Alumni Profiles

 

Jane Lindholm ’97


There’s a reporter from the Montreal Gazette on the line, and Jane Lindholm ’97 is interviewing her about the asbestos problem across the border. The Montreal reporter answers questions about the controversy — the fact that Canada is exporting the much reviled mineral to Third World countries — and while Lindholm is listening to the answers, she’s also adjusting the audio settings of the recorded interview, wondering how many more times the woman will say “um” and noticing that she talks pretty fast.

It’s around 10:30 in the morning, just 90 minutes until Lindholm will air the asbestos report on Vermont Public Radio — those ums will have to be winnowed out and the reporter’s speedy speech slowed down a bit. There’s a last-minute edit to the intro to the asbestos segment, and another discussion between Jane and her fellow journalists about the sources for a story on the state’s recovery from Tropical Storm Irene. But no matter what else is happening, they’ve always got their eyes on the digital clocks that adorn every room, watching as the large, bright red digits tick down the seconds until show time, when an illuminated sign comes on: ON AIR.

It’s the daily routine at VPR, where Lindholm is host of the noon news show Vermont Edition.

“It’s a bit of a mad dash to get the show ready,” says Lindholm, as she finishes up her conversation with a producer about which parts of the asbestos interview could be cut to keep it to about 10 minutes. “She was an um-er, although they were fast ums,” she jokes.

The script editing, audio-clip editing, and discussions about the two sources who will be live interviews during the show all continue at this harried pace until just before the noon air time, when the team moves downstairs to the booth and Jane takes her seat in front of the microphone.

It’s a mad dash that Lindholm loves — and one she’s good at.

“Basically, she has from 9 a.m. to noon every day to become an expert in a new topic,” said one her producers, Ric Cengeri. “It’s pretty amazing.” 

Lindholm has garnered praise lately for Vermont Edition’s dogged coverage of Hurricane Irene — Tropical Storm Irene is what it’s known as in the Green Mountain State — and its lingering effects.

Although the August 2011 storm was much ado about nothing in the rest of New England, it walloped Vermont, heavily damaging 1,400 homes and decimating roadways and communications systems, leaving more than a dozen towns isolated. Now, months later, half of those displaced residents still aren’t able to return to their homes.

One recent Vermont Edition was part of the station’s “Displaced by Irene,” a weeklong series that focused on rebuilding.

As Lindholm says in a recent “Displaced by Irene” segment: “Tropical Storm Irene is the lens through which Vermont sees itself these days,” with a new marketing slogan of VERMONT STRONG on  magnets, T-shirts and license plates; a state legislature dominated by Irene concerns; and fund-raisers for those affected continuing even this many months after it hit.

The storm took the region by surprise. “Everyone was expecting a lot of rain,” Lindholm says, but not a storm that would rival the state’s biggest natural disaster, the so-called Superflood of 1927.

Irene washed out 220 roads and 100 bridges, making it impossible to get in or out of some areas. “Schools had classes in tents, and one principal’s office was in a pop-up camper,” says Lindholm. “A lot of the time you had to take a path through a forest to get to your home because the road and the driveway to it were gone. There were farmers whose cows were swept downstream. They had property, and then when the water cleared, they had no property.”

For a journalist, a major natural disaster is always a hectic but exciting event to cover. Lindholm and her colleagues went into action at VPR not only to report the news, but also to act as the hub of storm information. “There was no Internet, no cell service, and no landlines. VPR became one of the few ways to stay connected; we became a communication forum in a unique way,” Lindholm said. “We felt a real need to be a community resource, where what we were doing actually mattered in that moment. It was an incredible experience to be a part of.”

Since then, it’s been a station-wide mission not to forget that feeling, and Lindholm has filed Irene reports that have gone national, trying to get the word out to the rest of the nation about the storm and its effects on the Green Mountain State.

