Nora Hertel, Founder + Executive Director + Journalist

Nora Hertel is an award-winning investigative reporter, recovering from 10 years on the politics beat. Nora created Project Optimist (then The Optimist) in 2021 and launched its newsletter and website in 2022. She is a super fan of solutions journalism and trained to teach it through the Solutions Journalism Network.

Nora has worked as a reporter for The Associated Press, USA TODAY, the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism and many others. She covered politics and local news for the Wausua Daily Herald in Wisconsin, then for the St. Cloud Times in Minnesota. Nora has a master's in journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. (FWIW, she always roots for the Gopher women's volleyball team first and the Badgers second!) She earned her bachelor's from Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin.

At the start of 2022 Nora became a proud Initiator Fellow. It's a two-year social entrepreneurship and leadership program launched by the Initiative Foundation in central Minnesota. She's also a fellow with the Reynolds Journalism Institute at the University of Missouri.

Nora graduated from the Google News Initiative Startups Boot Camp and Minnesota-based ILT Academy in 2021. That same year, Nora reported a series on natural climate solutions as a journalism fellow with the MIT Environmental Solutions Initiative. The project won a Best of Gannett award in 2022.

Here's a detailed list of Nora's affiliations for transparency's sake.

    • IRE (Investigative Reporters and Editors) - Dues-paying member to this nonprofit dedicated to improving the quality of investigative reporting.
    • LION Publishers (Local Independent Online News) - Member to this trade organization which provides business support to independent publishers.
    • Tiny News Collective - Member of this accelerator program which has provided financial and technical support to Project Optimist. It also serves as our primary fiscal sponsor.
    • Greater St. Cloud Development Corporation - Member (with scholarship support) of this private collaboration of businesses and civic leaders around St. Cloud working toward inclusive and equitable economic development in the region. GSDC also serves as fiscal sponsor to Project Optimist for one of our grants.
    • Intiative Foundation - Fellow through the Initiators Fellowship program which includes financial and professional support. Project Optimist has also received grant funds and been contracted to provide services to the Initiative Foundation, which works to strengthen the economies and communities in central Minnesota.
    • Reynolds Journalism Institute - Fellow at the University of Missouri-based institute which provides financial and technical support to Project Optimist.
    • Rotary Club of St. Cloud - Dues-paying member of this organization focused on community service as well as personal and professional networking.
    • Citizen's Climate Lobby, St. Cloud chapter - Member of this nonpartisan group focused on national policies to address climate change. As a practicing journalist, Nora abstains from political activities such as lobbying public officials.
    • Shambhala Center of Minneapolis - Dues-paying member of this meditation center that features training in contempletive arts and Buddhism.
    • Girl Scouts Lakes and Pines - Dues-paying member and volunteer at council events. Former troop leader and former assistant troop leader.