TruckBeat and Jess Mador Arrive in Knoxville – Here’s What’s Happening

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If you are a WUOT listener, you will soon be exposed to an interesting new feature. I recently met Jess Mador who has moved to Knoxville from Minnesota for the project (and just in time for our milder winter) and walked around downtown to tell her a little about who we are and get to know her and what she’s up to. It’s an interesting project called “TruckBeat.”

Still getting underway, TruckBeat will have a fancier website soon where they will archive the stories now under production. You’ll also find them on twitter (#FindingAmerica) and Facebook.  The project is a collaboration between Jess, Matt Shafer Powell and WUOT and is part of the larger group of projects sponsored by AIR Media (Association of Independents in Radio) as a part of their “Localore: Finding America” initiative. They’ve given grants to journalists to cover fifteen different areas of the country and Jess moved here to be a part of a project covering east Tennessee.

Her bio is impressive: “award­-winning public radio reporter, writer, producer and storyteller with more than a decade of experience at stations around the country, including at Minnesota Public Radio. She’s also worked in documentary film and television news. She holds a Master’s degree from the Columbia University Graduate School Journalism.”

She moved here in November after eight years in Minnesota. Most recently she’s made her living as a freelancer, “reporting and producing audio stories for stations around Minnesota and the country, and writing for the web and magazines.” She worked as a “Metro​ Desk​ reporter at Minnesota Public Radio in the Twin Cities​, where I also covered the housing and veterans beats.” She’d moved there from New York City and she’s worked in “documentary film, commercial​ and television​ production​,” winning awards along the way. While here, she will work with Matt, who many of us know as a voice on WUOT, but you may not know that he is an Edward R. Murrow Award winner for his reporting.

Jess Official Photo
Jess Mador, TruckBeat (Photo Courtesy of Jess Mador)
She’s set to be here through July of this year, but hopes to work out a way to extend the stay. She confided that she’s sort of fallen in love with the city – which is no surprise to us, of course. Her goal during the project is to find stories that are under-reported at a national level. She’ll start by looking at regional health issues, but will likely expand from there. The focus is on issues that shape life in our region. Production will include audio, video and photo stories with the hope some of the audio content is picked up by networks such as NPR.

The initial focus on health reporting grew from surveys of the WUOT audience indicating that “health problems and health care issues are among the biggest challenges many people face. So, TruckBeat is launching with a look into why health is a major concern for many people in the region. We arparticularly interested in what is going on with drug addiction and recovery in East Tennessee.”

And yes, there is an actual truck involved in TruckBeat. You should see a former food-truck converted to, “a mobile multimedia recording studio, which we are calling The Question Truck.” Last I heard they had a lead on a suitable truck, but I don’t know if they’ve sealed the deal, so if you have a spare food truck sitting about, you might want to let me know. Jess says, ” The truck-studio will allow us to incorporate live storytelling events into our traditional reporting efforts.”

The first installment of the weekly show will air February 1 on WUOT. The program will include feature stories and “in-depth interviews with policymakers, subject matter experts and everyday people about the news and issues we encounter in the course of our reporting.” They’d also like to hear from you. If you have story tips or want to bend their ear a bit about life in Knoxville and east Tennessee, contact them at and tell them what they need to know.

I think you’ll find Jess a natural listener and a willing story-teller for our region. She’s absorbing quickly what makes our area so special. She understands the need to present a balanced picture of a place and not simply the most dramatic angle which may not represent all of who we are. I hope you’ll also see some collaboration on this page as she and I engage in a dialogue about the city. I’m excited to see where the ride on the TruckBeat might take us.