More Than Just The News
Emmy award-winning reporter and anchor Jason DeRusha has spent his career bringing people the news. Chanda sat down with Jason to discuss the challenges media faced in the wake of George Floyd’s murder and throughout the pandemic. They also dive into how he was been impacted personally and professionally by covering pivotal moments in history.
Souphak Kienitz 00:04
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. Our guest today is our longtime reporter, Jason DeRusha, co-anchor of WCCO This Morning, and WCCO Mid-Morning. Some of you may already know him as the food reporter producing DeRusha Eats. Chanda and Jason discuss his career as a news reporter, and the challenges today’s media has faced in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, and throughout the pandemic. And after hearing Chanda and Jason discuss about journalism, presenting facts and just the thought process of becoming a reporter, I have this new profound appreciation for journalism. Let’s get right into it, and I hope you enjoy the show.
Jason DeRusha 01:06
I remember watching the uprising in Tiananmen Square, and I’m sitting in my, kind of, middle class suburban Chicago, living room watching these correspondence in, you know, back when the uprising happened in Tiananmen Square, you didn’t have, you know, a cell phone cameras or any of the stuff we have now. So it was just a reporter on a satellite phone, and live coverage, and you can see the pictures but you never really saw the reporter. And she, I just knew I was watching history as it was happening. I was watching it unfold. And as someone who loved history and love politics, but didn’t necessarily want to go into that, I was really drawn to this idea of watching history as it unfolds. And as a kid, like I had this Mr. Microphone toy that like you could hook into a radio, so you could tune your radio to 87.9 or something, and I could, you know, I could talk into the Mr. Microphone thing, and I would interview kids on the playground. And I’m sure it’s just, you know, all this stuff that I thought made me cool like could not have made me dorky or right, you’re like, you’re the morning announcement guy at your high school like, not good, like PA announcer at baseball games, like all of this sort of stuff. But my high school had a radio station, so we had an operating, on the air, FM radio station, and we would do play by play the basketball games, and the football games, and the baseball because it wasn’t on TV, like all of that stuff is now. Now that stuff is a moneymaker, right, like high school sports. But back then the only way you could get it was from the, you know, a couple of pimply faced idiots who were doing the broadcast on the high school radio station.
Chanda Smith Baker 02:58
That’s awesome. We had one in our school too. I went to North High School, and there was a radio station there, as well, which I thought was pretty awesome.
Jason DeRusha 03:06
It was awesome, right?
Chanda Smith Baker 03:07
Well, I actually think it was more awesome, now. Like, when I was in school, I kind of didn’t really pay attention to those kids.
Jason DeRusha 03:10
Well, right. Yeah.
Chanda Smith Baker 03:11
And they didn’t pay attention to me, right? Like I was doing some Math and Science and Technology. I was like, geeking out on the other side of the building, so…
Jason DeRusha 03:24
Yeah, like we all had our stuff we geeked out about, right, which is part of like, why it’s so important to make sure that like you have a variety of things, so different kids can find whatever their bet is. And I was a great student, like, you know, straight As, super type A student, but like I was drawn to this, and so my parents were always my parents were very supportive, but they were always kind of bringing up other things that you would expect, like a straight A student should maybe be doing instead of going into journalism. So it’s like, well, are you sure you don’t want to go to law school? Or have you thought about being a doctor? Or what about this? And I’m like, no, like, I think this is what I want to do.
Chanda Smith Baker 04:03
I think I found it. You know, there’s all kinds of reasons to talk to you, Jason, but one of them was, you know, speaking of living in moments of history making over the last 18 months or so, I was watching the trial, there were times that I could really be into it in times that I had to protect my heart, right? But I watched you with the coverage and I was thinking often about how that might be shaping you as a reporter, as a journalist, as a person. I’m curious if it has or do you try to find ways to separate yourself from the emotion you know, like how like, I just want to know, like, how does that impacted you?
