MPR reporter Emma Sapong tells stories that often get missed in the never-ending scramble for daily news.

by Michael Popham

“Radio news isn’t anything I ever imagined doing,” Emma Sapong says. “It was the furthest thing from my mind.”

She grins and shakes her head as she says this, seemingly amazed at the path she’s taken. A lot of twists and turns brought her to APMG – as well as some arm-twisting from an MPR editor, the late Toni Randolph.

Sapong was the youngest of eight children. Her parents are Liberian, and she was born while her father was in the U.S. attending university in Brooklyn. After he graduated, the family moved back to Liberia. She was one year old at the time, and they lived overseas until she was seven.

The family returned to Brooklyn, where they stayed until she was 17. She went to college at the University of Toledo, and found herself torn between her two big interests: cultural anthropology and journalism. She wound up choosing the latter for a very simple reason.

“On campus, I discovered all these fascinating lectures and clubs and cultural events surrounding students of color,” she says. “There’s nothing surprising about that, because the student enrollment was 30 percent people of color. But the student newspaper, the Collegian, never seemed to cover them. One day I gathered up the courage to go into the Collegian office, and told the features editor that I wanted to do some reporting, but admitted that I didn’t have any experience. She suggested an Irish Dance event that was coming up, but I said I wanted to cover what was going on in the Black Student Union, the Latino Student Union, and all these other student organizations. She said that was fine; they had never had anyone to cover those groups before.”

After graduation, she spent a year at the Sandusky Register before moving on to the Buffalo News. It was there that she found a mentor in Margaret Sullivan, and honed her skills at feature writing.

“Margaret Sullivan had suggested that I try my hand at business writing,” she says. “She explained that it’s a specialized skill, and as the internet continued to eat away at newspaper revenue, people with business writing skills will continue to be in demand. But writing business stories just seemed incredibly boring to me.”

After a stint in feature writing she found herself assigned to the business desk anyway. Once again, she found a way to focus on communities that are often overlooked in predominantly white papers.

A story on Bangladeshi immigrants revitalizing a previously blighted stretch of Buffalo’s east side reflected Sapong’s commitment to tell the stories of communities of color. But too often, she felt, her editor wasn’t interested in the stories she was pitching. Eventually she considered relocating to the Twin Cities, where a lot of her family members lived.

In early 2015 she was ready to launch her job search and began searching online for Twin Cities National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) members to network with. Randolph, a Buffalo native who had done reporting in Liberia, seemed perfect. And Randolph was receptive and eager to bring Sapong to the Twin Cities and MPR.

“I asked her if she had any contacts over at the Star Tribune or Pioneer Press. She said she did, but then asked me if I’d consider working at Minnesota Public Radio.”

“I knew of NPR, but wasn’t familiar with MPR. And I was a print journalist. I was comfortable hiding behind a byline. And I tended to see radio and TV — especially TV – as lacking depth in reporting.”

But Toni Randolph was nothing if not persistent. She invited Sapong to MPR during the NABJ convention in Minneapolis that summer, trying to convince her that radio was a place where she could do important work. She kept in touch, consistently sending MPR job openings emails to Sapong.

Almost a year later, Sapong came over to MPR, and she has been learning the craft of radio production ever since.

“It’s a big change for me,” she says. “When you’re a print reporter, you just write the story — other people worry about the layout and the placement of photos. In radio, you write a script and then build the equivalent of the layout yourself – you have to make the whole audio landscape that surrounds the story.

“At first I didn’t think it was a medium I could work in,” she says. “I still don’t feel I’m quite there yet.” But Randolph had believed in her work. That, she says, gave her confidence. And it still does.

Here are some of Emma Sapong’s favorite MPR stories:

Many congregations, one roof: Aging churches rent space to growing ones

Roots of tension: race, hair, competition and black beauty stores

Racial harmony in Minnesota? Take a seat at this barbershop

Kittley, bitter balls and potato greens: African customers find taste of home in farmers markets

Minn. minority firms call program meant to help them maddening, broken

Black history museum a revelation for St. Paul cops, young men

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to work at APMG? Curious how great radio gets made? Join us on a virtual tour of the Kling Public Media Center in St. Paul, MN. You’ll discover a fantastic group of professionals who are committed to serving audiences all over the world with great news, music and entertainment — around the clock, every single day.




When you visit The Kling Public Media Center in downtown Saint Paul, Abdifatah Warsame is probably the first person you’ll meet. He just might be the nicest, too.

Everyone at MPR knows him as Abdi. In the two years he’s been overseeing the lobby, he’s built a reputation as a steady hand, a hard-working professional and a really decent guy. No matter how busy he is checking guests in, handling calls on the switchboard or sorting mail, he always has a kind word for everyone he meets. In fact, you could make the argument – and some have – that Abdi’s the most popular person in the building.

He was born in Kismayo, Somalia during the worst days of the civil war there. Families, he says, were fleeing as quickly as they could as the country descended into chaos. “We moved so many times,” says Abdi, “that I lost count from one refugee camp to another.”

Those were hard years, but his family was luckier than most. He had a sister who worked for the United Nations office in Nairobi. She helped find a sponsor, which made it possible for them to emigrate to the United States. They arrived in the U.S. on March 10, 2000, when Abdi was nine years old. The family spent their first year in Atlanta.

“I’d never even gone to school until we came to Atlanta,” says Abdi. “I started in the second grade. School was hard for me because all I did was just listen to the ABCs, and not communicate with anyone due to the language barrier.” He didn’t know any English at the time, though he says his favorite song was “I Want It That Way” by the Backstreet Boys.

In 2001 Abdi’s family moved to Tennessee and remained there until 2009, when they came up to the Twin Cities. Abdi studied at Inver Hills Community College, getting his law enforcement and criminal justice certification. He wanted to be a police officer. And in an odd way, that’s what led him to MPR.

Like many companies in recent years, MPR has prioritized building security and the safety of its employees, as well as its many high profile guests. It was decided that the next receptionist hired should have a background in security.

While security is an important part of his role, it’s his hospitality and welcoming presence that make him an invaluable part of the MPR team. He has an easygoing manner and that relaxed demeanor puts people at ease. He gives impromptu Somali lessons to colleagues who stop by the desk, chats about sports (his favorite teams are the Miami Heat of the NBA, the Tennessee Titans in the NFL and Chelsea in the Premiere League). From famous musicians to politicians and delivery people to MPR Members, Abdi makes everyone feel welcome.

Of course, he’s also a fan of MPR. “I listen to MPR News the most, and sometimes The Current.”

And his favorite part of the job? “My colleagues, and the visitors I talk to,” he says without hesitation. “They make working here fun.”

Media contact: Jen Keavy
651-290-1271
jkeavy@americanpublicmedia.org

New York Times Magazine Columnist Francis Lam Named New Host of The Splendid Table
Lam to host first show March 10 as long-time host Lynne Rossetto Kasper retires later this year

St. Paul, Minn., Feb. 7, 2017—American Public Media today announced that award-winning New York Times Magazine columnist and Top Chef Masters judge Francis Lam will become the new host of The Splendid Table. After 21 seasons, Lynne Rossetto Kasper is retiring at the end of 2017 and will continue to contribute to the program throughout the year until her retirement. Lam will host his first show March 10.

“The tough part of knowing you want to launch a new life is figuring out the ideal person to take over your chair,” said Rossetto Kasper. “In the first five minutes of talking with Francis, I was a fan.” She added, “Besides being a gifted cook and storyteller, he has a delicious sense of humor about food and himself. He instinctively connects with people. Francis is a gem for the next stage of The Splendid Table.”

francislamheadshot1
Francis Lam, new host of The Splendid Table

“I am honored to be the new host of The Splendid Table,” said Lam. “I have always admired Lynne—her knowledge, her turn of phrase, her constant curiosity—but what I admire most is her warmth and generosity of spirit and how that comes through in interviews and listener calls. No one can ever fill her shoes, but I hope to build on the wonderful foundation she has laid for the show and continue the conversation.”