Always an Avid Fan
After graduating from Brooks in 1997, Lindholm went on to earn a degree in anthropology from Harvard. While there, she traveled and wrote for several of the Let’s Go travel guides, published by Harvard students since 1960.

Growing up, Jane recalls herself as an avid NPR listener, even as a youngster. “I grew up listening to NPR from the backseat as my mother or father was driving, and my friends in college would make fun of me for listening to so much of it,” she says. “I felt like NPR had always been a part of my life. Why wouldn’t I want to make my avocation my vocation?”

After listening to a lot of Car Talk, she decided to write to NPR and explain why public radio was so important to her, and to inquire about the possibility of being hired.

She didn’t hear back, so she continued on her road as a travel researcher and writer for Let’s Go.

Just days after her 2001 graduation from Harvard, however, tragedy and fate would change her course and bring her back to the idea of public radio. Lindholm was preparing to go to Peru for work on another Let’s Go book, but her friend Haley asked to switch their trips — Haley wanted to head to Peru, which meant Jane was on her way to Salamanca, Spain.

They each flew out two days after graduation. Shortly after her arrival in Peru, Haley was killed in a bus accident.

Devastated, Jane returned to the States. “I had no plans; it really set me adrift,” she said.

She was back at home with her dad in Vermont, and that’s when her stepmother told her that an NPR producer had called. They wanted her to come down to Washington, D.C., to start working there.

Then tragedy struck again, this time on an even bigger scale: “Five days into my new job was September 11, 2001,” she said. She actually saw a plane hit the Pentagon as she rode by on the subway.

Like every other news outlet that day, NPR sprang into action. As a broadcast newbie, Lindholm was put on desk duty, calling families to ask if they would be willing to be interviewed on the air.  Talking to people devastated by the events struck a chord. It brought her back to when Haley died and newspapers and TV stations were calling her for their coverage of the bus accident.

“I realized I had this perspective. I knew what it was like to lose someone you care about very personally . . . to lose someone in a very public way,” Lindholm says.

After a year and a half in D.C., she traveled to Australia to write one more book for Let’s Go and then went to Southeast Asia for a while. Once she came back to the United States, she got a job working for NPR’s Marketplace program in Los Angeles. When the job in Vermont opened up, Lindholm knew it was the chance of a lifetime

Years at Brooks

Her mother, Jody Douglass, served as Brooks’ assistant headmaster from 1991 to 2000, so Jane and her brother, David ’01, grew up on campus. “We moved to Brooks when I was in seventh grade, and it was the best childhood; it was unique,” she said. “I was younger than the Brooks kids because I was in middle school, but I got to help out the soccer team, and I joined the gospel choir when I was 12 or 13. We had all these resources at our fingertips.”

Once she was admitted as a student, she says, it the best of both worlds — all the resources, but her own place to go home to.

It wasn’t all soccer games and home-cooked meals that made her love Brooks, she says. It was also the academic rigor of her classes. “Brooks was the most challenging and inspirational time of my whole academic career,” she says. “The teachers really cared about you, and cared if you did well. That gave me a sense of responsibility; the teachers were invested in you and your education.”

She recalls the influences of John Quirk as an advisor, John Packard as a ninth-grade history teacher and Don Cameron as an inspiring cross-country coach for three years. “I learned how to focus from Mr. Cameron, and the benefits of that have extended into my life after Brooks,” she says.

That life now includes the hectic but fun pace of working at NPR, as well as settling into married life in Bristol, Vermont. As far as the daily grind of NPR goes, Jane revels in it. “I love it. It’s like cramming for a test,” she says. “But if you’re a true omnivore of information, like I am, it’s a great challenge. You get to learn so much; you have an ability to go wherever your curiosity leads, because your whole job is to be a proxy for the listeners, to ask the questions they would ask.”

Brooks School

1160 Great Pond Road
North Andover, MA 01845
Phone: (978) 725-6300
Fax: (978) 725-6218