St. Thomas student Danielle Wong

MPR Internship Puts Student on Front Lines of Protest

“It was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before. It was haunting.” - St. Thomas sophomore Danielle Wong

Even the most seasoned journalists would have found the spot sophomore Danielle Wong's internship put her in on the night of June 16 a tough one. Thousands of protesters had taken to the front lawn of the Minnesota Capitol; hours before a jury had found police officer Jeronimo Yanez not guilty on all counts connected to shooting and killing Philando Castile during a traffic stop in July 2016.

People were angry. People were sad. People were yelling. And soon, people were marching.

Wong was there to cover all of it for Minnesota Public Radio, where she held a two-month-long internship over the summer. Her live-tweeting and videos throughout the march helped make up the backbone of MPR’s coverage, all the while giving Wong an emotional insight into journalism many don’t experience ever, let alone after completing just one year of college.

“The whole experience [covering the protests] was so eye-opening,” Wong said. “There were a lot of conflicts within myself as a journalist that were brought up. I understand the importance of the journalist in society, that we are the truth tellers, who hold people accountable, tell the people what they need to hear in order to be informed citizens. On the other hand, I understand the grief and pain these people feel, and I feel as a journalist I’m imposing myself. It’s like trying to find that balance and my purpose and role and how I fit in. And how I can properly serve the community as a journalist while also respecting them.”

That balance seemed all the more precarious as march leaders at different points turned their anger toward the journalists present, Wong said, accusing them of profiting off their pain and getting large sections of the crowd to chant against them.

“You’re here as a journalist and have everyone around you chanting these things against who you are as a journalist, and it’s one of the most bizarre and isolating feelings,” she added. “I was carrying all my equipment, and it felt like this brand, that everyone knew I was a journalist.”

Earlier in the day Wong had already experienced the difficult balance of covering emotional events: MPR had dispatched her to the memorial site where Castile was killed. After the verdict, many people had gathered there to mourn.

“It was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before. It was haunting,” Wong said. “I was very lucky to be there and talk to people. It taught me a lot about the fact sometimes people aren’t comfortable having a camera thrust into their face, they’ve been crying, very visibly upset. That’s where I saw the power of radio: capturing someone’s emotion in their voice. … We waited a couple hours before we went up to people and talked to them, and it was all about that verbiage, the respect in approaching people.”

Not everything in her internship was so emotionally charged; in her last week, Wong got the go-ahead to cover the Karen community’s involvement in World Refugee Day. She worked on the piece until 11 p.m. the final day of her internship, she said, and it aired the following week on All Things Considered, a popular drive-time program on Friday afternoons.

“It’s really exciting to see how far I’ve come in just eight weeks,” Wong added. “It was an amazing summer experience.”

Wong's leveraging of the Twin Cities market for an internship is a common summer experience for Tommies, and she returns to campus where she is a ThreeSixty scholar with a full-tuition scholarship to study communication and journalism.

Visit the ThreeSixty website for more information about the ThreeSixty Scholars program and its other programming.