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MPR looks to connect with millennials with ‘Generation Listen’

MinnPost photo by Jana Freiband
The pitch: “MPR Generation Listen is a thoughtful initiative started by Millennials aspiring to connect people under 35 more deeply with Minnesota Public Radio and each other.”

Are you a “big thinker”? An “influencer”? Or maybe would you just like to hang out with people who are? Well, Minnesota Public Radio has the group for you.

Two young­ish American Public Media/MPR employees, Betty Shin and Kate Dehmer, are revving up an idea National Public Radio already has running in D.C.

The concept, called MPR Generation Listen, is in the process of taking applications to create a “founding board” of professionals who are (preferably) under­ the age of 35 with a jones for civic engagement, networking, “making things better” and, to be honest, getting a closer connection to MPR. 

If you’re curious, here’s ​a link to the application​; the deadline to apply is Tuesday, March 1.

The pitch: “MPR Generation Listen is a thoughtful initiative started by Millennials aspiring to connect people under 35 more deeply with Minnesota Public Radio and each other. We will provide Minnesota’s young professionals with a fun series of social, cultural, and educational events where like-­minded individuals can meet and share meaningful experiences.”

OK. But like what, exactly? This doesn’t sound like Tinder and bowling.

“Well, right now we’re in the recruitment phase,” says Dehmer. The specifics of content and venue will be worked out once the “influencers” apply and assemble, formally. Eventually, there will be monthly meet-­ups … “someplace. We’re open. They won’t all be here at MPR.”

“We had a launch event Feb. 4 that drew over 100 people,” said Shin. “Nancy Lyons [​CEO of Clockwork ​and an MPR trustee] was here and spoke.”

“Basically, about a dozen or so millennials working here at [APM] decided to give it a try. Among other things, it’s a way we can meet and work together with other young professionals.”

So is the idea closed off to influencers past their, shall we say, “emerging” years? “Well, we won’t turn anyone away,” said Dehmer.

Shin and Dehmer concede that “serving our audience is our number one goal” and that cultivating/curating a crowd like they describe is valuable to understanding what millennials care most about — and getting such people in MPR’s fold, which has traditionally had a solid base in civic­-minded influencers.

From the Feb. 4 gathering, Shin ticked off several topics that the group is following with more than an average interest: “The elections, student debt and investing.”

“But we’re open to whatever direction they want to go,” said Dehmer, “We don’t plan on it being a news initiative.” The ​NPR version of Generation Listen​ solicits and culls material submitted from around the country.

Shin and Dehmer say the quid pro quo built into the idea is a valid one. MPR gets a better feel for the next generation of “doers,” while the up-­and-­coming “influencers” get a networking opportunity.

The basic idea has echoes of MPR’s ​Top Coast consortium​, a three-­day ​Aspen Ideas Festival-​­like event that ran in 2014 and then seemed to fade away. Said MPR at the time, “Minnesota Public Radio News will look for solutions to the world’s pressing problems at its first Top Coast Festival, a three­-day conference that will convene more than a dozen academics and media personalities. … Topics of discussion will include politics, health care, technology, food, philanthropy and pop culture.”

Top Coast had potential, IMHO, considering MPR’s assets and the Twin Cities’ vaunted mix of business, civic and arts communities. MPR spokeswoman Angie Andresen says the Top Coast idea is not dead and planning for future programming is afoot. But that is a different story.

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