Jason DeRusha 04:54
You know, there are a couple major stories in the Twin Cities that will and have forever changed me, and one is the collapse of the 35 W bridge, and the second is the murder of George Floyd. And the trial itself, for me, was much less emotionally draining and exhausting than the kind of six days in the aftermath of kind of the feelings that I think we all went through after watching a man die on video, and, you know, I’ve been a reporter for a long time for 25 years now, and I’ve seen all of the things, but that was something that is, you know, it’s impossible to see that and not be affected by it. And even though you know, as a reporter, those sorts of things, if not that exact thing, but those sorts of things happen, but it’s just different when you see it. It just is like, even though you know, in your mind, logically, you know, and that this happened, it was different to see it. And we saw it in the moments after it happened, right? So covering the trial, I tried very intentionally, to go at it like a juror, to try to wipe my mind of everything that I thought about the case. And I will say going into it, you have kind of these maybe logical, legal thoughts about it, where you look at the charges, and you look at the, you look at the events, and you look at what we know, and what we maybe can’t know, and you look at what you infer, and so you have these ideas. But when the trial started, I really wanted to treat it like a juror. So I would approach, you know, and I know like no one believes it when jurors say like, Oh, I never saw the video, or I sort of know about this, but I really don’t. But I’ve covered enough trials in jurors, you know, people have lives. And even though there are stories that a lot of us get really immersed in, and you think like how is it possible that you wouldn’t have seen some of this stuff, sometimes people are protecting themselves intentionally don’t want to see it. And sometimes people just sort of create their own life, where they’re busy with their own life, and they sort of live in that bubble. And I think this jury, this jury had a lot of that, you know, but so that was my approach to try to protect myself. Tt the end of watching, there were a couple days that were very emotionally challenging, because I’m sure they were emotionally challenging for the jurors. But there was one day of testimony where we watched body camera, after body camera from the officers, and the cumulative effect of that was tough, it was really tough. I suppose if I stop reacting to these things as a human and just are looking at it logically, then I know it’s probably time to hang it up and find a different line of work. You know, you can still be objective about the facts and present the facts in an objective manner, but still be a human being who has these sorts of feelings and reactions, and not judging whether or not someone is guilty of murder. If I watch a video, and think, how did this happen? And how did, how was there never a moment where Derek Chauvin checked on George Floyd. And you think like, from a legal standpoint, I don’t know how you feel about this, but if he had at any point checked on George Floyd, at any point, I think it’s a much tougher convection, where you say like, well, he was, he was doing what he was taught to do. You could have more of a discussion about whether the training is flawed, because you’d say while he was doing something that was a, you know, perhaps an acceptable hold, but he was showing compassion and concern for a human being. The fact that you visually never saw any evidence of that, I think, made the jury’s decision, sort of, the obvious decision.
Chanda Smith Baker 09:39
Yeah, I mean, I did feel that and I’m one that has not watched the full video, because I just, I just couldn’t do it. I’ve seen enough to know that watching the full video would be too much for me, but I do think that, I’m going to prove to you I’m in charge, even if it means taking a life. There was something that was so just awful, right? Like, to me that’s, that’s not policing as a whole, right? That’s a person who’s a police officer, who had some really horrible behavior, deadly behavior, aggressive behavior that had to exist before and what exists after if it’s not stopped. That’s how I saw it. So I just, I know I do, and I sit in a place around, making sure that our systems, right, that’s the work that I do. That’s the work of the Minneapolis Foundation, and so many others in this community, of making sure that we are investing in programs and initiatives and people that are concern for others that need supports, right, that need opportunity, that need investment in like, that is our work to make sure that these systems work for everyone. And so they only work for everyone if the collection of people that work in those systems have those same hearts and minds, and goals in mind, and if they don’t, it doesn’t work.
Jason DeRusha 11:20
Yeah, I mean, I think a lot of these fields that are public facing have some of these same dangers, right? So people have their opinions about politicians, where if you have one crook, who’s an elected official, people can say, like, all politicians. In the media, if you have one hack, who is not being fair, or not listening to the community, or always coming at it from one side, or maybe worse, right, like maybe they’re, you know, they’re being influenced in some way, the media, they’re the worst. And same with police officers, where you can look at it and objectively say, Okay, this is one bad reporter or one bad politician or one bad foundation, you know, your nonprofits, you have those issues as well. What’s harder is when you examine and say, are we, are the systems, like you bring up, are the systems, you know, you’re going to get a bad apple, right? Like, you’re never gonna have 100% great people in any field. But when you examine and say, are the system set up in a way that they’re actually making good people bad? That’s a societal issue, right? And you have to struggle with that and say, okay, yes, you still can believe that, most police officers are great. And it’s so hard, because people think about their own life experience with law enforcement, and then just apply that to the whole normal world, and it’s not true. Like the way I get treated when I get pulled over and look, do you know is different than the way a black man, of my same age, and same height, and same size, would be treated just subjectively true. Like, that’s not, I think sometimes we we feel like we have to fight about every single thing, but some things are obvious, and we don’t really need to fight about it, right? Can we just accept that, like, statistically, it’s very clear. And then like, open your eyes and tried talking to anyone like, you know, I have an amazing coworker, Ray Jones. He’s our overnight editor. He’s worked at Channel 4 forever. Ray and I are about the same age. We’re both dads. Ray’s probably slightly better dad than I am. Ray, for a while, had a Cadillac and drove a Cadillac to work. And Ray said that he got pulled over probably 20 plus times driving to work, because he’s a big black guy in a Cadillac, so he had to be up to no good. Well, no, he was coming to work in the middle of the night. But he got, no he didn’t get arrested, he didn’t get beaten, nothing happened, but what is life like when that happens to you every day? You know, I mean, it’s 20, 30 times you’re like, that’s absolutely unbelievable. I drive to work in the middle of the night. Well, it’s not unbelievable. We know it’s true, right? It’s sort of disgusting, but I also drive to work in the middle of the night. Now I have been pulled over, guy in a suit, driving at three in the morning. Also probably, you know, officers will think like, well, he’s probably drunk. Which is not a ridiculous assumption why how many guys are wearing a suit at three in the morning? That said, like, I’ve probably been pulled over three times.
