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Morning Edition Host and Reporter Eleanor Bennett reflects on her four years at Aspen Public Radio

Eleanor Bennett sat down with All Things Considered Host & Reporter Halle Zander on May 15, 2024 to discuss her favorite stories, her early morning hours, and the fate of local journalism after four years as Aspen Public Radio's morning edition host and reporter.
Kelsey Brunner
Aspen Public Radio
Eleanor Bennett sat down with All Things Considered Host & Reporter Halle Zander on May 15, 2024 to discuss her favorite stories, her early morning hours, and the fate of local journalism after four years as Aspen Public Radio's morning edition host and reporter.

Eleanor Bennett has been the morning edition host and a reporter at Aspen Public Radio for over four years. From 7-9 a.m. every weekday morning, she delivered local, state, and regional news alongside NPR’s national reporting.

During her tenure, Bennett also received several awards from the Radio Television Digital News Association, Society for Professional Journalists, and the Colorado Broadcaster’s Association, where she won “Best Feature” for three consecutive years, among others.

On her last day, Bennett spoke with All Things Considered Host & Reporter Halle Zander, reflecting on what it’s like to host the morning show: the brutal hours, the local color, and how she feels about the state of local journalism in the Roaring Fork Valley.

Zander: So Eleanor, tell us about your first days on the air. What was it like sitting down in the host chair for the first time?

Bennett: Terrifying … I was already working as a freelance reporter and podcast producer for the station, so I had some radio experience, but I had never been live on the air before, and I was incredibly nervous.

I also didn’t have any vocal training, and I lost my voice after the first week and had to work with a voice coach to learn how to take better care of my vocal chords.

The biggest challenge, though, has been learning how to just sound like me.

I thought that to be a radio host I needed to have a certain type of voice or presence on the air, but each host has their own personality and voice and when you’re able to just sound like you, listeners can actually connect.

Zander: I think a big part of that was how you’ve really made the Outdoor Report your own.

Bennett: Yeah, it definitely was. As many of our listeners know, we do a live report about what’s happening in the outdoors world, every day.

And I realized that by bringing in some personal anecdotes, about the bears eating the apples in my parents backyard, or my dad’s ongoing battle with the beavers and woodpeckers, would help me find my own authentic voice and it turns out a lot of local listeners loved it too.

Zander: How did you adjust to the brutal schedule? And are you just always tired?

Bennett: Yes! One of our colleagues asked me the other day what I’m most excited about and what I’m going to do first after my last day. I immediately blurted out “sleep.” I’m so excited to sleep in tomorrow. I cannot even tell you.

It’s pretty wild waking up at 4:30 every morning when the moon and the stars are still out. There’s definitely something magical about being one of the only people awake and never having to deal with traffic on 82, but I will not miss driving through Snowmass Canyon in a blizzard when the plows haven’t even come through yet.

I also won’t miss having to shovel snow off the satellite dish at 5 a.m. in the winter.

Zander: Do you still do that?

Bennett: Actually, the truth is we got a new satellite dish a while back, but those two winters are still fresh in my mind. Instant coffee and frozen burritos got me through all those early mornings.

Zander: Climate and social justice reporting has been a big component of your stories over the years. What are some of the ones you're most proud of?

Bennett: Well, when I first started it was 2020 and the pandemic had just hit. I’m really proud of some of the early reporting I did on health inequities and the disproportionate impact COVID was having on our Latine community. A lot of that reporting focused on the high number of deaths and the fact that vaccines weren’t getting to the people who needed them most.

I’m also proud of some of the early climate reporting I got to do. The Grizzly Creek fire in Glenwood Canyon started just a few days after I was hired. I think our news team did a good job of covering both the breaking news, as well as the bigger picture of that wildfire in the context of climate change.

There were also some fun climate stories, like the very first story I ever reported for Aspen Public Radio about the goat whisperers who use their goats for wildfire mitigation and climate education.

Zander: And how about some of your most recent reporting?

Bennett: Yeah, I’m proud of the recent reporting I did on programs for students with disabilities in our valley. Last fall, I got to do a story about a new program that helps students and young adults learn life skills and matches them with job opportunities.

