Man of the Morning
All photos by Kelly A. Pederson
Even if Jason DeRusha weren't an early bird to begin with, as an anchor on WCCO's morning and mid-morning shows, he is now. (As in 2:28 a.m. wake-up call, early.) While Minnesotans know him best for light-hearted segments like “The Good Question” or his current foodie one “DeRusha Eats,” he has convened every type of story in Minnesota, from the joyful to the tragic. If anyone knows the spirit of the Twin Cities, it's DeRusha.
What made you first interested in journalism?
I've wanted to be a journalist since I was a kid. I grew up watching the news every night with my family in suburban Chicago, but I vividly remember watching live coverage of the Tiananmen Square uprising and sitting in my living room as journalists are standing there reporting what I knew was going to be in the history books someday. It blew my mind to watch that live coming into my house in my middle class suburb of Chicago. I knew I wanted to be apart of that. I love history, I love telling stories, and that's really what we do every day. I'm one of those lifers where, from a very early age, this is what I wanted to do.
When you were first starting out, did you think that you’d be here in the Twin Cities still?
The Twin Cities have a national reputation, so when I started as a reporter in the quad cities of Davenport, Iowa, and Moline, Illinois, and moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, we of course knew the Twin Cities had a reputation of having really high quality TV newsrooms, so I was always interested in coming here, but I never would have guessed that here I would be, almost 15 years later in the Twin Cities.
I think a lot of people in my business end up coming here and think, “Oh, I'll be here for three years or five years …” That's kind of how television news works, spend a couple years in one city and then move onto a big city, but when people come here they tend to fall in love with it. It's a great place to live and a great place to work.
What was your first impression of the Twin Cities?
When I first moved here, my wife and I got married in the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis. So it was 1998, and here I am, this 23-year-old kid standing at the front of one of the nation's most beautiful churches and the longest aisle you could imagine, my wife-to-be to have to walk up. And that's the memory.
You know, we took our wedding party pictures in the sculpture garden across the street, which is one of my favorite places to bring people in the Twin Cities. The sculpture garden is so cool. Right? I mean, you have the skyline right there, you can walk to the Walker of course, which is right there, but to have all of these crazy, beautiful, thought-provoking sculptures smack in the middle of downtown Minneapolis is pretty cool.
This year, we went to visit the sculpture garden in Washington, D.C., and I thought, “Oh, it's going to be pretty good,” right? “It's in Washington, D.C.” It's nothing. It's tiny compared to our sculpture garden, which really is fantastic.
After all of the stories that you have done for the Twin Cities, is there one that you still come back to time after time?
Unfortunately the story that is seared in my mind the most is the worst thing I ever had to cover here, which is the 35W bridge collapse. I was one of the first reporters on the scene that night. We saw the worst thing that's ever happened in the history of the state on that night. But we also saw the best, that people regardless of their politics or their race or their background, they jumped in to help, and you saw an incredible response that night that I'll never forget.
You’ve seen so much of the community here. How would you describe it?
Minnesotans genuinely are friendly and helpful people, so I think of our community as active, friendly, helpful and extremely proud of where we live. if you ask a Minnesotan to tell you about their favorite place to go in their city, you better be in a comfortable chair to hear all of the things they're going to tell you. People love this place. I know everyone thinks that people love where they live. But I've lived in different cities—it's not always the case. People here are really proud of this state. They're proud of the natural beauty; they're excited about the fact that we're starting to get more national attention for our museums and our restaurants and our beers and our spirits. People are really proud.. That pride is infectious. As a newcomer, you start … It's hard not to fall in love with it.
What do you like about the Twin Cities as far as a place to live?
You've got everything you could want here. You've got great culture; you've got all the sports teams, the professional and the college. I would say that the food scene we have today, I would put up with just about any city in the country. Plus you have all of the urban amenities, and you’re a 20-minute drive from a gorgeous lake—no matter where you live here, you're 20 minutes from a gorgeous lake. You can enjoy the beautiful nature that you have here in Minnesota as well as the nightlife, the culture, the sports that come with the big city. It's a very unusual combination. I have kids now, so the schools are amazing here; the neighborhoods are fantastic. I live in a block that has about 15 kids who line up at the bus stop. I mean how great is that when you have kids, where you have that kind of environment for them to grow up in?
You mention the food scene: How did you get started out as a food critic?
Basically I'm an example of somebody who started a Twitter account about food: You know how people say, “Oh, Twitter is just people tweeting pictures of what they had for lunch?” I was tweeting those pictures, and people seemed interested in it, and so I did more of it and more of it. Then I judged that cooking competition (for Minnesota Monthly in 2008). …
In 2008, 2009, I started doing restaurant reviews of suburban spots. Over the years I've tried to apply the perspective of an eater and a journalist to my food writing. I'm not a cook, although my wife and I like to cook at home. I've never worked at a restaurant unless you count the concessions stand at a swimming pool that I was the manager of when I was in high school. I just try to learn and ask questions and to ask more questions and try to come at it from that perspective.
I'm always thinking of the person who's eating out. I'm not writing for the chefs; I'm not writing for the culinary community. I'm writing for the average person who might be spending $80 on a babysitter, $10 to park the car and $100 on a special dinner. That's who I care about.
And on your rare days off, what do you do?
I love riding my bike. This is something I've really started doing these past couple of years. We have an incredible network of trails, even in the suburbs in the Twin Cities. I can ride my bike from my suburb all the way down to downtown Minneapolis on a bike trail, which is pretty crazy if you think about it. But I like to ride my bike through the Elm Creek Park Reserve and around to the Coon Rapids dam. We'll do that as a family as well, so that's fun for us.
You know, a calm day off for the DeRusha family would be an absolutely insane, jam-packed day for most people. My wife works at home—she's a financial analyst for a bank—so the weekends come around and she's ready to get out. We're not a big, hang-out-on-the-backyard, kind of family. We like to get out and explore and be doing things in the community.