Chanda Smith Baker 14:52
In your life?
Jason Derusha 14:54
No, I’ve been pulled over more than that. Sadly, I’m not a very good driver. So there’s that. While, going to work, I’ve been pulled over, I’ve only been pulled over once going to work. I got pulled over once going to the airport at three in the morning. But yeah, just once going to work. Now Ray’s been working there longer than me. I’ve been in the overnights, I’ve only been doing it for eight years, but I’ve been pulled over once. And Ray, ultimately got rid of his car. He’s like, I can’t be driving in a Cadillac.
Chanda Smith Baker 15:28
Jason I had a Mustang 5.0 in my early 20s, and I got pulled over in that car so much. I had it less than a year, and I went and got a new car, and I’m a woman and I was young. Like I just I couldn’t drive the car, I’m like, I just I can’t do it.
Jason DeRusha 15:43
Yeah. So why do people like not accept this? Why I mean, it’s so obvious. And the stories are told over and over? And you could have a debate like does it make sense to profile, like, that’s a fair discussion to have. But why are we having discussion about whether there’s profiling, of course, it’s happening. So sometimes that’s a little frustrating, where you’re like, if we can’t even agree on things that are like clearly true, then how do we ever get to these systemic examinations, and try to make things better? It’s, as a journalist, you struggle with that, where you’re like, part of why I do what I do is that I believe that people are open to new facts and new information. And when I share that stuff, based on excellent reporting, and a veteran team like that people will take that information in. And sometimes I worry that like people aren’t even willing to take in the new information that if it conflicts with their worldview?
Chanda Smith Baker 16:41
Yeah, I mean, you know, you’re talking about one bad actor, or one bad nonprofit or one bad politician or, you know, bad officer, and I grew up in North Minneapolis, the whole community of people that get stereotyped, right? And so I’ve talked about this often where, you know, part of part of my work, in a way is that, you know, and that, you know, there’s books that I write is more than a single narrative. And it’s certainly not your narrative, because you don’t have the experience, and so who’s narrative do you listen to? And I think that’s part of why this podcast is important, right? Because I remember being a kid and saying, you know, gosh, I should feel actually maybe, really less fortunate about my life. You know, like, maybe I should be scared, or maybe I need someone to come in and view something, so I don’t end up in this system or that system. Like, there’s so many people coming in with assertions about a community, as a whole place, with a single narrative, and it’s so disturbing to me.
Jason DeRusha 17:49
Yeah, and they probably never been to this to any of these neighborhoods, you know? Well, sometimes it’s decision makers, right? When you look at kind of the state and you say, all right, you guys are voting on things that affect this area, and you have an idea about it like have you ever, have you been there? Have you talked to anyone there? Have you gone to any of the stores or, or sat on anybody’s front porch? I mean, to me, I think you have to, you have to be open to that, like learn, learn a little bit. It’s easy to lock up all these narratives, and you think, you know, but like, often as I think what I’m hearing you say, is that you can hold multiple narratives about an organization or a system or a neighborhood, right? Like, does one neighborhood in Minneapolis have the preponderance of violent crime? The answer can be yes, but also, can one neighborhood have incredible leaders and amazing students and people who persevered through incredible circumstances to achieve like, yeah, all of those things do. So I think people have a hard time holding two truths about one topic.
Chanda Smith Baker 19:12
Yeah, and I mean, you know, so we’re living in a really polarized time. We’ve watched this play out and so many ways that can be.
Jason DeRusha 19:23
Do you think it’s worse? Is it more polarized? Or do you think people just have a way to like, spout off about it more publicly?
Chanda Smith Baker 19:32
It feels worse to me.
Jason DeRusha 19:35
Yeah, it feels worse to me too, but I’m always curious if like this was always there, and people just feel because they have a megaphone, like they used to just talk about it to their, you know, brother or to their neighbor, and now they kind of are able to say it everywhere. I don’t know.
Chanda Smith Baker 19:55
I mean, I think that’s part of it, but I also think that, because everything is become politicized, right? Like, like we lost the humanity, right? We need to humanize things. And, you know, when you make decisions around groupthink and party lines, and you know, you either are for Black Lives Matter or you blue, you know, bleed blue, like, we know you’re either for Kaepernick or you’re, you’re boycotting, like there’s just all these like extremes.
