A city reporter who has experienced the highs and lows of the hidden life of a journalist. It’s a world full of criticism, change, but most importantly the most rewarding position Fred Melo could ever have.
Every few years, Frederick Melo wonders what he would do if he left his job after dealing with criticism, increasing responsibilities and watching coworkers leave the newsroom. He’s never come up with a definitive answer, but he has some ideas. Teaching, PR, maybe other newsrooms. But year after year, for 18 years, he has remained in his role as a city reporter at the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
“Every day is different,” Melo said. “I get to be me. I’m not a salesman. I’m not working in a very corporate environment where I have to put on a big facade.”
Melo’s attachment to journalism is partly inherited. His father was a reporter in the Dominican Republic and in Boston, where Melo grew up. This connection led Melo to participate in his high school newspaper and a college radio station. In 2005, he joined the Pioneer Press, where he has covered stories on crime, politics and the arts. For the past decade, he has worked as a St. Paul City Hall reporter who loves to dig into neighborhood and serial tweet from all over the city.
Even though Melo has extensive experience in journalism and has long been a constant in the Pioneer Press newsroom, one of his greatest challenges has been adapting to a changing industry.
When he first came to the newsroom, Melo worked with 235 photographers, editors, cartoonists, graphic designers and reporters. Now, he says around 35 journalists remain.
“When people leave, it really hits,” Melo said. “Because that person may never be replaced.”
The industry changes have resulted from the reduction in ad revenue in newspapers, according to Pioneer Press Editor Mike Burbach. Previously, companies would pay large amounts of money for display advertising space. However, companies have moved their ads online since the advent of the internet, dropping newspaper revenue.
Burbach said the result for reporters like Melo is that they are forced to be more selective about which stories to cover, and they will likely have to cover a wide array of topics. While Burbach considers this a challenge to most reporters, Melo thrives in this environment.
“Fred can dive into complicated subjects and swim back out,” Burbach said. “In any given three-month period, Fred will write about something to do with the arts, or something to do with city finance, like tax-increment (financing). And Fred can figure it out.”
Melo’s diverse skill set doesn’t solve all his problems, though. He is consistently outnumbered and pressed for time more than reporters at larger news outlets. Melo’s editors sent him to cover a gas line explosion in South Minneapolis 12 years ago.
“The next day I opened the Star Tribune, and they had sent 17 people,” Melo said. “They had a history of explosions in Minneapolis, the financing behind gas pipes. They had six different stories. Seventeen people, they had interns. I’m like, ‘I just did the work of 17 (journalists).’”
Despite the increasing responsibilities, Burbach believes Melo’s connection to the community, to neighborhoods, helps him persevere.
“He’s always talking to people,” Burbach said. “He’s always paying attention. He’s always finding news and sometimes it surprises us. … If you care about your community, like Fred does, you’re going to feel responsible for telling as much about it as possible.”
Melo says he is still passionate about his job and what he does, and his Twitter feed provides evidence. From posting proposed developments at city council meetings to posting his pasta dinner decision, his Twitter shows he enjoys the thrill of doing something different and chasing down news stories.
“Hearing people’s stories is so interesting and every day is different,” Melo said. “It kind of suited my attention span.”
- Name: Fred Melo
- Occupation: Reporter to the St. Paul Pioneer Press
- Years of journalism: 18
- Favorite Food: Spanish flan/pizza/raviolis
- Favorite Book: 1984 by George Orwell
- Favorite Subject: English
- Favorite Quote: “Get ‘er done!”
This story is part of a series produced at ThreeSixty’s 2023 Winter News Team, spotlighting local journalists. Read more stories here.