History students write stories for Prairie Public Radio


Most students are used to writing papers for classes with the reward for their time and effort being reflected in their grades. It is not often students get to write for profit and the recognition of a large audience. MSUM history professor Steve Hoffbeck gave some students the opportunity to do just that.

In conjunction with Prairie Public Radio, Hoffbeck offered students a chance to co-write stories to be read on air for the daily “Dakota Datebook” program. So far three students have had their writing shared with the listening audience, while two others are still in the research and writing processes.

The “Dakota Datebook” is a daily program that started in 2000. It lasts three to four minutes, so each story can only be 400 to 500 words. Bill Thomas, who is in charge of the program at Prairie Public Radio said, “We wanted each story tied to the date. We do a lot of birthdays and death days and anniversaries of notable events, but sometimes writers have to get pretty creative to connect a story to a date.”

Originally there was only one writer, Merry Helm, but when she told the station it was too much they decided to open it up to the public. Every entry is edited at the station and sent to the North Dakota State Historical Society to be checked for accuracy. There is an online calendar where writers can sign up for a date they wish to cover, and each author is paid per story.

“Currently there are about eight writers, with a few others who just do a couple a year,” Thomas said. “(Hoffbeck’s) are some of the best written and most interesting ones we get. I think the stories from the students were probably written with more care and attention, since they knew Dr. Hoffbeck would be going over them. I don’t know how much Steve had the students revise them, but I was happy with the results.”

Senior history and social studies education major Jacob Clauson has written two featured stories already. He doesn’t plan on stopping there. Clauson’s stories were aired in August and September. When asked if he would consider doing more he said, “Oh yeah, I plan to write another in February. Hopefully, I can squeeze more in.”

Clauson’s first two stories stemmed off some earlier research he had done for a class. His first piece told the story of the arrest of a farmer from a small town southwest of Minot who was caught with an illegal still in his basement. The other told of an official in Minot who was allowing people to make illegal liquor as a way of earning some extra income.

Though it was fulfilling to hear the final product being read on the radio, Clauson said the research process was rewarding in itself. He remarked he spent much of his time researching by looking at microfilm of newspapers from the 1920s. Looking at the old stories and ads, even if they didn’t necessarily pertain to his research, was interesting.

“It was cool listening to something I had co-written,” he said. “Hearing my name on the radio was strange but good.”

Christina Perleberg, a junior communications studies and social studies education major, is another student writer Hoffbeck chose.

Perleberg’s story was about the peace time draft of 1940. Hoffbeck offered her the opportunity to write on the topic after she took a history class with him. She said the process of researching was “not hard if you know where to look. The school has a lot of resources at your fingertips.”

As for co-authoring another story, “I would definitely write another one,” Perleberg said with no hesitation. She also mentioned the benefits of boosting her resume and gaining experience that is attractive to future employers through this opportunity.

“It was a really proud moment,” Perleberg said about hearing her work on the radio. “I sent it to my mom and my adviser. It’s a really cool thing to be a part of.”

Kjersti Maday, a mass communications and English junior wrote her story as part of an honors apprentice program. After having professor Hoffbeck for a freshman history class, she knew she wanted to work with him. The “Dakota Datebook” was a great opportunity to do it.

Maday researched Carl Bailey, a Grafton resident who worked on the atomic bomb. “I have an interest in World War II,” she said.

Maday also said researching her topic was fun and interesting. Reading old newspapers and scouring databases for information was how she gathered all of her research. Two other students, Madeline Atwood and Dan Bihrle are currently working with Hoffbeck to research, write and revise their stories.

Though each student worked individually with Hoffbeck, they all related what a pleasure it was to co-author with him. “He’s really nice and helpful with questions. He’s always there to hand you more articles. It’s like he has an endless supply,” Clauson said.

Anyone interested in reading Clauson’s, Perleberg’s, Maday’s or one of Hoffbeck’s many featured stories can visit the “Dakota Datebook” website at prariepublic.org/radio and search “Dakota Datebook.”


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