Jason DeRusha 20:32
Which side are you on, you got to line up on whatever side.
Chanda Smith Baker 20:35
You gotta line up with your people, not with the people, but with your people. And, you know, maybe the campaign’s of these positions are so public, that I hear more of it, but I think in day to day, like there’s, you know, even in schools, Jason, like you either are for, like traditional public schools, or you hate charter schools, right? Like, they get very simple, like, they’re not even big, sometimes. public debates, right? There are ways in which you show, right, your value, and then you judge someone else’s decision. It’s show up in everyday life without consideration of voices in the context.
Jason DeRusha 21:19
Yeah, I mean, I cover restaurants as well, for Minnesota Monthly, and for WCCO, and it’s been very interesting how, you know, consumer choices, like what restaurants you go to, or what products you buy, are very much in a similar vein, like, you have to line up with your people. And, you know, I don’t know if that’s good or bad, it’s just, it is a change, it is a change. You know, I noticed during the trial, you talk about the idea of people lining up with what side they’re on. So when I was covering the trial, it was very interesting, because normally in the social media environment, people interacting with me or people from the community, and so people know that, like I’m invested in the community. I think I have a track record of listening to people from all over. I have a track record of publicly admitting when I get something wrong, and so you get a certain amount of credit, a benefit of the doubt, I suppose. But when the trial was happening, coverage was all over the country, and people could stream it, and so you have people no matter, I was conscious, I made a conscious choice to not tweet like a bunch of quotes from people’s testimony, because I couldn’t commit myself to like being equal, and tweeting the people who disagreed or the cross examination, or I just didn’t want to do that. So I was basically just introducing what witness we were on. But whenever you tweet anything about the Derek Chauvin trial, people will get very heated in the comments. And one example is that people were very upset that on TV, we were not calling it the murder of George Floyd, that we were calling it the death or the, we tried to be very careful with wording where we would say like Derek Chauvin is accused of murdering George Floyd, but we wouldn’t call it the murder of George Floyd. And people were very upset about that, they’re like, it’s murder, I saw it, it’s murder. And it is a challenging thing as a journalist to try to explain, like, well look, like, murder is something that the jury has to decide. This case was very, very different, and that normally, there’s no dispute about whether or not it’s a murder. We know it’s a murder. The dispute is about who did it. In this case, we knew who did it. The dispute was, was it a murder, or was it a medical situation that happened? The key issue was not the who, it was the how, and in almost every other murder case I’ve ever, frankly, I can’t even think of another case I’ve ever covered where that was the dispute. So it was interesting when you try to explain it that way. Like most people actually were pretty understanding when I said I’m like the key dispute in this case is whether or not it was a murder. So I can’t call it a murder, because that’s, we don’t know. Now the second he was convicted, I and even today, I still find myself like double checking to make sure people call it the murder instead of the death because it was a murder. And it’s important to name it as such. But, you know, that’s part of explaining the role of an independent journalist in our society. We have a lot of journalists who are, you know, come from a particular viewpoint. And I like that too, like, I think there’s room for all of it, but for us, like we try to be, you know, unbiased is a bad term because everyone has biases, but I try to be fair. I hate that Fox News made it the their slogan, because it’s such a hot button for people. But being fair and being balanced is the goal, like it really is. So my, can I be unbiased? No. Can I cover a story, being aware of what my biases are, and be fair to people? Yeah, I think so. I hope so.
Chanda Smith Baker 25:50
So, you know, the media and all of the fake news. The reporting things that are not factually substantiated seems to be a growing problem. And I’m wondering how that might be affecting your work, or how you see it impacting the field? Particularly, it seems really true with the pandemic and the vaccine. Yeah, it’s created so much confusion, and we rely so much like we scrutinize and rely on the media. But how is that affecting, right, because it feels like we’re living in a place where we’re like, polarized, and then there’s like, we don’t trust our systems, like, there’s just all these things at play right now, a complicated time,
Jason DeRusha 26:44
Where your point about not trusting systems is really fascinating. I’ve been thinking about it a lot, that there is a general distrust of anything that’s big. So like, in the nonprofit world, like I work with a number of nonprofits, and, you know, people are suspicious of the United Way, because they’re big, and people like to give money to like their buddies on GoFundMe. And I think it’s fascinating that as a society, we think like giving money through one of these, like direct appeals is somehow more noble than like donating to your foundation, for example, like I, I know that like if the Minneapolis Foundation misuses money, that watchdogs are going to be able to find out about it. Any of these other things, you have no idea what’s going to happen in the money, and maybe people don’t care. But I think it’s interesting that people are so distrustful of large organizations, and we feel like too, right in the media. I think there’s this broader distrust of the media, but being local media, people, it’s sort of like the old adage about people hate Congress, but they if they hate Congress so much, why do they keep sending their congressperson back. So like, people hate the media, but like, they really like Frank and Amelia like, they’re great. You’re like, well, we are that, you know, like, that’s us. That’s us, too. It’s still the media. The misinformation, you know, there’s so many different categories of this issue, where you have people who are intentionally like messing with the system, and trying to put out false information in the, in them as a journalist, like I used to worry, you know, when we first started having like viewers submitted photos, so you’d have a weather event and you get a picture and you’d look at it and be like, am I sure that’s not like photoshopped? Am I sure that like that was the main concern, like, are we sure we’re not being bamboozled in this way. And now you’re worried about not that I’m going to give out bad information, but that people or social media networks or whatever, are going to elevate garbage information with a really good headline, that people keep spreading, and that gets elevated through an algorithm. It’s just such a different, it’s so beyond my level as an individual journalist now we’re like I try to make sure our stories are up to date and factual to the best of our knowledge at this moment. But it’s a tough issue, and when people are this goes back to like people lining up on their side because people it’s confirmation bias right? Like you believe something and so you seek out evidence to show how right you are right? Like I love being proven wrong. You’re like, Ah, great, like I learned something today, but people don’t like to be proven wrong. It’s not a comfortable place for most people to live.