And earlier this spring, I got to attend and do a story on the Best Buddies prom for students with disabilities at TACAW that got picked up by NPR.

I’m also really proud of the ongoing reporting we’ve been doing since November about new immigrants, mostly from Venezuela, arriving in our community. We were there the first night when Voces Unidas and Rep. Velasco met with people staying under the bridge in Carbondale, and we have continued to stay in touch with folks to learn more about their success and challenges and why they decided to leave their homes and seek a new life here.

I think we took a more human-centered approach to a national story on immigration that has become pretty divisive and political.

Zander: What’s been your favorite part of the gig?

Bennett: I think my favorite part of the job is getting to know our community better and using my reporting to make it a more equitable and sustainable place to live.

I grew up here in the valley and there was so much I didn’t know about the history of our community, as well as the inequities that exist here and the efforts happening to fix those issues.

I did a feature a few years ago on an education initiative to teach kids about the history of Ute people in our valley. So it was really cool to do that story and connect it to my own childhood and understanding of our valley’s history.

And the feature we just heard about the water quality issues at mobile home parks here in the valley and across Colorado. That’s an issue I never heard about growing up here, but it’s a huge problem and I’m grateful I got to do a story about it.

Zander: Now, four years might not seem like a long time to many people, but you’re one of the longest-running employees here. How has Aspen Public Radio changed since your time here?

Bennett: There have been so many changes over the years, both good and bad, but I think one of the things I’m most proud of is what a strong news team we’ve become. We use the phrase, “small, but mighty” a lot, and it really does describe our team.

There’s just four of us reporters covering three counties and dozens of towns from Aspen to Parachute and two of us, you and me, are also Morning and Afternoon hosts, but we still manage to cover a whole lot of important stories.

We’re in a time where local news organizations are closing down across the country and I really believe it’s up to our community to step up and support local journalism.

It’s easy to take for granted that, in Aspen alone, we have two daily papers and a public radio station, but that’s not something most communities have, and we won’t either if we don’t take action.

Zander: You’ve been working like mad the past few weeks to get a lot of stories over the finish line that have been on your list for a while. Anything you didn’t get to that you’re hoping other reporters in the region will take up and follow?

Bennett: Yes, there’s a lot. Like all the reporters on our news team, I have a running list of stories that I want to tell with our community and I’ll probably never get to all of them.

I think one of the biggest ones is continuing to follow local efforts to solve the climate crisis.

And I hope to see more stories that include the voices of people most impacted by pollution and climate change in our valley, like our Latine residents and folks who are most at risk when it comes to wildfires and other climate-driven disasters.

Another big story that I hope local reporters continue to follow is what’s happening with new immigrants who arrive in our community. The emergency shelters that were set up in Carbondale closed on April 1st.

And as we head back into winter, and the November election draws closer, there will be a lot of focus on how we fix our broken immigration system both nationally, but also here in our own community.

Halle Zander: You’re leaving us this summer to pursue an intensive Spanish language program. Tell us why you find that important to your career path?

Eleanor Bennett: I’ve always wanted to learn Spanish, both personally and professionally.

We have a growing population of Spanish speakers in our valley and across the country and I want to be able to get to know the people I interview in the language that’s most familiar and comfortable to them. We have some amazing interpreters that we work with at the radio station, which has been incredibly helpful, but it’s such an important skill to have, especially in journalism right now.

Zander: Eleanor, it’s been an absolute pleasure working with you. I wish you all the best as you forge ahead!

Bennett: Thanks so much, Halle! Wishing you and the news team all the best, too, I’ll miss getting to work with you every day.

Halle Zander is a broadcast journalist and the afternoon anchor on Aspen Public Radio during "All Things Considered." Her work has been recognized by the Public Media Journalists Association, the Colorado Broadcasters Association, and the Society of Professional Journalists.
Eleanor is an award-winning journalist and "Morning Edition" anchor. She has reported on a wide range of topics in her community, including the impacts of federal immigration policies on local DACA recipients, creative efforts to solve the valley's affordable housing crisis, and hungry goats fighting climate change across the West through targeted grazing. Connecting with people from all walks of life and creating empathic spaces for them to tell their stories fuels her work.