Jana Shortal is an Emmy award-winning journalist and host of KARE 11’s “Breaking The News.” In this episode, Chanda talks to Jana about her news career, the power of authenticity, and the joys of parenthood.
Chanda Smith Baker 00:00
Hello community this is Chanda Smith Baker with Conversations with Chanda greeting you on today with a conversation with Jana Shortal from Breaking the News on KARE 11. I have watched Jana on the news for years and some of us get to evolve in public. She has been one for me that I’ve watched become more and more authentic. I’ve been captivated by her ability to just be raw and authentically herself sharing stories of motherhood, sexuality, marriage reporting. And all of that is bundled into this conversation. So I hope that you appreciate it as much as I did.
Souphak Kienitz 00:42
You’re listening to conversations with Chanda a Minneapolis Foundation podcast that unpacks the community’s grittiest most vexing problems, hosted by Chanda Smith Baker.
Chanda Smith Baker 00:54
Jana Shortal, thank you for joining conversations with Chanda.
Thank you for having me. I appreciate it.
Chanda Smith Baker
Yeah, absolutely. So I’ve been wanting to have you on this conversation for some time. And I don’t know what it is about you. That has piqued my curiosity. But you have, I think I have a couple of lines of questioning for you. Which one is sort of the evolution of oneself. And because you’re on television, I’ve gotten the opportunity to watch you sort of blossom, if that’s the right word into what feels like is more authentic to who you are. Is that an accurate observation?
Jana Shortal 01:43
Yeah, that’s really well said, I appreciate that. I luckily have a bit of naivete, where until it was brought to my attention, I did not really recognize that my evolution was being televised in that kind of way, where you could really see, you know, the joy and the pain and the changes, and the becoming, is what I would call it and to borrow a term from our former First Lady, watching someone become who they are, I kind of wished that for everyone in a way, in a way I don’t and in a way I do, where you could really watch your progress while you’re progressing,
Chanda Smith Baker
why would you not wish it?
Because it can be very painful. You When You’re becoming yourself, it’s not something that you’re all day, every day, able to really think about like, this is happening to me right now I’m becoming who I am, because you might be in a place of great pain or confusion. And so it’s not something that you’re actively doing like today, I am becoming myself, like, you’re probably actively today I am going to work and today I am doing this and or today, I am going to, you know, honor someone who’s passed or today, I’m gonna go to the grocery store, you’re just being but at the same time you’re becoming. But if you ever have to witness that through heartbreak and loss and confusion and humiliation and failures and successes, I think that’s a lot to take in, like watching a movie of yourself
Chanda Smith Baker 03:16
With commentary, I imagine.
Jana Shortal 03:20
Yeah, new modern day add on is that there was always commentary, there were always whispers and rumor and gossip. But now, it can just come at you pretty quickly. Lots of directions, if you choose to go to that space, you know, one of the healing things that you can do is just if you’re going to go into this fear of social media, you know, you know, what could be there?
Chanda Smith Baker 03:45
Why would you wish it for people to be able to see their evolution?
Jana Shortal 03:51
That could be because I think that while it can be painful, and it depends, you know, on the moment where you want to see it, it also can be very illuminating. And it can be you can be proud of yourself. Because you can see in real time that it did take time to get here and it did take pain and it did take joy and it did take a supporting cast of people who cared about you, whether they be a stranger at the Co Op, or a family member or an ex-girlfriend or a college roommate, you know, people or strangers that did come by on the sunny side of the internet and said, You’re okay, you can keep going. You get to see all the players. And so sometimes that can be really painful and sometimes that can be really joyful and very humbling to realize that you didn’t get here by yourself and you became out of a whole bunch of situations and lived experiences.
Chanda Smith Baker 04:54
I just really appreciate hearing what you’re sharing. I don’t I underestimate what it takes to come into one’s voice. Over the last couple of years, for sure, I’ve been in more conversations, particularly with women that are like, I just want to do more like I just, I’m trying to come out of whatever the expectations have been, or the upbringing has been, or my belief system has been, and, and trying to figure out what does that mean, for who I’ve been supported by? Or who does that mean for how I identified myself or whatever that means, right? Like, it actually takes a lot of courage to do that.
Jana Shortal 05:41
Absolutely. You know, I think you’re someone that I’ve followed for some time, I mean, you’ve been becoming too in front of us. They’re all these different, like incredible leadership roles that we continue, you know, if there’s something important happening, your name is usually on a list. And so you also become and succeed. But I think that people also I had a friend who went through, you know, some really public celebratory moments in her space in Minneapolis, and then some really public, not so celebratory moments in her space. And, and she is a woman and in is out and a parent and, and a queer person. And she had both that high and low. So, I think that, you know, witnessing who we become in those moments, too, are obviously just as important. They may be very lonely, you know, you’re not always going to have the crowd behind you saying good job. Those moments to you can’t get to A without B, I don’t think and not that everybody has to welcome you know, something terrible to happen, because you’re terrible, may be something very different. You know, it could be a divorce or a loss of a parent or the loss of a friend. It could be witnessing, day after day violence, they could be witnessing, it could be that you whoever it could be. It could happen today for somebody, when they watch another video of a young person murdered at the hands of police officers, that can be that, that thing where a life changes into another direction to because of that trauma.