Chanda Smith Baker 29:50
Yeah, so social media, so we met Jasmine Stringer, amazing woman. She is amazing. I just loved Jas.
Jason DeRusha 30:00
There’s just a spirit about her. There are some people that have like a magic and a sparkle, and Jasmine is one of those people. And you think like Jasmine, like whatever you asked me to do, I will do, right? And then she bring, she’ll bring me stuff from her farm, like, here’s some apples. You’re like, yeah, you’re the nicest.
Chanda Smith Baker 30:17
She’s the greatest so she shared the mic, man, and she’s like, will you do this? Of course, of course, Jasmine like, and then what is it? And then she says, you know, you share, you share the mic with someone and you know, who do you want to share the mic with. And so she had folks and nonprofit and politicians and I’m like, actually, I want someone on on TV, or someone that’s doing some great stuff on social media, because I just don’t like to be on camera. And I feel like I’m trying to figure out this social media thing, right? Like, what my feelings are on this. She’s like, Oh, I guess one person’s perfect, right? So she texts me right back. She’s like, I’m texting them now, and then it might even before I got off the phone, she’s like, Jason said yes, right? So you know, for folks listening, it’s like, you know, I’m on your Instagram account, right? And I get to get and tell my story for the day, and I’m like, I don’t actually know how to use Instagram. So you’re coaching me all day, right? More on just how to use the platform, but I want to just, you know, thank you for your willingness to do that. And, you know, part of what Jasmine was doing was trying to connect people that don’t know each other, to form a relationship and to use space and to show what sponsorship and ally ship looks like. And I’m wondering, you know, as you maybe reflected on that, was there sort of any takeaways from that total experience, not just our date, but the total?
Jason DeRusha 31:52
Well, I always tell, you know, whenever we’re talking about issues of race, or gender at work, which we talk about a lot, whether it’s internal co workers talking about just the work dynamic, or talking about the larger community, I always tell people, I cannot make myself any less white, or any less, man, or any less middle aged, right? Like, this is where I’m at, I’m like, but I can extend some of the advantages that come with that to you to help elevate your story, or your issue, or your concern. I can, I mean, Jasmine, calling and share the mic is perfect, because that is that’s what I can do in my position. And I considered the whole thing, just a tremendous honor that anyone would want to associate with me. They’re like, this is wonderful. And so I just tried to be tried to share those advantages that I think, you know, when I know, like, someone will be listening, and they’re like, well, like, everything’s not great for the white man today, and I would say, like, I understand that, right, like, perhaps, you know, in much of the rest of the world, sort of a dynamic that’s always taken place in a in a field that has elements of performance to it, are starting to extend to some of the rest of the world, the truth is, like, it’s been a pretty good run for the white guy, right? Like it’s not been, we don’t have a lack of opportunities, and so if we can share those, if you’re in a position where you have some influence, and you can share that you should, you should, like, it’s not just a nice thing to do. It’s sort of an obligation like, and I always felt like I have a certain element of celebrity in this community, which I don’t know if it’s earned or deserved or not, because I sort of feel like I just go to work, like I go to work, my job happens to come out of a transmitter and get beamed into thousands of people’s homes, but I’m really just going to work and so I get some certain notoriety or celebrity by fact, while it’s thanks to the transmitter really like, so you feel like you should share that in in a way that makes the community better. I think the day with you was quite remarkable, actually, because you had some very emotional conversations and very honest and frank conversations and I mean, you had a bit of a crazy day.