A regular contributor and frequent guest host on The Splendid Table since 2010, Lam is the former Eat columnist for The New York Times Magazine and is Editor-at-Large at Clarkson Potter, a division within Penguin Random House that is a leader in cookbook publishing. In his tenure at Clarkson Potter, he has been the editor behind some of the most creative and best-selling cookbooks and has worked with acclaimed authors, some of the country’s hottest restaurateurs and chefs, as well as celebrities Chrissy Teigen and Questlove. For two seasons, Lam was a regular judge on Bravo’s hit show, Top Chef Masters, a spinoff of Top Chef, where world-renowned chefs competed against each other in weekly challenges.

“We’re thrilled to welcome Francis as our new host,” said Sally Swift, co-creator and managing producer of The Splendid Table. “He is a consummate host—warm, friendly, engaging and curious with serious hands-on culinary chops. Listeners have always had a meaningful connection with the work he’s done with us over the years, and we’re excited to work with him on the next chapter of the show.”

 

In 2016, Lam won a James Bear­­d Award and two International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) Food Writing Awards for his column in The New York Times Magazine. Over the past decade, his writing has been recognized with numerous awards from both organizations, including a James Beard Award in 2014 and IACP Bert Greene Awards for Food Journalism in 2010 and 2014.

Previously, Lam was features editor at Gilt Taste, which was awarded six IACP awards and four James Beard award nominations in its first two years. He also worked as a senior writer at Salon.com and a contributing editor at Gourmet magazine. He’s written for numerous publications, including Bon Appetít, Food & Wine, Lucky Peach, Saveur, Men’s Journal, and the Financial Times.

“As a writer, I’ve always said, I eat food because I love food, and I cook food because I love food, but I write about food because I love people,” said Lam. “Food has always been part of our shared experience and bringing people together through storytelling about food is what excites me most about my new role.”

The oldest of three children, Lam grew up in the suburbs of New Jersey, where he says his parents commuted to Chinatown every day, so that “their kids could live in a house with a lawn.” His career and life have taken him from Portland, Ore., to Biloxi, Miss., with stints in Michigan, Wyoming, Maine, as well as Hong Kong. A music aficionado, Lam is a self-proclaimed karaoke expert and admits that football is his “one, true, complicated love” and that “if you can talk food and football, you can have a conversation with anyone in America.”

Lam graduated first in his class at the Culinary Institute of America and holds a bachelor’s degree in Asian Studies and Creative Writing from the University of Michigan. He lives with his family in New York City.

 About The Splendid Table
Now in its twenty-first season, The Splendid Table is the show for life’s appetites. A culinary, culture and lifestyle program that celebrates the intersection of food and life, it can be heard on more than 400 public radio stations nationwide, on demand at splendidtable.org and via podcast at iTunes or any podcast app. The show is produced and distributed by American Public Media and has been listed on numerous “best of” podcast lists including a recent nod by the Huffington Post’s Food Editor as the top food podcast to listen to in 2016. The show also was featured on CNN as one of the top five food podcasts of 2016. Find The Splendid Table on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Tumblr.

About American Public Media
American Public Media is one of the largest producers and distributors of public radio programming in the world, with a portfolio that includes A Prairie Home Companion®, BBC World Service, Marketplace®, and the leading classical music programming in the nation. APM also offers a diverse array of podcasts featuring the best in food, culture, entertainment, business and investigative journalism. YourClassical, APM’s lifestyle classical music stream, packages classical music in an unconventional and innovative way with streams suited for life’s biggest moments and everyday situations. For more information about American Public Media, visit americanpublicmedia.org.
Source: Data are copyright Nielsen Audio. Data are estimates only.