Chanda Smith Baker 07:32
I was going to talk to you about that, because I knew about Breaking the News. I knew about it before, but it felt like it felt to me also like that transformed, it felt like that got more real. I don’t know if it was the vulnerability of the moment that we were all in vulnerability, the moment that I was in, because, you know, I’ve shared this before on the podcast, and in other ways that my mother came home two days before George Floyd was murdered for hospice. So, you know, she was in this room that I’m in now. And so I was open. Like, I mean, I was as vulnerable as I could be in that moment in that year, so I was observing life differently. So, it could be it could be that. But it felt to me like the conversations and the reporting, went just a little bit more real and a little bit deeper into the exploration of what really is at play here. Did you feel that?
Jana Shortal 08:41
I mean, I think at that time, I felt especially like, which needs no time to be talked about? And note, no white guilt? What have I not done? How am I complicit in this story? How am I complicit in white supremacy? How am I complicit with the experts that we speak to and every single part of I think that if you were not a human being, especially in Minneapolis, but anywhere in that video, of witnessing the slow lynching of George Floyd, it didn’t break you open, and absolutely arrest you and about every single thing has to change. It doesn’t matter how hard it is, it doesn’t matter what it means. It doesn’t matter if I lose my job, it does not matter. The only thing that matters now is that, that for those of us who again, got to look away No, no more looking away. And so, it wasn’t really a conscious choice, in terms of it was this is the reality of now. And it’s not only it’s an it’s not like oh here here’s my airtime It’s like, there’s never been anything more important. And that was true for 400 years. And we, we just owe it, you know, and I think that the only thing I want to do now, the only thing I care about, I could lose my job tomorrow, I promise you. I mean, that would be a bummer to, for my kid to, you know,
Chanda Smith Baker 10:21
For all of us. But yeah.
Jana Shortal 10:22
But as long as I like, like, you know, am able to give people the dignity and respect they deserve and deserve. And every single time they’re represented on television news for half an hour that I get. That’s it to make people feel seen. And that’s just not people of color. That’s people living with disabilities, that’s queer people, that’s trans people. That’s aging people and our elderly people that get ignored and our elders, it’s just, to me, it’s just so ridiculous how much othering goes on in media that I was complicit to for 20 years, that now it’s just when you looked at your Rolodex, you’re like, Oh, my God, everybody in this Rolodex is a white man. What are we doing? There has to be a black lawyer in this town, there has, you know it, or an indigenous lawyer and an Asian American like, so it became this breaking open, that I don’t ever want it to go back together.
Chanda Smith Baker 11:25
I know you grew up in rural America. And I was, I think I read an article or something. He was sort of saying that there was no diversity of any, any kind, just the conversation that we’re in, right. And I’ve said, and I gave this talk at this church, and I’ve never really said it this way about myself. But I said I sort of grew up in 3D. Right? I grew up across the street from a family. The mom was from Thailand, the dad was white, he was in a wheelchair, because he had polio as a kid. They opened up the King and I restaurant, in times cafe and Surin’s sister, Supenn, opened up, Sawatdee, and the family next to them was Native American, and they would go to the reservation, and we would, they would go fishing, in Walker, Minnesota, and we would be like, exposed to that. And then my best friend’s family were two white folks, you know, legal aid attorney and a teacher who adopted five kids, one from Alaska. And I’m like, you know, like, I mean, it was just like, I grew up in North Minneapolis. And it’s…
Jana Shortal 12:35
Like a graduate level.
Chanda Smith Baker 12:38
A graduate level class and diversity inclusion, right. Like I’ve said, I little, you know, cranky old white war veteran neighbor that, you know, my dad would go mow the lawn. And you know, there were times he would carry Paul up and down the stairs because their house didn’t have an elevator, we grew up with a level of acceptance and diversity and recognition that we weren’t the only ones that sort of existed. So, me encountering issues of diversity has always been, and I was really clear, more clear, after 2020 and George Floyd, of how many people don’t have that experience here. And they’re coming into diversity and really hard ways and understanding about race. How were you? How did you encounter the levels of diversity beyond your own?
Jana Shortal 13:36
I think that, you know, I had a, I remember the day that Derek Chauvin was sentenced and I was working. And there’s a there’s a point to this story, I promise. And I was speaking to someone that has become a dear friend, and he’s an African American man. And it was the same week, I believe that I had just learned that my wife and I had been trying to get pregnant obviously were a queer couples. So there’s, you know, lots of thought that anyway, we learned that we were having a male. And I love it’s hard for me to tell this story because it still gives me some guilt. But I remember saying to my friend, that at the station that day, as Derek Chauvin was being sentenced for the murder. How fearful I was to parent a white male. How did I make sure that he doesn’t become a racist white male? I know that sounds bonkers. But that was honestly, Chanda, one of the first thoughts I had was how do I make sure that the person that I and my wife had the privilege of raising is a good person? And my friend said to me, um, he just smiled. And he’s like, I don’t. He’s like, are you going to love them? Are you going to live in a house of empathy? Are you gonna live in a house where people are celebrated? And I’m like, well, yeah. And he said, then don’t worry about. And I didn’t grow up with any diversity. I mean, it’s a painful joke. But when I tell a lot that like my hometown, still, I’m the only gay person from there, like, it’s statistically impossible. They may have changed now, but for all the years prior to my existence, and then in my coming out, like not a one, that’s not true.
