People laugh when I tell them I’m actually a very private person, loathe to share details of my life with strangers. I’d rather interview others than be the focus of discussion. Yet, I’ve spent my life telling stories through news, features, and high-tech mediums – so perhaps it’s time to share a few of my own.
Montana-born, I’m the granddaughter of wild cowboys and Norwegian homesteaders, pioneers leaning into the land with their hopes and dreams. Imbued with a philosophy of hard work and grit against this backdrop of want and need, my siblings, relatives and I have become doctors, ambassadors, professors, Hollywood Oscar winners, theologians, and award-winning journalists. Although I’ve now lived in the urban outback of Seattle for more than 30 years – plus several years recently in Montana – memories are still fresh of growing up listening to the backdrop of voices: my Montanan family and relatives telling stories – some very tall, most sadly true: struggles. scandals. secrets. surprises.
“Storytelling” is a vogue phrase these days, but it’s a constant in my life as I travel, live, and work in places where storytelling is woven into the tapestry of cultures like Russia, Turkey, and Uzbekistan. It’s no surprise to me I became a journalist – specifically in TV news and ever-evolving digital media – since I’m drawn to hearing stories from the heart: in search of truth (news), illumination (problems), and action (hope).
In high school, I led my school’s edgy newspaper as editor-in-chief, winning an Associated Press award for my controversial editorial. As a teen reporter at my town’s radio station, I discovered the power of live interviews and fair questioning. As an AFS high school exchange student to a small Muslim town in Turkey, I listened to stories for hours on end, drinking wickedly strong Turkish tea as I soaked it all in. In my senior year I won a national writing award that caught the eye of several hundred colleges and universities. In the end, I chose Ripon College in Wisconsin – one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
I majored in Russian language and area studies at Ripon College, taking classes such as Soviet foreign policy, comparative economics, Russian-Soviet history, and traveling alone to Yugoslavia (unheard of at the time) for a semester-long research project. For fun, I also performed in Readers’ Theatre – it’s storytelling in action – played piano, and was a Ripon College radio morning news co-anchor and solo-anchored my own radio show.
I graduated magna cum laude with Phi Beta Kappa honors; days later a U.S. Department of Education national graduate fellowship (FLAS) took me to Indiana University – the top U.S. institution for spoken Russian – where I earned my master’s degree. With an incredible scholarship, I went on to earn a second B.A. in Communications-Broadcast Journalism at the University of Washington – all in one year. Along with studying Russian language at Leningrad State University (U.S.S.R.), I was mesmerized by my Soviet journalism class taught in Russian by a former Pravda correspondent. Mostly, we listened to his riveting war stories – in Russian, of course.
A Hand Up
I need to say that along the way – paving and illuminating my path – there always has been my “cloud of educational saints,” as I call them. It’s the generosity of strangers: the kindness of local, national, and international philanthropists and organizations with their scholarships, fellowships, and encouragement for me to pursue my education and career when I otherwise might not, given my socio-economic background, my place. From Readers Digest founder DeWitt Wallace and CBS News (and Ripon alum) Richard Threlkeld to Ripon College’s Dr. Bill Woolley and other faculty, benefactors and more, to them I am forever grateful, my goal to pass it on…
Stories in Next-Generation Media
What I truly love today is surfing the waves of change in how we communicate – it’s dizzying! In the early 1980s my KIRO-TV station – the CBS affiliate in Seattle – was the second TV newsroom in the nation to ‘go computer.’ When CD-ROM was in its infancy, I leapt onto that media platform at Medio Multimedia – funded by Microsoft’s Paul Allen – in charge of delivering U.S. and international news in never-done multimedia formats, using hand-coded HTML and constantly evolving “content management systems” – CMSs.
Soon I’d caught on to the internet before it caught on with the world, working at Microsoft in a start-up environment using cutting-edge video and audio to tell stories about our cities and neighborhoods. I was so very lucky. Now it’s digital, mobile, and who knows what’s next!
Global Health and “Spirit of Place”
Because I live in Seattle – “Ground Zero” for global health – I’ve recently studied global health, microbiology, anatomy/physiology, nutrition, chemistry, newly emerging infectious diseases, and statistics to help me better understand and communicate deeply complex global health issues. Much of my volunteer work focuses on helping local and global health non-profits promote their causes in online and digital media formats.
Whether it’s Montana or Seattle, Russia or Turkey, in my storytelling I often wonder how “spirit of place” – that powerful force of where we live – shapes the stories of our relationships, health, and lives. Landscape, they say, is our destiny. How did it shape my unwanted divorce; my childhood cravings for junk food that I equated with social status; my constantly-challenged faith; and my utter inability to be neutral as a trained journalist when I witness evil and injustice?
I tell stories about such things, on virtual vellum and video.