The Rapidian

On the Record: Dustin Dwyer

Dustin Dwyer

Dustin Dwyer

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About On The Record

This periodic feature for The Rapidian will spotlight the media personality behind the byline, camera or mic.

Dustin's recording studio

Dustin's recording studio

A Q&A with Michigan Radio’s West Michigan reporter


Dustin Dwyer thinks only three people listen to his podcasts on Michigan Radio. He’s fascinated by Bigfoot. And, he says he’s not cool enough to fit into the local music scene. These are just a few things Michigan Radio’s West Michigan reporter recently shared on the record. 

Dustin is fairly new to Grand Rapids. He spent much of his life in a suburb of Tampa, Fla., where he met and married his high school sweetheart, Metta. He attended the University of South Florida and moved to Michigan following graduation, where Metta was in law school at the University of Michigan

He launched his journalism career at his college newspaper and had a summer fellowship at the Poynter Institute. In 2003, he accepted an internship with National Public Radio’s Talk of the Nation and left Ann Arbor for Washington D.C. His passion for reporting brought him back to Michigan in 2004. After much pleading, he was offered an internship at Michigan Radio. One year later he began producing the The Jack Lessenberry Show. In early 2006, Dustin joined the newsroom as a fulltime reporter covering the auto industry. 

Last summer, he moved to Grand Rapids to cover the West Michigan beat. He and his wife are expecting their first child this year. 


WHAT BROUGHT YOU TO GRAND RAPIDS?

Grand Rapids seemed like a good fit for me and my wife. To come here, it’s nicer because I’m covering a community and I wanted to try that out and not have an assigned beat every day. Now, instead of finding out what’s happening in the auto industry, it’s finding out what’s happening in this community. It’s a lot more fun because I’ll cover a business story one day and the next day I’ll cover the schools or I’ll cover the arts. I’ve been covering a lot of local music on the podcasts and it’s just awesome. 


WHY DO YOU THINK GENERATION Y CHOOSES TO STAY OR LEAVE THE AREA?

For me, I don’t know why anyone wouldn’t stay. It’s just a matter of jobs. People have to find jobs. 

At that age, you want to live in a big city and try that out. I had grown up always thinking I wanted to live in a big city. What made me really love Michigan was spending a year in D.C. When I first got to D.C., I loved it. I thought I was going to spend the rest of my life there. And after about six months it was just killing me.

The thing that first excited me about D.C. was that there are so many people interested in policy. I had these great conversations. I’d go out with my friends and talk about policy – which is great. But then six months later, we were having the same conversation. I got sick of that. 

I felt trapped in the city. When I came back here, you don’t get that feeling. I’m not feeling like I’m in a concrete jungle that I can’t escape.

Sometimes it takes time living in a big city to realize that you can have a better life in Grand Rapids, Ann Arbor or Lansing. 


HOW DID YOU BECOME INTERESTED IN RADIO? 

I thought I wanted to start out as a print reporter. I came up here to Michigan and I couldn’t find a job. Every day I was sending out applications for newspapers just trying to find something. I got lucky and started freelancing for the Jackson Citizen Patriot doing a few stories here and there.

Driving back and forth between Ann Arbor and Jackson is really when I started listening to NPR. I started listening to Talk of the Nation a lot and thought I’d apply for an internship at NPR. I got lucky and I got it. Within the first week of being at NPR, I just knew public radio was everything I wanted out of journalism. 


DO YOU FEEL COMPETITIVE ABOUT GETTING THE STORY FIRST?

No, I sort of had to teach myself not to want it – but sometimes I still do.  But, the reality is that it’s just not practical for me to get the big story most times. On a big moving story we just don’t have the resources for me to be monitoring stories as closely as other reporters. One of the downsides of being a general assignment reporter is that I don’t get to specialize. 

So, it becomes how do I tell someone something they haven’t heard before if they’ve already read the story in the newspaper or seen it on television? What do they get out of listening to my story that they didn’t already get from the other stories? That can be challenging. 


WHAT DO YOU LIKE BEST ABOUT WORKING IN THE MEDIA? 

I like the feeling of making a difference - that I’m doing a story that someone else hasn’t done and when people hear it, it helps them to understand the world a little better. Moments like that are kind of few and far between. It’s not really my job to change people’s minds about anything. I’m sort of meant to inform people. But it’s nice when you feel like you’re telling someone something new. You’re advancing the debate. 