Chanda Smith Baker 15:41
It’s not true. But yeah.
Jana Shortal 15:43
We were raised and taught to never be who we are. So it’s, I didn’t have any examples. But I did have examples of being a kind and empathic person. And even when you’re not like, for me, this is pre internet because I’m a bit older. But diversity then was found in books and in music that I would find, and not because I was making a conscious choice to diversify my mind. Because I did live in a town where, you know, racist, things were said all the time, homophobic things were said all the time, sexism was obviously alive and well in the 80s and 90s. And then, when I went to college, I mean, I started to learn about the world. And then I came here, and I think being a queer person, who is definitely on a different space in the gender binary as well. Maybe my mind just works a little bit differently about like, how we view human beings, like, to me, it’s very simple, like, we are all you know, we we should celebrate our differences, because they’re amazing. And but we’re also you know, we have an obligation to care for each other and be kind to one another, and look out for each other. And so when I see abuses of power, or discrimination or bullying, to me, it’s just like, nonsensical. There’s no way that someone can explain to me, you know, happened yesterday at the state capitol when we’re trying to pass the crown act and make Juneteenth a safe holiday. And we have a couple of lawmakers like, oh, yeah, well, my beard needs to be explained. I’m like, You’re just being cruel. Yeah, it’s being cruel. And it’s so simple. My son can tell you, you’re just being cruel. You’re not arguing about you know, and so in that way, like othering, people become so easy to see. And it’s just the deepest character flaw. The question is, what do we do about it? Do we just all of those people away? Do we put them in the trash? What are those moments where things change in for me, in a local news scenario, where the media is complicit in racism, and showing, you know, what we show and what we don’t show and how we talk about people and other sides, certain things, I could be mad about that and say, eff the mainstream media I’m out. Or, I could stay. And see, if I just insert myself into a conversation and just see, you know, just change things little by little.
Chanda Smith Baker 18:24
I teared up with the comment and the fear that you had raising that little one because I’ve never heard anybody say that. You know, how do I not raise someone who does not treat other people well, or how do I not raise a white male racist kid? You know, like, how do I not do that? I don’t think I’ve ever heard anybody say it that explicitly. I don’t know why, like, my I just like, super teared up. And I think the reality is, parenting is hard. Right? So, it’s another place where you can feel highly judge, but, you know, it’s, you know, how do you raise a good person? You know, how do you expose them to as many things as you can, so that they’re, they’re ready for life? What other ways has motherhood changed you?
Jana Shortal 19:16
I think it’s, if it is possible to be both like amped and calmed by the same life changing event. I think that’s it. I think from that moment, I remember, I remember that moment asking Mr. Brown that question so vividly. And him taking such good care of me in that moment, and he’s become just a dear friend to Zeke too. So it’s all good. It’s changed me in the way where I tend to not get so obsessive my micromanageness just in my like daily work battles, probably better for my mental health, and it’s better for me as his parent and my wife.
Chanda Smith Baker 19:55
I imagine so I mean, I remember the tweet that you put out and I think Zeke was sick and you were you in this closet with him? You were somewhere just holding on. But it was like I need to be doing all these other things. And I just remember that day feeling like, you know, I got one kid in this direction, one in this one and one on the phone. And I’m just like, you know, I needed to see this picture today. I needed this picture. I didn’t just have permission to just some days, you just gotta prioritize, and everything else just gotta like, yeah, like lay off, right? It’s just gotta go in the background, because it’s nothing more important.
Jana Shortal 20:31
I remember that day. But I remember what I was feeling to be honest, was like, Why didn’t get to yet again, like, hey, hey, can we all like not whisper about how damn hard this is like this newborn stage or whatever or how scared we are like, it’s not just like, Oh, it’s so beautiful. And it’s all magical. And in the yo, yo, blanket, it’s over. And I’m like, get your Hallmark card out of my face right now. I do not know how I can afford child care. I do not know how to do this. I do not know why this is happening. I’m tired. I’m scared. Why am I fighting with my partner? And why is everything so difficult? And how are we going to clean this house? And what is that on the floor? And not that some people are like, Oh, you’re just so negative? I’m like, no, I just think that we need to support each other as like, why after? What’s this part?
Chanda Smith Baker 21:23
I just think I mean, I just love it. And I you know, I hope that I’m sort of modeling that as well of just like life is complex. And it’s unpredictable in so many ways. And I think that, you know, I was also raised and sort of like you play by these rules, and you don’t sort of let people see you sweat. You know, you tuck all the things that are not nice and neat into a package over in the closet. And then you deal with that later. And I’m sort of like, no, I think I’m just gonna just show it because I needed to see it. Because I would have probably been less hard on myself.
