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Sarah Lehr reflects on politics and adapting to radio as she prepares for new role in Wisconsin

sarah_lehr_headshot.jpg
Courtesy
/
Krystal Nurse
WKAR’s politics and civics reporter Sarah Lehr is leaving the station for a role at Wisconsin Public Radio.

WKAR’s politics and civics reporter Sarah Lehr is leaving the station.

Sarah came to WKAR from the Lansing State Journal, where she was the city watchdog reporter.

She’s moving to Madison where she’ll be a state government reporter for Wisconsin Public Radio.

Her work was featured nationally numerous times on NPR programs while at WKAR. Her stories also won several awards, including a Regional Edward R. Murrow Award.

WKAR's Megan Schellong joined Lehr to discuss the highlights of her time at the station.

Interview Highlights

On the biggest change moving from print into public radio

I was very unused to being part of the story, even if it's just my voice. And it took me a while and some coaching, to learn, you know, it's not just writing a script, it's the way you tell the story. It's the enthusiasm that you bring to it. And I do think it kind of creates a more personal connection between the reporter and the listener.

On the reporting behind her feature that won an Edward R. Murrow Award

I showed how a series of local proposals across Michigan that sought to expand the marijuana industry to more communities, mostly very small communities, was funded by this dark money network with unknown funders, they all kind of had, the committees backing them, all kind of had different names as if they were grassroots. But when I looked into the campaign finance records, and when I looked in court records, it was clear these were being all funded by the same entity. Who are they? You know, sadly, as citizens we may never know

On what she’ll miss the most about WKAR

Definitely the people, my colleagues feeling so supported here. And yeah, I've lived in mid-Michigan for quite some time five years. So I'll miss mid-Michiganders as well, but I'm hoping to come back to visit.

Interview Transcript

Megan Schellong: WKAR’s politics and civics reporter, Sarah Lehr is leaving the station.

Sarah came to us from the Lansing State Journal, where she was the city watchdog reporter. She’s moving to Madison where she’ll be a state government reporter for Wisconsin Public Radio.

Her work was featured nationally numerous times on NPR programs while at WKAR. Her stories also won several awards, including a Regional Edward R. Murrow Award.

Sarah joins me now to discuss the highlights of her time here.

Thanks for being here.

Sarah Lehr: Thanks for having me, Megan.

Schellong: You came to WKAR Radio from a print publication, what was the biggest adjustment for you coming into radio?

Lehr: Well, I have spent, you know, my whole career in newspapers. So, I've been comfortable with reporting and with telling stories and with writing. But I was very unused to being part of the story, even if it's just my voice. And it took me a while and some coaching, to learn, you know, it's not just writing a script, it's the way you tell the story.

It's the enthusiasm that you bring to it. And I do think it kind of creates a more personal connection between the reporter and the listener. The other thing was just learning how much work goes into radio stories. If, even if a piece is less than four minutes long, you know, that could be days of work, because you're not just writing and reporting. You're editing down sound, you're adding music elements, there's just a lot more moving parts.

Schellong: In print and radio, you have covered countless town hall meetings as well as multiple elections, city and countywide, what keeps you motivated in your reporting?

Lehr: To me, you know, one of the most important purposes of journalism is to hold public institutions to account. And I've really enjoyed being a local and statewide reporter. Because I felt like I got to do that on a very immediate level. I want people to know what their elected officials are doing. I want them to know how their taxpayer dollars are being spent. And I always keep the listener or the reader in mind when I'm writing something because I want its impacts to be clear.

The other nice thing about WKAR and public radio in general is we're accountable to our listeners. And we're very much motivated for the public interest. We're telling entertaining stories, and engaging stories, but we aren't pressured by clicks or by commercial interests. And we can really tell the stories that are in the public interest, things that people need to know.

Schellong: Which radio piece do you think you are most proud of?

It's hard to pick, I've got to report some very fun stories while I was at WKAR. I got up before dawn one day to go hunting with a state representative who lives in Jackson County. That was a story about how Michigan lawmakers get a break every November to coincide with deer hunting season. And that was a new experience for me. And I got to get a lot of the sounds of nature, the kind of sounds that you hear when you're out on a farm in mid-Michigan before the sun is up, really.

Schellong: Can you talk a little bit about what went into the reporting behind your radio feature that won a Murrow Award?

Lehr: Another piece that I'd say I'm proud of is a story I did where I showed how a series of local proposals across Michigan that sought to expand the marijuana industry to more communities, mostly very small communities, was funded by this dark money network with unknown funders, they all kind of had, the committees backing them, all kind of had different names as if they were grassroots.

But when I looked into the campaign finance records, and when I looked in court records, it was clear these were being all funded by the same entity. Who are they? You know, sadly, as citizens we may never know, because they were able to use their nonprofit status to conceal the source of their funding. But I'd say that I'm proud of that story, because to me, that's an example of taking a story at the hyperlocal level. and, you know, trying to have some accountability and trying to expose a system.

How does campaign finance work? How does campaign funding work? And why might it be an issue and we don't know who's funding things?

And also, you know, try and give voters a little bit of information, this thing that you're seeing on your ballot, whether you support it or not, it actually might not be coming from people locally there. It's part of a bigger network. There could be some outside interests at play.

Schellong: What do you think you will miss the most about WKAR?

Lehr: Definitely the people, my colleagues feeling so supported here. And yeah, I've lived in mid-Michigan for quite some time five years. So I'll miss mid-Michiganders as well, but I'm hoping to come back to visit.

Schellong: Sarah Lehr is WKAR’s politics and civics reporter. Her last day at the station is tomorrow.

Sarah, we wish you the best of luck in your professional endeavors and thank you for all your work. We're gonna miss you a lot.

Lehr: I'll miss you all as well. Thank you.

This interview has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

Megan Schellong is the local host and producer for Morning Edition on WKAR.
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