Local Media Forum: VPR’s Zind Discusses New Blog, Reporting Overseas

By Virginia Dean, Standard Correspondent

One of the stories that Vermont Public Radio’s Steve Zind told a hushed and stunned audience Thursday night at the last presentation of Meet Your Local Media in the Norman Williams Library involved a couple from Northern Vermont whose house was swept away by Tropical Storm Irene — but still have to pay the rest of their mortgage.

The story was written two days ago as part of Zind’s contribution to The Vermont Economy, a VPR news blog about Vermont’s economy. Senior reporter and special projects producer Zind is the editor of the new running commentary.

“The economic coverage is fairly new to me,” Zind said. “The stories are interesting and not as dry and packed with facts as you might think they would be.”

Zind was on hand to disseminate information about the news department of the public radio station as well as his travels and experiences to Iran and Afghanistan as a journalist and visitor over the last 10 years.

“American tourists are treated like royalty,” Zind said. “It’s really pretty special. The average Iranian doesn’t harbor any animosity toward the United States. In fact, it’s just the opposite.”

Zind has been to the Middle East country four times in the last 10 years. His first trip in 2004 was as a tourist to research his family heritage.

Of Persian descent, Zind applied for a journalist visa and was accepted. He filed reports for VPR, National Public Radio and WBUR in Boston about Iranian culture and political atmosphere.

“The Iranians spend their time trying to enjoy their lives and get ahead,” Zind said. “It’s a very rich culture.”

Asked about the accuracy of the related and recent Hollywood movie, Argo, Zind said he believed it reinforced a negative stereotype of Iran.

“They tried to give it some context,” he said. “It was entertaining. But it’s really not that way. I’ve been to government demonstrations and they’re very well organized and not well attended. Even with the Friday prayers, people have to be bussed in to pad the ceremonies.”

Zind has worked at VPR since 1994. Prior to that, he was the program director at WNCS in Montpelier from 1977-96 and the news director for WCVR in Randolph, his first job after graduating from Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff in 1970. He also worked for stations in Phoenix and Tucson before moving to Vermont in 1972.

He begins his day as a reporter discussing local, national and international news with other reporters at the station that is headquartered in Colchester, Vt. Zind himself works out of Randolph. The station also broadcasts from Montpelier, Norwich, Manchester, Brattleboro, St. Johnsbury and Rutland.

“We discuss the day’s work to make sure there are no cross purposes and to give the director of the news an idea of where to fill the news cast,” Zind said. “Then we’re off and running.”

Zind works at his desk or records interviews on the phone. He finds theoretical stories to be challenging and reads prolifically and talks to people in order to come up with stories.

“We’re not assigned stories,” he said. “So, I have to try to find sources any way I can. Sometimes I chase one down a dead end. Sometimes it’s a wild goose chase. I envy newspaper reporters in that there is nothing intimidating about standing in front of somebody and holding up your pad asking questions.”

Zind said he prepares for his reporting by researching.

“A live interview is different in which you have to be concise and not waste time,” he said. “But a taped interview is more relaxed. You don’t have to be afraid of chasing down a deadline. You don’t have that luxury live. I feel very uncomfortable if I don’t feel prepared. Then again, you also have to be prepared to throw everything overboard.”

Many of Zind’s stories come from conversations with his co-workers. Some are harder to find.

“Sometimes you start the day and say, ‘I’m not sure what I’ll do today,'” he said. “It’s a struggle to feed the daily news monster.”

Since its inception in 1977 as a classical music station, Zind said, VPR was housed in the historic Windsor house with 3-4 employees and there were 500 donating members. Today, the station has 26,000 members and nearly a quarter of a million listeners not including Canada.

“We’ve come a long way,” he said. “We’ve grown tremendously.”

The current news department began in 2007.

“While we’re a young news organization,” he said. “We took a whole network of frequencies on Mt. Ascutney and Mt. Mansfield and made that our news service. Our reporters have tremendous experience both in broadcast and in print.”

Zind stated that the station’s online component has become popular.

“More and more listeners are going to our website to access on demand the news they want to get,” he said. “The web provides us with the content that doesn’t work with broadcasting.”

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