February 1, 2017 – St. Paul, Minn. – Following the success of the first season of APM Reports’ “In the Dark” podcast, American Public Media today announced that the team behind season one has begun work on a second season. The subject and timing of season two have not yet been announced.

The first season of “In the Dark” provided the most comprehensive reporting on the 27-year investigation of the Jacob Wetterling disappearance. The reporting, led by award-winning journalist Madeleine Baran and done over a period of nine months, revealed how law enforcement mishandled one of the most notorious child abductions and the far-reaching implications of the case.

With 5.5 million downloads, the first season of the podcast topped the iTunes charts for weeks as well as numerous “Best Podcast” lists of 2016. In addition to the podcast audience, a five-episode series of adapted “In the Dark” episodes is running on approximately 150 public radio stations across the country – including stations in Chicago, Boston, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Dallas, San Diego, Charlotte, N.C., and Cleveland.  The combined full-week audience for these stations is more than 5 million. *

“We’re investing in more journalists and resources in fact-based journalism than any time in our history,” said Dave Kansas, American Public Media, executive vice president, and chief content officer. “In the Dark is an example of the type of investigative journalism that is as important as ever. We’re looking forward to seeing and hearing what the team uncovers for the next season.”

Updates from the team over the next year will be shared with listeners via the APM Reports email newsletter.

APM Reports, formed in November 2015, is a collection of investigative journalists and documentary producers, editors, researchers and digital producers dedicated to producing high quality reporting on issues that are often hidden from public view.

*(Source: Nielsen Audio, Persons 12+).

St. Paul, Minn., Jan.24, 2017 — American Public Media announced Nathan Tobey as its new director of On Demand and National Cultural programming. In his new role, Tobey will lead APM’s podcast and On Demand strategy, new content development and current podcast portfolio, which includes Terrible, Thanks For Asking, In The Dark, The Hilarious World of Depression, Brains On!, The Mash-Up Americans and Too Beautiful To Live. He’ll also manage production teams for two national weekly radio (and podcast) shows, The Splendid Table and The Dinner Party Download.

“We couldn’t be happier to have Nate on board at APM,” said Mike Reszler, vice president, innovation and digital strategy at American Public Media Group. “Nate brings his passion for quality journalism along with a deep understanding of audience insights and experience in reinventing audio storytelling for the digital age. He’s already proven to be a leader in the on demand space and we’re thrilled he’s here to help us continue to grow and expand our audiences.”

Most recently at WGBH in Boston, Tobey was recognized with both the Alfred I. duPont and Edward R. Murrow awards for the documentary series, GroundTruth, one of the first podcasts dedicated to in-depth international field reporting. Additionally, he created and launched the hit podcast Masterpiece Studio for WGBH/PBS, which began by covering Downton Abbey’s final season.

Tobey brings extensive experience in audience development and digital strategy. He spent four years at FRONTLINE (PBS) building the next generation of the series’ audience and community. He’s also served as a strategy consultant to a range of public media makers, including the PBS Black Culture Connection and the New England Center for Investigative Reporting.

“APM built its success through innovation,” Tobey said. “I’m excited to work every day to help create the conditions – freedom, curiosity, teamwork, structure and collaboration – which nourish and renew that culture of innovation for the on demand age. That, more than anything, is how I can help APM stay ahead of the curve.”

About American Public Media

American Public Media is one of the largest producers and distributors of public radio programming in the world, with a portfolio that includes A Prairie Home Companion®, BBC World Service, Marketplace®, and the leading classical music programming in the nation.  APM also offers a diverse array of podcasts featuring the best in food, culture, entertainment, business and investigative journalism. YourClassical, APM’s lifestyle classical music stream, packages classical music in an unconventional and innovative way with streams suited for life’s biggest moments and everyday situations. For more information on American Public Media Group, visit americanpublicmediagroup.org.