Chanda Smith Baker 34:41
We did. That was the day that the guy committed suicide downtown. Right? And my son called me and said, Mom, there was another police shooting, and I’m like, Whoa, what do you mean? And Rondo chief Medaria Arradondo t had texted me and said it wasn’t police shooting it was a suicide. So I got the fact pretty quick.
Jason DeRusha 35:04
Yeah, fast. Yeah,
Chanda Smith Baker 35:05
I got it really fast. But what was so emotional for me was that my son who was at school, had heard about it so quickly. And then obviously the trauma of what had come with Philando and Jumar, and you know, Justine, and George Floyd is like, embedded in him to the point that he needed to talk to me right then and there. And that’s what I felt, and I got on, and I just had to talk about it.
Jason DeRusha 35:40
It was really powerful to experience that and very different to experience it sort of in real time. Because I just think that’s a very, that’s an experience that most people don’t would most people in this community, don’t experience and sort of see it through your eyes. Why I know, for me, it was very impactful, and it’s something that I still think about, when I think about these sort of, you know, they’re, you know, there will be another, whether it’s a scare or reality, and we saw it during the trial when you had another, I mean, to have Dante right in the middle of the trial, is just absolutely mind blowing. I mean, it was live, right, it’s a lot and so, but seeing the way that you had to experience that, as a mom, was, I think, very powerful. It’s just important to know, as a journalist, first of all, it’s important to know that my experience is very different from many of, well, for most of the people who are watching, right? So like, it’s just the reality, like I put on a suit and go to an office job. You know, we know, if we’ve learned one thing from this idea that everyone’s working from home. Instead, everyone’s not working from home, and the federal government data shows at the peak of people working from home, 35% of Americans were working from home at the peak. Wow. And that is a reminder that I think those of us who work in the white collar world, that most people work at factories, or our custodians, or work in hospitals, or our first responders, and paramedics, or police officers, or firefighters. And so when we talk about getting back to work, most people have been going to work. And so it’s just one example of a way where it’s like I try to connect with people’s experiences is you just try to soak it up like a sponge. So when the time comes, that I need to draw on that knowledge, it’s there for you, it just makes you a better person, I think if you can be empathetic and understanding. it doesn’t mean to doubt, you don’t downplay your own experience or your own scenario, by acknowledging that other people have a very different experience than you. It’s, I think it makes your understanding of the world a little richer. I’m always very amazed. You know, when we talk about social media, there are a lot of negatives to it, but boy, the positives that, you know, I do a job, I get it, I get paid for it, and there are people who are willing, in a constructive way, to try to make our work better. And not that they’re getting paid or not that they get any cloud, but, like if you make a mistake, and people will be like, Hmm, I don’t think that’s right. Or, boy, the way you frame this story is sort of, like it doesn’t sit well with me. And to me, I look at that and think like, man, like how generous that people are serving as an editor for free, for the only reason that they want you know, and this is like there are those who have different agendas, right, but most people I will say that I that interact with me, their agenda is that they care about the community and they want it to be right or at least as right as we can get at and I think I don’t know I never take that for granted. It’s pretty amazing that people have that level of trust that they’re willing to, it’s a lot easier to just throw down your remote and say I’m never gonna watch this again.
Chanda Smith Baker 39:37
Yeah, right. You know, some of your celebrity is beyond, sort of, your time on television, right? Like some of it comes with these videos you do on it, where you’re like showing your morning makeup routine.
Jason DeRusha 39:53
Yeah, you know, I’ve never been afraid to like make a fool of myself. I think it’s good for people to know like I am, you know, I’m a pretty regular person, right? Like, I have an unusual job, I have access to people and access to activities, that certainly as a kid growing up, I never thought I would experience, but like, I’m still a regular, you know, I mow my lawn, I do the dishes with my wife, I have arguments with my kids, it’s all the same stuff that everybody else is dealing with. And I think it’s the idea of like, the news anchor is like the Walter Cronkite, like up on the mountain is no good. Like, I think part of when you part of why people will give me the benefit of the doubt, is that I’ve allowed them to get to know like, a little more the total picture of who I am, and I think people know that my heart is in the right place.
