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Meet the Media: Freelancer Extraordinaire Dan Haugen

Happy Tuesday, and welcome back to the Highlighter for your weekly does of Meet the Media. Today we’re highlighting Dan Haugen, a Minneapolis-based freelance journalist who is also the part-time innovation/jobs editor for The Line, a new online magazine that covers creativity and innovation in the Twin Cities.

To get to where he is today, Dan started writing for newspapers when he was in high school, followed by a brief detour into radio in college at the University of Minnesota. After graduating with a journalism degree, Dan worked at the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier in Waterloo, Iowa, where he won an investigative award for a story about gaps in Iowa’s monitoring of water quality in its rivers and streams, followed by a position at the Argus Leader in Sioux Falls, S.D., where he covered crime and courts.

With a mini-Midwest tour under his belt, Dan came back to Minneapolis in 2006 as a full-time professional freelance journalist, writing for outlets including Twin Cities Business, MinnPost.com and The Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal.

From the perks of being a freelancer, to his take on the best local music picks, we have the inside track on Dan Haugen. Here’s what he had to share:

What is the best thing about being a freelance journalist?
Well, most days it’s a lot less stressful than working in a newsroom, although I do sometimes miss the excitement and camaraderie of working for a daily newspaper. I have a bit more freedom over what I write about and how long I get to spend on various projects, though it’s not total freedom because my work needs to match up with the demands, interests and calendars of the editors and publications I work with. Skipping out on summer Friday afternoons is a nice perk, too, when I can get away with it.
Many journalists have a long-term goal of writing a book. Do you have any interest in writing a book, and if so, what would your book be about?
I have a vague interest in writing a book someday, sure. But I’m not sure what it would be, which is why I haven’t started. A friend and I came up with an idea a couple years ago to compile a sort of rock ‘n’ roll tourists’ guide to the Twin Cities, with self-guided walking tours that would point out local music landmarks. As soon as we sketched it out we both got so busy with work that paid that it kind of fell off the radar. For now I’m just focusing on the online and magazine work that’s on my plate already.

In your career you’ve covered a lot of industries, from technology and business, to crime and the courts. What is the most interesting story you’ve covered?
I feel like this year I’m closer than I’ve ever been to writing about what I want to write about. I like writing about people who are working on solutions to problems that matter. The environment is important to me, as is solving global warming, and so I enjoy writing about cleantech and other green businesses that are trying to do things right. I’m interested in how social media and the availability of cheap computing resources has really empowered individuals and small businesses to have an impact. And I love writing about my neighborhood, though I do less and less of that lately.
Many journalists use social media channels for personal and professional reasons. For journalists whose personal views are broadcasted through their social media accounts, is it possible for them to remain impartial in their coverage?
If you’d have asked me this question four or five years ago, I probably would have been fretting about objectivity and impartiality and all the other stuff I learned in journalism school. Today, though, I’m of the mindset that it’s futile to try to hide the fact that journalists are humans with views and opinions. I think independence, transparency and intellectual honesty have trumped objectivity as the most important values in journalism. Would you rather a reporter try to hide their biases, or would you rather they just come out and tell you where they’re coming from?

I know that you’re very into music – who is your favorite local band or recording artist?
Hmm… I’m a huge fan of Doomtree. Dessa‘s album is one of my favorites of the year. Same goes for Trampled By Turtles, a sort-of fast-paced alt-bluegrass band from Duluth. You can’t go wrong with Mark Mallman. I don’t go to as many shows as I used to, but I try to see him once a year. Martin Devaney and the Eclectone crew is always working on cool projects. Oh, and Wizards Are Real, a really cool instrumental act with saxophone and pedal steel, all warp through a bunch of effects pedals. A couple non-local bands with Minnesota connections that I love are Free Energy and The Hold Steady. I’m sure I’m missing a bunch, too.

You contribute news to a variety of media outlets, but what do you read/listen to/watch to keep yourself in the know?
We get the Star Tribune seven days a week and the New York Times on Sundays. My ideal day starts with me paging through the newspaper over breakfast and then listening to Minnesota Public Radio as I’m getting ready for the day. I consume a lot of news and links through Facebook, Twitter and RSS. A lot of general news sites, as well as tech and music blogs. I subscribe to more magazines than I can keep up with: Wired, Fast Company, Paste, and Esquire are a few that come to mind. I’m reading David Byrne’s “Bicycle Diaries” right now. Next up in my queue is Doug Grow’s “We’re Gonna Win, Twins!” and probably Richard Florida’s “The Great Reset.” We don’t watch much TV, live anyway. We just cut our cable, not realizing how impossible it is to tune in digital TV signals over the air. So we’re basically without TV now, but some of the shows I stream on a semi-regular basis include The Daily Show and PBS’ Need To Know. I’ve also been getting into TPT’s MN Original and MPLS.TV.