2007 and employed nearly 10 percent of the state's workforce, or 269,000 people.

The Giving beat will explore the stories behind this mountain of money and the armies of volunteers and employees. "I envision this beat as a mix of hard-hitting stories exposing fraud and wasteful spending , tender tales of human misfortune and the Minnesotans who work to ease it, and analysis of the latest news and trends," she said.

This week, for example, she wrote a front-page story showing how thriving thrift stores have become the "white knights'' for charities hit hard by the economy. She also recently exposed a "disabled veterans'' phone fundraising scam that has been plaguing the Twin Cities. These are the types of stories we might not have found before.

We hope these new assignments will bring our readers thought-provoking stories and other news and information they might otherwise miss, and a fuller picture of how people are working, living and giving in Minnesota. I encourage readers to send their thoughts and story suggestions for these reporters to mbrunswick@startribune.com and hopfen@startribune.com

• • •

Starting today, readers will find Parade magazine inside the Sunday paper. Parade will take the place of USA Weekend, although you will receive both of them until the end of the year, when our contract with USA Weekend expires.

We believe that Parade is a strong addition to the Sunday paper, featuring exclusive interviews and contributions from personalities in all walks of life: presidents and congressman, actors and authors, athletes and scientists. Last Sunday, Parade featured an exclusive interview with Dan Brown on the eve of the release of his new book. This week's edition features top physicians giving advice on some of the most common medical issues facing Americans: depression, cardiac disease and cancer.

Surveys of readers at newspapers that carry Parade show that it consistently ranks as a favorite section. We join the majority of major metropolitan papers from Chicago to Boston to offer our readers Parade. Enjoy.

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