Chanda Smith Baker 40:58
Yeah, I think that’s right, and I mean, I think there’s a benefit to a lot of folks. I mean, I think that’s the good side of social media is that it can help people know, because there’s the lines between professional and personal, right, and work at home, they’re all blurred. They’re all messed up, right? And so you know, people want to know who they’re in relationship with, and you’re in relationship with someone you’re watching all the time, or someone working on your behalf, and so I remember when I first got into my role at Pillsbury 90 communities, and I got on Facebook for two reasons, I have teenagers and I was trying to. And then the other reason was that I had kids and I wanted people that work at the organization and around the organization to understand that I don’t just do work. Like I am actually raising kids, right, the CEO before me, Tony Wagner, his kids were grown. So he had a different level of obligation. I have like conferences and phone calls in the middle of the day, and games and pickup times, and all kinds of things that I’m negotiating that makes not available for the thing you want me to go see right now, or my emotions are up and down, because you know, I’ve got teenagers and they’re, they can go crazy. So I need grace. I need grace. This was my…
Jason DeRusha 42:20
You need grace, that’s, you put your finger exactly on it. Like what I’m asking our audience for sometimes is a little grace. Like if I look a little tired in the morning, maybe it’s because like, we had a go round about homework, or we had a long heart to heart about, you know, relationships or whatever’s going on at school. You know, there is a work is so important to me. But like there, there’s a lot, there’s a lot more than just the person who’s sitting there, you know, tell him the news stories, right? And it’s fun for me, like for me, it’s always been fun. Like I’ve done this. I’ve done social media because I love talking to people. It’s a great way to learn stories, but mostly like, I enjoy it. It’s a you know, people are clever and funny and interesting, and I learned things. And if you can filter through the negativity in the garbage, it still has been an incredible tool for I mean, some of my real life friends have come from social media. One of my best friends is someone who just sent me a Twitter dm and was like, do you want to go have lunch at Vincent? And I was like, sure. My wife is like you’re doing what? With who? I’m like, I don’t know. Like, I’m gonna go have lunch with this guy. I think he’s really clever. And there it is. So I mean, it’s interesting like that part of things is pretty cool. Yeah, so you’re, you know, we got just a few minutes here but you know, foodie so part of why I pay attention to you too, is because I’m always trying to figure out where to go eat with someone, you know, I got people and they’d want me to pick the restaurant. I just kind of go and look where you went last. So thank you for, you know, being that for me, in my life. It’s been fun. Like I will say I was a little worried when I started covering restaurants that people would think, I’m, like I was less serious of newsperson. Like, Oh, he’s just like, but it’s been interesting. Like, I’ve been doing food coverage now for more than 10 years. And over the 10 years, food went from being like the kind of, you know, something that people didn’t really pay that much attention to to now like it’s me, certainly over the pandemic. It’s been lead story, big news for folks. I just am drawn to like, it’s more the people that I’m drawn to and restaurants, like these people are the ultimate dreamers, right? Like you are, you know, you are in many places, risking your house because you want to open this business that has like a three or four percent profit margin. And some people hate it and really, like get rich and have a lot of success, but most people, you know, you make a living if you’re lucky, and you get to share a bit of your heart and your soul to your guests, and I kind of dig that, like it’s a pretty cool thing to help elevate and share their stories.
Chanda Smith Baker 45:29
Yeah, I was just, I was talking to David Fema at something this weekend. He said, I just love putting a piece of my heart on a plate and putting it on people’s tables because they serving food for some students in Minneapolis, and like, you know, it just warmed my entire being right to have him talk about it that way.
Jason DeRusha 45:50
Isn’t that a great way to talk about, yeah, because that’s what it is. And I don’t know, I’m excited, I know David’s opening a couple new restaurants right in downtown Minneapolis, which I’ve been asking him forever to open a bakery, because his bread is so good. You know, I did a story a couple weeks ago out at Carmel Mall, the Somali Mall, because I felt a little bit like, I’ve lived here for a long time, I’ve had Somali food, but I don’t really understand it. I don’t really understand it, and it turned out to be a great, it was a great story. It was really, but it’s all the same, and to a certain degree, everyone who’s doing this is sharing a piece of their history, of their family, of their soul through like, the literal thing of breaking bread with others. It’s pretty cool.
Chanda Smith Baker 46:45
It’s very cool. It’s very cool.
Jason DeRusha 46:48
You know we have in our workplace and everything you have people who I mean, it is this is it’s a problem in many corporations, but it’s a bigger problem in Minnesota, where the growth and well I used to talk to our managers about this a lot. We don’t have that many on air jobs. And if you line up our on air people, we probably outperform our audience, right? If you want to line up diversity in percentages, like we outperform our audience, and that has always been good enough for that for them. And, you know, it is a heavier lift sometimes to recruit, you know, TV jobs. It’s a national marketplace. It’s not you, it’s sometimes local people, but you’re looking all over the country, and, you know, I think people would just accept like, Oh, I didn’t get any applicants. You’re like, Well, why? Why didn’t you get any applicants? Why didn’t any black people want to come here? Why that that’s a bigger issue. And you’re like, you know, this is a business where you take a chance on people for all different reasons, right? Like maybe you’ll hire someone who’s young, because they have a skill set that you want. And like you figure you’ll work to, like polish up their on air performance. But it’s hard when you only have 20 openings, you seem like main anchor jobs at our station. Well, when I started there were like five men who anchored at CCO. On a weekday, and today, it’s just me and Frank. That’s it. So there are two jobs. for guys who are Monday through Friday anchors, that’s it. And for women, you have Heather, Shayla and Amelia, she have three women. That’s it. Now you could look at that and say so you have five anchors during the week. And Amelia is Asian and Shayla is black, so 40% of your anchors are women of color, women of color. And you could say like, that’s pretty good. But if most people you ask most people who watch Channel Four, they would not say like, Wow, you guys are really killing it when it comes to diversity. And you say like, and they will be correct. Like we’re not, but I like that we’re having you know, some of the conversation that we’re seeing in town that excites me is the idea of hiring people of color is good. But making sure that in the management ranks you have someone that understands that life experience, you’re like one now you’re starting to get somewhere. And so I think that’s going to be the next thing that we need to work a little harder on. Because we have way more women in management, I’ve always worked for women. Our general managers, a woman, the head of the news department as a woman, though those two are the most powerful people at our station. And so I’ve always worked for women and a lot of our managers, almost all producers, show producers are women. So it’s a lot of women, but you know, as far as people of color, we have work to do.
