Growing up, Jeff Baenen was an avid Marvel Comics reader, which inspired his desire to write. “I knew I just wanted to see my work published,” he said.
As the oldest of five children, the Jamestown, N.D. native was the first of his siblings to go to college. In 1973, he enrolled as an English major at Minnesota State University Moorhead, but was quickly talked into mass communications by another student who explained all the options the major had to offer. He decided on a dual newspaper and broadcast focus. “It was a great choice,” he said.
Jeff found his place in the department, writing for The Advocate newspaper, being a DJ for the campus radio station and taking part in theater. These experiences helped shape him and get the most out of his time at MSUM.
“I encourage other students to enjoy their time. Take advantage of everything because it’s such an opportunity. I actually wish I had done more,” he said.
Jeff also studied hard and tested out of classes, which enabled him to graduate in three years.
Though he was accepted into graduate school, Jeff instead chose to start his career, landing a job at his hometown newspaper, The Jamestown Sun. He wrote for the community page, delivered local news, did feature stories, and gained valuable experience in the newsroom.
But Jeff had his sights set on bigger things. The Sun was a subscriber to The Associated Press (AP) at the time, and he fell in love with its direct, non-partisan style of writing.
“I like the true objectivity of AP style,” he said. “You can read and understand it without any prior knowledge. It’s hard-hitting journalism with a softer approach that draws a reader in.”
Coincidentally, the North Dakota AP office in Bismarck was hiring a part-time, probationary position, to which Jeff quickly applied. He got the job, made the move, and wrote a mix of everything from political news to sports. He then moved up the ladder, being promoted to Capitol Correspondent, covering two legislative sessions in the state before taking a different job at the Minneapolis AP office. Throughout his career, he did a mix of writing and videography and got the opportunity to interview notables like Eric Clapton and Patrick Stewart. According to him, his two biggest scoops were covering the “glitter-bombing” of Newt Gingrich and interviewing Garrison Keillor regarding accusations against him for workplace misconduct.
Jeff’s career with The Associated Press lasted 42 years, until his retirement in 2020. He credits much of his successful career to the start he got in college.
“It’s been a great opportunity and I would not have had the skills to be a well-rounded reporter without MSUM,” he said.
Because he hopes to inspire other students to go into broadcasting, he recently started a scholarship to help alleviate some of the cost of their education. “There’s such a need for well-trained students. The stations need good, quality content, so there has to be someone who can get out into the field and learn how to get the best information and present it in the best possible way,” he said.
Jeff’s generosity comes from a place of wanting to give back and make a difference. His mother recently passed away, and he wanted to do some good with the money he inherited. “I wanted to make it easier for students and to help the next generation,” he said. He cites a quote attributed to Ernest Hemingway: “You don’t have anything until you give it away.”
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