Jana Shortal 22:04
My friend Obadiah says, If you shove things down, they just come out sideways, Obadiah. Obadiah is a wise man. But also I see. And maybe you’ve had this experience, too. I see examples in my family with like my aunts or my parents of a generation that was taught to do exactly what you’re saying. And then not able, you know, and I think that’s where some of that resentment comes in, right from like, Baby Boomers versus you know, et cetera, et cetera. Because this generation, I’m we’re on the cusp of the people behind us, you know, is perfectly allowed to be a little bit messy and be a little bit not sure. And you see, like weird ways that plays out, right? Like, however many years ago, it was, all those rich people trying to get their kids into college. Like, they all like with these fraud things. I’m like, does your kid even want to go? Like, what’s going on? Like, but I think that so I think it’s for me, becoming myself and being where I’m at now is, is not perfect, but I just feel so much better than trying to be perfect. I just feel better. There’s no, there’s no, I mean, I’m in my closet, like whatever this is, like, I would have folded things behind you. But you know what, why, like, I just don’t. And so that’s just not true. And not because I’m like, I’m so authentic, and I want to sell you that brand is just like, I mean, I didn’t really know how to fold very well. So whatever.
Chanda Smith Baker 23:32
And even if you do know how to fold, sometimes you just kind of don’t want to
Jana Shortal 23:36
Right, you just kind of don’t want to Chanda you just kind of don’t want to like you know what, I actually would like to drink this cup of coffee right now.
Chanda Smith Baker 23:44
As you heard my husband come in with a bang and bring me my coffee. And then I spilled it but I think
Jana Shortal 23:49
As he should, because sometimes I just see and I’m really folks especially and I love them so so much that they weren’t allowed to express themselves. And so now as they age, it’s difficult like to intake, you know, the basic, like, where are you going to be for Passover this year, and I’m like, Oh, we’re gonna do this, we really would love to be with you, then it becomes this thing and they can’t express like, I’m sad that that is happening. But let’s find time, you know what I mean? Like, there isn’t any processing going on. It’s just like, it’s more difficult. So I’m glad that people while we are struggling, I think that it is also that people are open about they’re struggling now. It’s not that there’s a ton more struggling, it’s that we’re talking about it.
Chanda Smith Baker 24:40
My daughter who’s 23 She’s got all these tattoos and I remember this one day just looking at her and I’m just you know why why are you going to get any more like please don’t and she’s like, you know mom why and I said, You know what about all the things right like a job and appearances And the whole one when you get oh, they’re not gonna look great line, right? And she’s like, here’s the thing mom. Almost everyone my age has them. And everyone my age, if we all age, we’ll all have saggy tattoos. Like, you’re worried about the wrong thing, like asked me about how I’m right. Right, like, and she’s totally right. Because you know, and it’s it’s taken time, I think, for all of us to one recognize the biases that we have, and the lens of expectation that we not just have on ourselves, but we placed on others. One of the things, you know, I know, and I could see how the lynching of George Floyd sort of hit you, right, like from television, I could see it. Have there been other stories that have stayed with you or shaped how you have reported? Making assumption that has shaped how you reporting?
Jana Shortal 26:00
I don’t know any as in terms of shaped how I just view the news as a whole is where I would put Mr. Floyd’s death, shaped how I view the world and my place in it and what I’m doing for work. And is my work, I believe work should also be as best you can, if you have the privilege that your work can also be an instrument use it and we can make many workplaces that that’s based. I think that I so funny, when you’re in journalism school, or at least when you were in probably still to the extent of his day, depending on your professor when I was there in the late 90s. That’s like rule number one is basically don’t care about anybody. That’s not your job. And that’s still practiced, you know, by your objective, you’re doing blah, blah, blah. And I just, that’s just not, I couldn’t ever do it. When you are going to a person’s worst moment. Your job is to arrive in someone’s grief. How in the hell are you not supposed to care about that? And if you do, you shouldn’t be there. That’s why people dislike us and should, for some sort of what I would call grief pornography. Go get the mom, get her what? asking her how she feels that her child is dead? Are you kidding me? Why? Why are we going to speak to the mother? That’s the question we should be asking, why are we doing that? What’s the benefit of that? A young six-year-old was run over by a bus two days ago. Let’s go get the family. What do you expect them to say? Why are we doing that? Why are we arriving at people’s worst moments for what? To tell you at home? Hey, this terrible thing just happened. And now this terrible thing just happened? And then this terrible thing has happen? Is it a matter of public safety for you to know that an accident occurred in Brooklyn center that ripped apart a family? And probably that bus drivers family? And will ripple effect to so many people? I mean, that’s the kind of thing where it’s just cold water up here at 38th in Chicago, of like, what are we doing? So, I remember so many stories I remember. There, they’re probably hopefully there isn’t anything that I forget that are just like extremely difficult to do. I did one over the summer with two wonderful men who are parenting on their own because their wives died by suicide. And to be able to, like just be in space with them was you know, it was physically difficult to hear them talk about their partners and about how, how hard it was for them that it gave this you know, so many people are like, Well, did you ask him if they were angry at their wives for leaving? And I’m like, no, no, they loved these women fiercely. And that came across in their every fiber of their being and I just want the pressure then is I just want to do right by them. I don’t care how long it takes. I don’t care and so and that’s the thing where I have to like relax and just let let them talk and then I give it to you the viewer. You know, but for me the one thing also they came through after finally, like coming to this part of a person after the murder of George Floyd’s as a journalist after the murder of George Floyd is what’s my intention? So, what is my intention with every single story tonight? I’m not sure if you’re familiar with the Eden Prairie high school boys basketball coach was suspended after he read aloud a racial slur and then he was reinstated on Monday.
Chanda Smith Baker 29:48
I’m very familiar.
Jana Shortal 29:51
Okay. Okay. So, I’ve covered that story for a couple of days. And last night, the North St. Paul high school basketball team sent a letter to Eden Prairie saying they would not play A against Eden Prairie tonight the young men on that team went to their coach and they’re like, No. And you know what good for them like that’s it. That’s where this the ripple effects of it not to punish or just say yeah screw you coach whoever your name is, but it’s like this is the pain that still is residual. And so, to me when that came out last night and of course the news was like we should you know, lead with it and my but are we leading from like, how are we leading? So, what’s the lesson here? And is that, you know, what’s my intention so I came to my little closet this morning and I’m like, if I’m going to reach out to the North St. Paul high school coach or those players, I want to be clear with them what my intention is. And if the intention is just like they canceled against Eden Prairie because that coach has, you know, the headline of like, racist coach can’t even get a team to play. And I know that they probably have more thoughtful things to say than that.
Chanda Smith Baker 30:59
I imagine so. Coincidentally, we at the foundation, are supporting a student conference that has happened this week. One of the focuses is racism and sports. Paula Forbes and Dario Altero are working, you know, the two of them are working on this. And I watched a clip of a conversation with Larry McKenzie and some others talking about racial incidents that they’ve encountered as athletes and coaches. But that’s not just the story, right? To your point is, how do you engage the young people in the schools about what their experiences are? And also what they think solutions might be? What consequences might be what are the actions? And so, they’re actually engaging on that and gonna provide us a report that hopefully can help us wrestle with this because it wasn’t just Eden Prairie.
Jana Shortal 32:03
No, no, no. And I think I mean, yeah, but I think there’s great joy and lots of learning and humility to come with, like, if no matter what a person’s space is in this world, you could, you could be, you know, like my wife is still we’re still privileged that she gets to work at home right now. And by working raise our kid, if she gets to ask every moment of a teachable moment, like what is my intention with doing this thing? What is my intention with this book? What are we doing here? It doesn’t mean not to overthink everything. But intentionality, for me really like unclogs the pipes. And sometimes I may not know but like if I asked myself about a news story, like what is my intention here? And is it you know, how do I steer away from where I think because I’ve just done this for so long how this could get inflammatory and like blown up to be sensationalized. But if there’s an intention here that we’re not seeing the forest through the trees here, what’s that? And for this one, it’s just an example of this event happens in Eden Prairie, a district makes a decision to reinstate the coach, case closed, right? But these young men and North St. Paul said, you know, not that they were trying to make this big, but they weren’t comfortable. And to me, it shows that you still have your voice. You know, when they did get to do they did get to take part in this not just the district says we have a game Friday night, and we have to do it. They’re like, no, this hurts us. And so, we are choosing to not play, we’re taking a forfeit, we’re taking a loss because we do not, it’s not good enough for us, that you just get your job back. And that’s it case closed. And so we’re saying so, um, that’s cool. Good for them.
Chanda Smith Baker 33:51
Right. And their ability to talk through issues that we would not have been able to talk through. We might have talked to him at like home, but certainly not with adults with the idea that they would support our decision.
Jana Shortal 34:02
Yep. It’d be like, get your butt out there. You are playing.
Chanda Smith Baker 34:05
You’re gonna play or you will go home.
Jana Shortal 34:09
Like you’re a child and you don’t have a voice. So, sit down. Yeah, these events, the murder of George Floyd, the racist event in Eden Prairie, they affect these children. These are teenagers, we are showing them. And if we don’t allow them to have voice and take part, what are we doing?
Chanda Smith Baker 34:26
They infect our entire community. And I mean, you know, as parents, we know that these these incidents sort of permeate the academic space, the educational space, the safe space, a space that should be safe. Right, right. Right. I don’t know if they’re actually safe. And I know that they’re not safe for everyone, but they should be safe. Deshaun Hill, I just watched the interview that Peter Berg did. He’s the producer, right? On Friday. Yeah,
Jana Shortal 34:57
The Showtime thing.
Chanda Smith Baker 34:59
The ShowTime thing. So and he did maybe like a 20 minute interview about boys and blue, the documentary. And they spent eight months here. And then Deshaun was murdered. He just thought he was like the world just became small. And it all became about him, and his mom and his dad. And it altered everyone on set. It changed all of our lives in a way that was so impactful. It was, again, the story that like the proximity of these issues, and how they’re able to change one’s perspective. And he had a line in there that said, you hear every day about these incidents. But now I can feel I can feel the ends, I can feel it differently because of my proximity to Deshaun Hill and his family and this amazing young man that had so much potential. And again, it was an opportunity where you could see the storyteller that comes in and just trying to capture a story be altered and the way that he was expressing his own grief.
