Pearl spotted owlet,” Liam Ragan

August 4, 2020; Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN)

Many people might think that the current environment is a lousy one in which to set up a new nonprofit. Linear thinkers would imagine that money would be too tight, that competition in such an environment would pose too big a barrier, and that setting up a new business where an old one has just failed is just…well, ill advised. But, those people would be ignoring some more dynamic and interesting realities.

In fact, it only took a few months for a group of entrepreneurs to come together after the Eden Prairie News, a fifty-year-old local weekly, had closed two months into the pandemic. It was not alone, but among a wave of local Minnesota papers that experienced the pandemic as the last straw.

Before you get to feeling sorry for them, however, it may be good to understand that the ownership group of the old Prairie News was MNG Enterprises, which is in turn controlled by Alden Global Capital, a hedge fund. This is part of a trend of papers being bought and then dumped if they do not meet immediate profit goals.

The new group that convened in Eden Prairie to reinvent local news coverage includes all types: city leaders, concerned residents, and venture capitalists, along with the Eden Prairie Community Foundation, where a preliminary fund of $50,000 is housed.

“We’re trying to fill a gap that’s been lost here,” says Mark Weber, a local resident, former journalist, and now head of the community foundation. “Local news and democracy are at risk here.” He points out that civic engagement indicators thrive in a well-covered environment.

Brad Canham, a former journalist now in marketing, is also among the organizers.

“When the Eden Prairie paper disappeared, it was a shock to the community,” Canham observes. “There is still that interest in an objective, impartial, third-party thing called a news gathering organization to describe what the city council is doing, the school board—some of those traditional areas of news people are looking for.”

The endeavor will start small, running on volunteers and publishing monthly, but it will set its sights on the highest possible quality journalistic practice.—Ruth McCambridge