Bear Witness Media
Baxley Creates Media Production Company in Cook CountyIn a career move that has brought Matthew Baxley full circle, he started a full-service audio and video production company in Cook County last year called Bear Witness Media.
Entering college at the University of Wisconsin Stout, the young Baxley from LaCrosse, WI, hoped to achieve his degree in multi-media productions. Before two years had passed however he switched his major. After graduation, he worked as a community organizer and taught outdoor education in St. Paul. He then spent time teaching outdoor education in San Francisco.
The next stop for him is the graduate program at Stout in the Marriage and Family program. While there, he met Lindsay Gau, the current director of the Violence Prevention Center in Grand Marais.
After completing the graduate program, the two of them entered into private practice as counselors in the Twin Cities. A few years into that, professional burnout set in and the two of them were longing for a simpler life, closer to nature and wilderness. Gau was familiar with the BWCA, but Baxley knew only the North Shore.
So seven years ago they took a job at Bearskin Lodge on the Gunflint Trail and learned what resort life (and work) is all about. “We did everything,” Baxley said. “Maintenance, cleaning, front desk, you name it.” He added, “We thought we would be here a year maybe, and we’d go back,”
Their downtime at Bearskin allowed them to spend time exploring the wilderness. With his outdoor education experience before grad school and his love of the wilderness, he and Gau started Spirit Guiding Adventures to help bring folks into a deeper appreciation of their BWCA experience.
When Gau took a position at the Violence Prevention Center, they decided to bring Spirit Guiding to a conclusion. Baxley took on what he affectionately calls the “Cook County Hustle,” known to all of us here as taking whatever job that is available, even if just for a short time. From working in a bar and restaurant to construction and maintenance, you take what you can get when you can get it.
While doing the “hustle,” Baxley teamed up with neighbor Joe Friedrichs, the News Director at WTIP radio, to begin the Boundary Waters Podcast. Baxley was getting back to his production dreams from his high school days. The 63rd issue of the podcast is now on WTIP.org.
Building on his small business experiences and evident work ethic, Baxley saw a need for a video and audio production company serving the Arrowhead Region.
“This business started with a passion for being out in the wilderness,” Baxley said. But telling the stories of his clients through video and audio production, as he has done with the Boundary Waters Podcast, is his real reason for being in business.
“In this business, I have the unique power of using film to tell a story that combines the oral narrative with the visuals to back it up. Those elements make it a uniquely powerful way to tell a story,” he said. ‘And I bring a unique set of skills with my education and therapy background to be that storyteller.”
Baxley’s website, www.bearwitnessmedia.com, contains a list of some of his clients including WTIP Community Radio, Save the Boundary Waters Campaign, and Cook County Public Health.
A key component of his interaction with clients is finding out what story they want to tell. He interviews each one, gets to the heart of the story, ascertains their budget, and estimates how to tell that story within the client’s budget.
Baxley credits Pat Campanaro, a consultant with the Cook County Small Business Development Center, for helping with business planning and getting Bear Witness Media off the ground. “I’m in it because I love hearing (and telling) the stories,” Baxley said.
He’s looking ahead in a business planning process. A long-term goal is to have a full studio here in Cook County and create jobs for local residents. He considers his commitment to building his business as just like preparing for a trip to the BWCA. “It’s time to pick a direction and go,” he said.
Published in Northshore Journal April 8, 2022