Much of the magic that is public media arises because the public is central to the stories we tell. South Dakota Public Broadcasting belongs to everyone. That’s why SDPB’s new studios in Rapid City and Sioux Falls are centered around public spaces – communal spheres where we can come together to acquire knowledge and build relationships with our neighbors.
Whether we gather to screen a documentary, enjoy live jazz, or discuss Lakota heritage and settler history, our shared learning experiences are what is known in public media parlance as community engagement—essentially living, breathing extensions of SDPB’s mission to help every South Dakotan learn, dream and grow.
Two new SDPB programs debuted this year that bring South Dakotans together to discuss issues and opportunities in our home state. This month, meet the hosts at the helms.
Where Do We Go from Here
with Chuck Parkinson & Suzanne Stratford
Between them, Rapid City husband and wife Chuck Parkinson and Suzanne Stratford hold over 50 years of experience working in Washington, D.C.’s political realm. Parkinson, originally from Kadoka, served on Congressman and Senator Jim Abnor’s staff and on the professional staffs of the House of Representatives Committees on Appropriations and Veterans Affairs and the Senate Committee on Appropriations. He was also Associate Commissioner of the U.S. Customs Service under Presidents Reagan and Bush. Stratford’s background includes working in international development, economics and trade policy in D.C. She also worked as a recruiter and trainer in South Dakota for the 2010 Census and puts on mindfulness training classes that incorporate horseback riding.
Parkinson and Stratford relocated to the Black Hills in 2006, bringing with them their commitment to public service. “Tip O’Neill, a Massachusetts congressman who became Speaker of the House, always used to say all politics is local,” says Parkinson. “The more I was involved in the political world, basically my entire adult life, I came to grasp that all politics are personal.”
With the 2017 opening of SDPB’s Black Hills Studio, Larry Rohrer, SDPB’s Director of Content, approached Parkinson and Stratford about applying their work and life experience to create a community-oriented discussion program in the new space. “There are things that need to be done to talk about civility and civil discourse,” says Parkinson. “And we know where we are right now, but what steps do we need to move forward?” So was born the program’s title.
While Where Do We Go from Here is simultaneously webcast and rebroadcast on SDPB.org, the in-studio audience is integral to the duo’s espousal of civil discourse. “We bring people together in the panel and in the audience that don’t normally know each other or hear from each other,” says Stratford. “I call it cross-pollination of ideas and relationships. We want to move out of a parochial-type thinking to really being open to hearing a variety of views.” Parkinson stresses the significance of in-person interaction. “Face-to-face discussion has kind of been lost, but it’s very important that people spend time talking with each other, because that how problems really get solved. Then we usually find out we have more in common. Where Do We Go from Here draws on that. We have to be able to have civil discourse with each other, so we aren’t shouting or causing grief to each other, but actually working with each other.”
Parkinson and Stratford land on program topics by following their own advice to engage with their community. “We talk to a lot of people, introduce ourselves to a lot of people,” says Stratford. “We keep our radars up and when we hear an issue that’s particularly passionate for a number of people, that gets distilled into a program.” Details are hammered out around the kitchen table and Stratford typically contacts panelists. “Suzanne is really our executive producer,” says Parkinson.
Held monthly and free to the public, program topics have included discussions of democracy, tolerance, women in public service, the Black Hills’ microbrewery trend, in addition to others. Parkinson says the August program in which high school students candidly weighed in on their school and life experiences jumpstarted his conviction that more young people need to be engaged in civic life. “They’re not actually being taught how to be productive citizens in society by participating in the government system because they just don’t know how,” says Parkinson. “And who better to talk to than the people who are directly impacted? Kids of that age. We need to explore how to help younger people get involved.”
Join Where Do We Go for from Here for “Fresh Voices in Pierre: Listening to First-Time State Legislators,” on Wednesday, Dec. 12, noon, at SDPB’s Black Hills Studios, 415 Main Street, Rapid City. Free and open to the public.
Making a Living
with Jackelyn Severin
Although Making a Living, SDPB’s business and economic development discussion series, is SDPB’s newest addition to community programming, host Jackie Severin says she’s already learned a great deal on the job. “So many terrific things,” says Severin. “It’s interesting to talk with farmers, for example. I’ve learned how much farming has changed, how much global economics farmers have to know. They’re watching prices, how much commodities are selling for and where. They have to make all these decisions, in addition to producing.”
Severin was also struck by the number of small businesses that power South Dakota. “On our program about start-ups, I learned 99% of the businesses in South Dakota are small [under 300 employees, according to the Small Business Administration]. Small businesses are extremely important to our economy.”
Originally from Belle Fourche, Severin earned her degree in journalism from SDSU while interning for SDPB Radio News. After serving as SDPB’s legislative reporter, Severin earned a Master’s in Business Administration from the University of Nebraska-Omaha. She and her husband returned to Sioux Falls, where she headed Project Food Forest before returning to her first love, journalism. She’s excited about meeting and learning from business owners and others who guest on Making a Living, broadcast live each month from SDPB’s Sioux Falls Studios. “Sioux Falls is growing,” says Severin. “We have a lot of economic development and entrepreneurial stories out of here, and we want to talk with people who are starting their businesses and address important workforce development topics, not just in Sioux Falls, but throughout South Dakota.”
Severin is excited about Making a Living’s format. “First, it’s a full hour. We don’t often get time to delve in and discuss one issue like this. We really dig deeper into the layers. Second, when panelists meet in a face-to-face discussion, as opposed to a reporter filing a report, it’s interesting and awesome to see ideas spark and panelists asking each other questions, bouncing ideas. It makes for deeper and richer conversations.”
Join Making a Living at SDPB’s Sioux Falls Studios, 601 N. Phillips Avenue, in December for a discussion about “Angel Investors in South Dakota.” See SDPB.org for details.