Jana Shortal 36:20
I can’t speak for Peter, but I can speak for myself, and then it shouldn’t have taken the death. It shouldn’t have taken a murder. For me to understand that. How many murders have I covered Chanda? I mean, I just we arrive when we arrive in something in the case of Mr. Floyd or Deshaun, I mean, those were big, big ones, but it should be. It should any number of homicides that we cover, I mean, it’s so that before I got here, there was a homicide that really, it just hit me at a at a time in my life where I was in the midst of becoming and it was in its ugliest stages in terms of the amount of hatred I had for myself. And the amount of trying to be someone else I was I was very I was in my early 20s and I was in Kansas City. And a young girl was murdered. And it was the worst kind of not that there’s a good kind, but the most macabre it was a drug deal. It was revenge. And so this baby was decapitated and thrown into the woods. And so I was sent to, you know, somebody found the body of a baby in the woods had this body. Anyway, I was the young reporter at the time at that station. And so I covered it every single day. Until one day in May, I think it was May the fifth hot, it was so hot. And I went into these woods, and the police didn’t even take it off. I mean, it’s just like, whatever it’s in that it’s in to that time. It’s over in Valentine its neighborhood. And so but I was assigned to do it for like the fifth day in the row because like grief, pouring grief, pouring grief form, right? And I just meet this old guy who’s out in the woods, and it was kind of strange. And one thing leads to another and we find it we find that the head of the child. I don’t remember a ton after that. I was put in a cop car. I remember that. Just because immediately like how did you find it? You know, on it’s just like, wait, what you know, like, especially the black man I was with was put in a different cop car. And I was never assessed but who’s kidding and they just wanted to ask me questions, but I I bring this story up, because you were asking about like events that happen in your work that that should have been an event that ended my career because I got back to work, like that day or the next day. I mean, like Oprah called. And it was been I remember people basically the sentiment was congratulations, you this is your big time now. And not understanding that just to like I did, I didn’t have the words I have word now. To this day, Court TV are one of those. They still run the documentary of this case and I’m in it and you want to see 20 year old me with blonde hair, talking about this horrible moment for five years and she was never ID’d until five until like I moved here. Her name was precious doe. No one came forward to claim her because everybody involved was involved in things they shouldn’t have been and anyway, about three months after that happened I had basically The nervous breakdown. And then I got out, I went on leave. And that was kind of my whole existence for my first few years of like not fitting in this. What this was, which is just a lot of trauma, or just arriving at people’s trauma, which is like, to me can be just really grotesque. Why are we doing it? So, it takes all of that, you know that to get to 45 year old me, where somehow I’m still here. You know, after that happened, I came here, this really struggled here with my sexuality and my gender. And then after 15 years, get, you know, picked to be with like, reading the news started, it was like Rena, and then like, we’ll have Jana because Jana has kind of this crazy person that likes to do new things. But then six months after that, you know, a very public bullying incident about how I present. And it was just like, how many times do I need to be told I’m not supposed to be here? In whatever way I’m told that, to somehow I survive, right? And it’s not about me, somehow, the God in this planet, I’m still here. So, what is my obligation? And I think we can all ask ourselves, that you especially to look at you, you’re still doing it.
Chanda Smith Baker 41:26
I’m still doing it. I mean, I’m proximate in a different way. I think being able to appreciate the diversity of what this world has to offer the good, the bad, and the ugly. And the willingness not to curate only what’s beautiful that you actually have to understand what’s not working, you actually have to understand someone else’s experience, you actually have to sit, or I think for me, I’ve had to sit with people that are in a different level of experience than me so that I can capture it. And the work that we’re trying to do the change that we’re trying to do the relationship because everything is just a relational. If you don’t, if you don’t understand what people are going through, how can you help the people, right? Yeah. And even today, like, I mean, I feel my energy of today, because I am bracing for this video of Nichols that’s going to be released, you know, out of out of Memphis, and I’m debating, right, because I always sort of debate and I’m gonna lean in and watch a video. And ultimately, you’re I’m gonna run across it in some weird way on social media and see a clip or something, right? Like, how do I prepare my kids for yet another public beating lynching murder circumstance, because I know that, you know, my four sons will see it, and my daughter, who now has a little boy, right, like, I know that it’s not just me, but how they then embody what that is, and what that means for them in their own identities. I’m thinking about that today. I can feel it in my body.
Jana Shortal 43:21
You felt that from and we have so few people of color, but we have about, you know, 10 times what we did five years ago. And in that meeting today, I was so uncomfortable in our editorial meeting, right before I talk to you, because I was like, man, one of the guys I was like, I, it’s not for me to I was just curious, like, what makes you get up and do this today? Like, this should be a holiday, you shouldn’t have to go to work today. You shouldn’t have to participate today. This is on the rest of us to just make everything work. Because I can’t for a second, understand how hard that is for you or like how primally visceral like, I don’t know, there was a clip right after the murder of George Floyd. I’m sure you saw it of a young woman standing in front, I think she was in LA and she gave this Trevor Noah aired it and it should it ends with like, [beep] your Target. You should just be me. You should be grateful that were bad. And we’re not getting in. We’re just not getting even, you know, this. Get that was just in there. And I’m like, yeah, she’s right. How many times can you witness it? How many? Like I don’t I don’t know how like the society continues to function. I just don’t.