Chanda Smith Baker 50:12
Well, we got work to do in our state, right in our country, and I went to the Corporate Directors awards event this week, right, and, you know, the numbers of women of color, black women on corporate boards, is it should be appalling to everyone, that there’s not more diversity, and we know diversity supports business outcomes, you know, the outcomes, right? And, you know, we’re spending so much money on ESG, and the diversity efforts, and it’s not seeming to show up in the leadership ranks that we’re talking about, and I do see movement, Kim Nelson, Anne Sample from Navigate Forward, there’s been a number of, of women that have been working to increase the number of women on corporate boards, and I’m so pleased to be part of that. That effort being groomed underneath them, you know, in terms of writing this and it’s, you know, again, the narrative matters, right? It’s not that people aren’t ready to serve, and they contribute, that they haven’t been sponsored right, to the seat at the table in the ways that people folks have because you support people in your network. And so you just have lots of work to do. And I’m so pleased to get to do that with you in this community from our various seats, but clearly committed to, you know, getting, getting it right here.
Jason DeRusha 51:47
It matters, and you know, we struggle to attract, you know, I really admire, like some of the work that like Houston White is doing, because it’s without a solid, like black middle class. It’s really hard for us to attract, like professionals who aren’t going to be like in the, in the super rich, right? Which is a very good living. It’s a middle class living, it’s not an upper class living. And so if you’re a reporter, if you’re a black reporter, who’s not from Minnesota, where are you going to live? So like where, you know, and Houston talks about, like how he had to make a choice of abandoning the north side neighborhood where he wanted to be, or, like living in a more middle class neighborhood. Like he felt like he had to make that choice, and, you know, that’s a problem.
Chanda Smith Baker 52:51
It is a solid, middle class, black middle class, we’re just distributed.
Jason DeRusha 52:57
Everyone’s all spread out right now. Everybody had to make that choice, right? Like, oh, I want good schools, or I want whatever.
Chanda Smith Baker 53:06
There’s pockets of people in all over the place where it’s harder to find each other. Jason, thank you.
Jason DeRusha 53:14
Thank you for having me. I appreciate it.
Souphak Kienitz 53:19
That’s Jason DeRusha and our host Chanda Smith Baker. If you enjoy our podcast, and are looking for ways to do more, or become a sponsor, please contact me. You can find my information on our website under the About Section and click on our people. Remember, it’s Souphak, rhymes with Tupac, Kienitz. Thank you to Sarah Gillund, John Cuoco, Darlynn Benjaminn, and our guest host Jason Derusha. This is Souphak Kienitz. Thanks for listening.Close Transcript -
Jason DeRusha filed his first report for WCCO-TV on April Fool’s Day in 2003. Since then, he’s earned 10 Emmy Awards, his food coverage was a finalist for Outstanding TV Segment in the prestigious James Beard Awards, the Jaycees named him one of the Ten Outstanding Young Minnesotans, and the City of Minneapolis proclaimed Sept. 21 “Jason DeRusha Day.” No fooling.
Today, Jason co-anchors WCCO This Morning and WCCO Mid-Morning. He is also the station’s food reporter, producing “DeRusha Eats.” Before coming to WCCO-TV, Jason spent three years as a reporter at WISN-TV in Milwaukee. Prior to that, he anchored the weekend news at KWQC-TV in Davenport, Iowa, reported for WREX-TV in Rockford, Ill. and interned at “ABC World News Tonight” in New York.
In the Twin Cities, Jason is a past-President of the Board of Governors of the Upper Midwest Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. He’s a frequent speaker and host for charity fundraisers. Jason graduated from the Honors program at Marquette University with political science and broadcast communication degrees, magna cum laude. Jason lives in Maple Grove with his wife Alyssa and their kids Seth and Sam.