ThreeSixty HotSeat: Laura Yuen, Minnesota Public Radio
By Selam Berhea, Zekriah Chaudhry and Biladjetan Badekemi
Laura Yuen’s journalism career started with simple curiosity.
Having attended the same Chicago-area high school as Smashing Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan — who, at that time in the ‘90s, was one of the biggest rock stars on the planet — she and her friends decided to trace his life in those same hallways.
Even as a lighter story, Yuen’s “four page expose … really impressed on me just how fun the hunt for facts is,” she said.
Yuen has spent the past six years with Minnesota Public Radio, where her most notable series reported on the difficulties facing Somali youth. It all started when a group of Twin Cities men began to trickle back to Somalia to fight with a militant group known as al-Shabaab. The recruitment received national attention, and several journalistic stories started to pop up locally.
“My editor told me that I should go and try to cover this story,” Yuen said. “At first I was thinking, ‘What more could I possibly say?’”
That’s when Yuen began to dig deeper.
“I (had) coffee with Somali community leaders who worked me through like the history of Somalia,” she said.
“The more reporting that I did, the more I understood that there was sort of a void of reporting that went deep into the community. That talked to real people, not just the talking heads.”
Her collection of stories, Civil War Kids earned Yuen the national Society of Professional Journalists New America Award. It’s become the piece she’s most proud of and fed into her love of “longer form storytelling.”
“This story of immigration, it is an American story,” Yuen said. “It’s something that every group that has come to this country has faced … yet we only often hear, ‘We came to America and everything was great.’
“It’s also the meaning of radio. I just think there’s something so powerful (when) people talk about their lives in their own voices.”
Before coming to Minnesota, Yuen worked at the Lexington Herald-Leader in Kentucky. Her first front page story in 2001 was titled “Dognappers blamed after pets vanish,” she shared with a laugh.
The stories got bigger from there, and Yuen said she’s always searching for interesting topics to put on the radio.
A graduate of Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., Yuen also spent a year teaching English in Taiwan “to get to know that side of my family.” In her spare time, she enjoys running around the lakes and spending time with her dog and year-old son.
MEET OUR CAMPERS
Editor’s note: ThreeSixty is fortunate to have wonderful media volunteers collaborate with our instructors during summer camp. As part of our July Intro to Journalism Camp, each visiting media member is being (cruelly?) subjected to our ThreeSixty HotSeat, where students can ask whatever question they’d like to help build a “getting to know you” profile.
Special thanks to Laura Yuen of Minnesota Public Radio. To learn more about the authors of this piece, check out bios from our 15 campers.