Chanda Smith Baker 44:54
I don’t either. And I don’t know why we’re surprised by the increased violence or increased suicides or the increase of all the things because we’re in for so many are operating inside of toxic stress and trauma. And I know we’re making changes and we’re trying to improve upon things. But I don’t know if the ground I don’t know if the people on the ground are feeling it yet. I don’t know.
Jana Shortal 45:21
I don’t know. I mean, I hope so. I hope I don’t remember what he was talking about. I mean, Jay-Z was talking about racism, and he just use the metaphor of like, America’s had cancer for 400 years. And it’s, you know, it’s what then you learn you have cancer. And so, George Floyd’s murder, you learn you have cancer, and now you’re in some deep, deep, toxic radiation and chemo. And this could last a generation, if it’s going to work at all, we may die of this cancer this country based because it’s based on stealing bodies, indigenous bodies, black bodies, or we can, or maybe our kids or our grandkids, make this place what it could have been.
Chanda Smith Baker 46:05
I mean, earlier, you mentioned white guilt, and how that hit you. Do you think that? How much do you think white guilt gets in the way of progress?
Jana Shortal 46:15
Every single damn day and some like token BS? I mean, how many Black Lives Matter signs did you see in yards after George Floyd was murdered? How many?
Chanda Smith Baker 46:25
I mean, they were everywhere.
Jana Shortal 46:27
You can buy him at the Bougie Co Op and southwest Minneapolis, just woke AF out here. Who didn’t start a DEI committee within their workplace? Who didn’t like oh my gosh, oh, my gosh. And now it’s like the it’s just like, you know, it’s just like it was during Reconstruction, the backlash is always worse than the progress after we elect Obama, we get Trump. And we get the proud boys and we get seditious conspiracy, and it’s like, it’s fine. So how much of it gets in the way? I think it just you know, Dr. King talked about like that. If, if it’s going to be performative. Please just don’t do it.
Chanda Smith Baker 47:14
Because it actually is worse. It actually feels worse when it’s performative. And…
Jana Shortal 47:21
And I’m sure a ton of what I’ve done is performative, right? I’m sure.
Chanda Smith Baker 47:27
I don’t know. I don’t know how others may perceive it. What I think is I’ve seen performative, right? In the news, I’ve seen performers, I think that when it is when you can feel the empathy, and the journey, I think it’s very different for me that I am not expecting perfection. And there might be mistakes in languaging, or how something is presented. But if you could see sort of evolution, right, the learning the questions that are rooted and really trying to understand someone’s story, versus the performance of trying to get your story that you had in your mind, and an inability to sort of follow where it needs to go. I think that feels really different to me. Right? Like, I mean, we all have moments where we’re not as prepared to engage with another, right, another difference that it may feel, I might just skip right past something that I should be in tune to. And I’ve done that. And I felt bad. And I’m like, Man, I’m so focused over here. I didn’t even see this pain over here, particularly with our Asian brothers and sisters. Right? And what they’re going through right now, or, you know, our Jewish relatives, right? Like, what’s happening because so much has been focused here. And I don’t know all the things over here. And so I think the more we can provide permission to those that have gone beyond the Black Lives Matter sign in the yard, to being in relationship with the issues that are hard. That’s different if you have the sign and you’re in relationship with the issue because you want to understand how you can make a difference and you want to understand your role in making that difference. That it’s not an externalized exercise, it feels different. Right, because we all have elements of performance perhaps in our roles.
Jana Shortal 49:43
Yeah,sure. I mean, I feel that way is, is you know, where I am in my gender journey and as a Jewish person you know, we don’t have I feel the same way in those worlds like I don’t, I don’t get really upset if someone miss-pronouns someone not on purpose. Like, that’s like, an I tried it, when I have the opportunity to, to hang out with like trans youth and non-binary youth, like, I get why we’re angry or why you’re angry because you just feel like you have to be to protect yourself. I mean, all of this is really for safety. It’s because we don’t trust the institutions and I’m sure, or the world that surrounds us, because we know that too many of you hate us, and we can’t tell who you are just like walking down the street. So we just got to be ready. But you can tell when a person is trying. And that’s in try should be commended. Not like and you can tell when that trying is authentic. It’s like I’m, I’m trying, you know, some people trying looks so bad. But it’s like they they’re getting out there.
Chanda Smith Baker 50:54
They’re getting out there. Just you know, I always say just remember trying, you know, comes with some correction. Right, like, be prepared for it. But maybe they’re trying, yeah. What is bringing you hope these days?
Jana Shortal 51:08
The best part about having a kiddo is that they all the things we talked about, you don’t know yet. So, you witness joy. He doesn’t care, he doesn’t care what kind of clothes he’s wearing. He didn’t care what part of town he lives in his care how people perceive dada’s gender. Oh, what happened up the street at cup foods yet? He doesn’t know that. His best friend Leroy, who’s an African American puppet is any different from him other than Leroy as a puppet and has a British accent. Why did that happen? I don’t know. I just made Leroy British. I love it. He just thinks it’s all wonderful. There’s something to be said for we come into this world. Almost perfect. It’s what it what is this world? You know, all of these things don’t have to be. I don’t have to be what society said I had to be I don’t have to you know, I’m not wrong because I love my wife. Don’t say that religion says I am like you’re putting in structures that create situations where we harm each other power structures, patriarchal structures, racist structures, anti-semitic structures. It’s these boxes. Capitalism, money, wealth. So, he brings me joy in that no matter what happens when I see him and hold him and what just witness him. It’s perfect.
Chanda Smith Baker 52:54
It actually doesn’t change very much as I get older.
Jana Shortal 52:59
When he tells me it’s like, I hate you. Oh, no, you don’t.
Chanda Smith Baker 53:04
Even if you hate me, you’ll be back in like, a couple hours when you need $10 for gas or whatever. And you and me, bro. So it’s us. I’m the I’m the one that was here. First, I’m gonna be the one that will be here last. So it doesn’t change. Right, but to watch the discovery and the growth and, you know, I’m really, you know, you brought up the younger generation. I’m just I’m very hopeful of how I’m seeing leadership emerge and the clarity around these issues. Of course, they weren’t born into the visibility of these issues in a way that we weren’t because of social media, which is good, bad and indifferent. But I I love I love the way that I’m seeing leadership emerge. It feels like folks are feeling more free to be themselves.
Jana Shortal 53:59
Completely agree. Whether you know, you can have a cynical day and it’s like, everything and I’m like but but but take the eyes clear looking ahead like everyone. Not everyone but we get to live in a city where we’re we get to see these things, but I see it in in smaller towns that I visited in Minnesota. I was I went to South Bend Indiana. Yeah, but it was because there was just this one like their version of outfront in South Bend served all of Indiana and they flew me out to talk to kids that day who like they bussed them in from different parts. We’re saying I’m queer, and I don’t know how to be in wherever I am. While some could be like that, so depressing. I was like, is it though they got on the bus. And they froze two hours to meet someone who they don’t know who the hell I am. But there was a place to go and to say who you were That’s new, you know, so it’s happening all over the place. And we have to be in every opportunity we’re given one more positive person for that other person. So they keep going.
Chanda Smith Baker 55:14
That’s right. That’s right. Okay. My very, very last question is about self care. Okay. Right. So what I want to answer here, I mean, I think it’s holding the baby and, you know, cuddling with your wife and the baby. But what else? What, how do you take care of yourself in the midst of all of this?
Jana Shortal 55:36
Number one, it sounds silly, but I just be honest, like, if you’re, if you BS, it’s your pain bodies activated. I mean, there’s certainly more I could do if there were more time. But I genuinely enjoy what I do for work myself care, I think is, you know, I love music. And I love this conversation. I don’t know that you know, but honestly, this last hour has been really cathartic to me. And I really appreciate you having me here. I didn’t expect that. But it’s no surprise knowing you. I think it’s also just I get such an obscene amount of energy from strangers. And maybe that’s why I do what I do. interactions that I’ll have, like, I’m gonna go to a lunch right now with a stranger. And I’m super excited about it. Interactions, just those those daily interactions, which made COVID really hard for me. As an introverted extrovert, like that was just difficult. So interactions with strangers, which costs $0. And everybody can do them. Just a curiosity. I mean, that’s my self care.
Chanda Smith Baker 56:48
I love it. It wasn’t it wasn’t really a trick question, either. We all do different things.
Jana Shortal 56:53
I mean, we all do. And I also watch terrible television with my wife when I get home. Very good beer. Terrible television. People. Like are you watching bubba? And it’s probably a really smart show. I can’t do that. Hmm. I’m watching like, yeah, like anything about sports that’s, like, ends positively. Or anything that’s about like young people dating.
Chanda Smith Baker 57:17
Yeah, I’m with you. Yeah, E-60. I’m just like, all over the sports shows. Yeah, I’m playing Candy Crush or some other mindless while I’m doing it, earn it off. Yeah. So, it’s been a pleasure. I appreciate it. I was looking forward to it. It did not disappoint. Thank you for sharing with us a little bit more about you and your journey.
Jana Shortal 57:41
Can I say one more thing? Yeah, whatever it takes tonight for you to take care of yourself. Please do.
Chanda Smith Baker 57:48
Appreciate that. Community. Thank you for listening again. This is Chanda Smith Baker with Conversations with Chanda. Again, this was Jana Shortal from Breaking the News from Kare 11 if you would like to hear this conversation and hold if you miss any of it, you can go to wherever you listen to your podcast to hear the full episode, and I will be back with you next week. On KMOJ, the people’s station.Close Transcript -
19. That’s how many years Jana has worked as a journalist for KARE 11 news here in Minneapolis. In all of those years, Jana has gone from a general assignment reporter to hosting Breaking The News, weeknights at 6:30.
Jana’s reason for journalism? Because the truth, still, has to matter.
She graduated with a Bachelor’s in Journalism from the University of Missouri – Columbia and is a seven-time Emmy winner. She is married to Laura and they have a kiddo named Zeke.