WHAT IS YOUR BIGGEST CHALLENGE WORKING IN THE MEDIA?

The biggest challenge for me is specific to my job – it’s filling newscasts. We do two types of stories. One is a four- to five-minute NPR piece. The other is the 45-second spot I have to do in the newscast every hour. Some days I don’t feel like I have anything that great and I spend a lot of time trying to find something. That’s challenging. It’s not telling the big stories. It’s telling the little stories that are relevant. 


WHAT IS YOUR MOST MEMORABLE STORY?

I did a story on Bigfoot three years ago, so it’s kind of lame that I still talk about it. But, it’s the highlight of my career. It’s a perfect example of what I like about public radio. I obviously wasn't breaking any big news with this story, but I really had the chance to kind of put forward an idea, and hopefully give people a new way of looking at the world.

I’m fascinated by Bigfoot – not because of whether it’s real or not – because I like the idea of Bigfoot as a metaphor. If you’re out there hunting for Bigfoot, you believe there is a giant apeman like creature in the woods that has escaped notice - despite all of the field research, all the people who have been looking for him and the fact that we’re tearing up our natural land to build suburbs. Yet, there’s this creature out there that evades the touch of manmade society.  

To be able to believe that nature is still so mysterious and so wild that there’s a creature literally living under our noses in our county parks is such a romantic, fascinating and lovely belief to have.


WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR FAVORITE WAYS TO SPEND YOUR FREE TIME? 

We haven’t been leaving the house really much at all. So, we watch TV. On Mondays, we watch “How I Met Your Mother.” On Tuesdays, it’s “Lost” and “American Idol.” Wednesdays it’s “American Idol” again and on Thursdays we watch “Community,” “The Office” and we skip to see who gets kicked off “American Idol.” On Sunday, it’s “Big Love,” “Dexter” and “Entourage.” 

We like to eat out. Electric Cheetah is probably the restaurant we most frequent. We also go to Bloom and Green Well and Winchester, when we can. With the baby coming, we’re trying to save money and eat out a little less. 

I like to run, too. I did the Detroit Free Press Marathon and that was great. One of the greatest feelings in the world was coming back into the U.S. through the tunnel – there was a huge crowd and all these people are cheering for you. I don’t know if I’ll do anymore marathons. I’d like to, but it’s so tough to find the time. 


WHAT KIND OF MUSIC IS ON YOUR PLAYLIST?

A lot of my podcasts have been about local music and I just kind of love it. I don’t get out much, so I’m never in the music scene. But, I love listening to new music and I love finding out what’s happening locally. For me, a big part of trying to learn about this community is learning about the local music scene. I find out about bands because I see concert and show announcements online and I go to their MySpace page and listen to their stuff and end up really loving it. 

I don’t go to the shows because I have a pregnant wife at home and I’m old and I don’t stay up past 10:30 p.m. So, I end up listening online, talking about it and sharing it if I can. 

I find myself leaning toward the Indie sort of hipster stuff. I like Ribbons of Song and Jes Kramer. I’m not cool enough to go to The DAAC but I listen to all the bands that play there.  


IF YOU COULD TRADE PLACES WITH ANYONE IN THE WORLD, WHO WOULD IT BE?
 

I’m not sure I’d really want to. But, I’d probably trade places with someone who is filthy rich just to see what their lifestyle is like. I’ve never been on a private jet before. I’d like to see what that’s like. Other than that, I’m happy being myself. But, for just a few days, I’d like to see what a billionaire lives like. 


WHAT ARE THREE THINGS PEOPLE DON’T KNOW ABOUT YOU?

I don’t know; I feel like I tell everyone everything on Twitter

I had heart surgery when I was six. I have a scar. It’s fine now. The last time I went to the cardiologist they said they couldn’t even hear the murmur anymore. But, it’s something that I always forget about myself. If I get out of the shower and see myself in the mirror, I don’t even see the scar anymore. 

I’ve been running since I was a little kid. My mom took me in a race when I was two years old. She still has the ribbon. I think I was in the stroller most of the time. My family’s always had runners in it – never anyone who’s competed, but we just do it because we enjoy it. 

I use my closet as my recording studio for work. I usually sit on the floor to record. It looks silly, but it has great acoustics.

 

To hear  Dustin Dwyer's tongue-in-cheek story on Michigan Radio from 9.15.09 about the launch of The Rapidian, click here.

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"Within the first week of being at NPR, I just knew public radio was everything I wanted out of journalism."

*loves*

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