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Overseeing Curious Minnesota is the most interesting role I have had in my 13-year career at the Star Tribune.
That is because readers send our reporters hunting for answers about such a wide range of Minnesota topics. I am continuously surprised and fascinated by what these reader questions reveal, whether it's about the state's ancient geology or the origins of the regional term "parking ramp."
Curious Minnesota has produced 52 columns this year — published online every Friday morning — and 22 podcast episodes.
Two primary things made that work possible. The first is obviously you, the readers, who submitted nearly 800 questions in 2022 alone. Readers are at the core of Curious Minnesota's mission, and we are thankful these stories regularly rank among the most-read items on the Star Tribune's website.
The second is the 38 reporters who wrote columns in 2022, many of whom drew from years of experience covering these subjects. These stories take time to research, and we are lucky to have a newsroom large enough to devote resources to that work.
Winnowing down the questions
So how do we choose which questions to answer? This is among the most challenging parts of my job, since we can only answer a fraction of the incoming questions. Here is an overview of our process.
I personally review each question that is submitted to Curious Minnesota. Those that seem like good candidates for the column are put on a list. About once a month, I and a group of editors discuss these ideas and select which questions best fit.
Our conversation generally hinges on several variables. Is this a question about Minnesota specifically? Can this be spun into a tale that would fill an entire column? Would there be broad interest in this topic? Have we already answered this question recently in our news coverage?
Typically, the questions we do not answer are just too narrow in scope to fill an entire column or appeal to a very wide audience. This is why we are planning to launch a new, shorter feature called "A Little Curious" to tackle some of these more specific questions.
I also sometimes hunt through our archives for questions we may have missed, which is why we answered several this year from 2019 and 2020.
Finding a reporter
Once we choose which questions to answer, I find reporters who are interested in writing about these topics — and sometimes the reporter is me. Writing for Curious Minnesota is voluntary, and it is important to me that reporters answer questions that interest them.
Thankfully, most Curious Minnesota questions are "evergreen," meaning they are not tied to a specific deadline. Since reporters are busy with the hectic pace of daily news, we often plan these stories months in advance to ensure they have enough time to research the topic.
Some questions are tailored to specific beats, such as agriculture, homes or regions of the state. Others are more general, so I have to put out the word among my colleagues to see who is interested.
Once the story is written, we spend additional time carefully considering the best visual elements to accompany it online. This often involves poring over dozens of vintage photographs from the Star Tribune, local historical societies and libraries — the most fun part of my job. We also frequently create maps and charts to help convey key points of a story.
The year ahead
We want this column to reflect the diverse interests of the people who live here. Do you have a good question for us? Or perhaps you know of a group or a classroom that might want to submit one? Submissions can be made using the form at the bottom of this article or at startribune.com/curious.
In the next year, we hope to build on the success of the Curious Minnesota podcast — and even perhaps host some live events.
We want to hear your thoughts about Curious Minnesota and where you would like to see us take this project in the future. Please leave a comment below or send a note to firstname.lastname@example.org. And if you are enjoying this project, please tell a friend about it or share the stories with others.
Thank you for reading!
If you'd like to submit a Curious Minnesota question, fill out the form below: