Monday, December 12, 2016

Community News Roundup: May 2011

Development, Narrative, Dreams, and the Hyperlocal Question

This monthly column surveys over 30 community and ethnic newspapers published and distributed in the Twin Cities. Generally, included stories are directly related to community affairs in Minneapolis and St. Paul and of potential interest to residents of the whole metro area, rather than just a single neighborhood. We include items that reflect ongoing news and opinions, rather than profiles of local businesses or past community events.

Community News
Photo by Navin Rajagopalan.

Hyperlocal news is becoming big business; the daily happenings of suburbs and local streets are being herded in by AOL and other national companies, speckled with socially oriented coupons*, and tarted up as the next big trend in national media coverage. The idea of hyperlocal news—or, what makes it potentially lucrative—is slightly different than the search engine friendliness and entertainment-positive content that has been chucked at us digital conquistadors for the past decade: hyperlocal news is news without cool, news that only screams to be recognized because it’s right in front of our faces, literally in our streets.

Like many internet phenomena, “hyperlocal” is often presented as a new concept, but it really is dusting the cobwebs off the neighborhood newspaper—the one that comes to your door biweekly, that has been publishing in your community for decades, the one that is not necessarily concurrently published online. Sure, a community newspaper may include the police blotter and photos from the local Easter egg hunt, but community newspapers also highlight stories that are too small for the major papers but are still crucial to the environments of the Twin Cities.

Unlike hyperlocal blogs, community newspapers operate on an infrequent publication schedule, so individual news items like town meetings or development hearings are incorporated into a larger context of other town meetings and protests against development. This editorial style makes for good storytelling because it is difficult to make a single public meeting seem interesting (doesn’t the standalone phrase “public meeting” just put you to sleep?), but several public meetings and a few protests make for a juicy, ongoing story that you can relate to and see happening in your neighborhood. Hyperlocal sites serve a purpose—like answering the question “why were there so many sirens down the block last night?”—but community newspapers boost that by putting those sirens in context.

And that context, in turn, informs readers that the stories with social implications in a community newspaper are not borne solely of sudden emotions or a vague premonition based on previous models of what constitutes “important news of the moment.” Community newspapers provide seriously deliberated narratives that have lasting future impact and preserve the voice and perspective of the communities they serve.

So when both the Southwest Journal and the Colu.mn summarize the Minneapolis Park Board’s decision to deny Free Speech Zones from the Twin Cities GLBT Pride parade, it becomes not just a Park Board decision and standalone news story to draw web traffic, but an issue that builds on past—and potentially future—struggles within the Minneapolis and GLBT communities that those publications serve.

At the city’s annual Pride parade, Free Speech Zones would corral opposition to the parade in a designated area, which the Park Board opposes because “There have never been free speech zones requested for any permitted event on Park Board property. At the 2010 Pride Festival the lack of free speech zones did not appreciably affect Pride’s ability to convey its message.” In a memo, the Park Board asserted “Yes, we would like to restrict them,” but because of First Amendment concerns, the Park Board argues that it does not have a local precedent for where to begin.

The Free Speech Zones, however, were suggested as a compromise by Federal Judge John Tunheim in a previous Pride injunction against the Park Board for attempting to allow anti-gay protesters into Loring Park during the Pride Parade. In a statement promising further action, Twin Cities Pride Executive Director Dot Beltsler argued, “Your refusal to compromise is costing the Minneapolis taxpayers an unconscionable amount of money in lawyer fees and court costs,” the Southwest Journal reports. The Colu.mn also records Beltsler’s statement of the importance of Pride’s mission of presence: “Our predecessors fought against those who sought to shame the GLBT community into staying invisible – to deprive them of equality. Over the years, our GLBT Pride Celebration has sent our powerful message of GLBT pride, as opposed to shame.” With the Minnesota state legislature ensuring that the question of GLBT rights will remain a heated discussion—and a question of constitutional rights—over the next 17 months, the Park Board decision distinguishes the Pride Parade as a site of debate, rather than an assertion of presence.

In other news of the preservation of community voices, the St. Paul City Council passed a resolution to prohibit the destruction of any recreation centers in St. Paul, reports the Monitor, although the action may be “largely symbolic as the decision to actually close and demolish recreation centers is up to the mayor’s administration.” At the April 20 city council meeting, Ward 6 council member Dan Bostrom argued, “Once you lose a recreation center, you never get it back.” South of St. Paul in Mendota Heights, two Villager stories on the Mendota Mdewakanton Dakota outline the loss of their community building (which is being demolished to provide parking space for Axel’s River Grille), but if the building is destroyed, they can at least build a new one: an anonymous donor is outlining the purchase of the a house and 1.5 acres of land on Pilot Knob. A brief outline of the story can also be found on the Mendota Heights Patch site.

Maintaining cultural artifacts and memorializing public events can have the same meaning as holding onto property: the Asian American Press reports that St. Paul’s Vietnamese community is working to preserve historic Vietnamese culture in the Twin Cities, including a form of Vietnamese language and the historic magazine Nam Phong Tap Chi, which published from 1917 to 1934. In Como Park, a memorial for World War I poet Alfred Joyce Kilmer has been restored and rededicated, reports the Park Bugle; in South Minneapolis, Mark Kaplan is pulling for a memorial of a 1950 plane crash along Minnehaha Creek that killed 15 people, according to the Southwest Journal.
In consideration of the cultural artifacts that are being created today, this month’s hot summer topic throughout local newspapers was the rise of graffiti. On April 25, a two-mile stretch of University between Snelling and Raymond (at the site of the new South St. Anthony Park Creative Enterprise Zone), graffiti taggers struck the Central Corridor. Although the tags are not believed to be gang-related, the Villager reports “it was egregious, including profanity and sexually explicit language.” According to the St. Paul Police Department, generally gang-related graffiti is down, while tagging—and its corollary of hundreds of thousands of dollars in property damage—has recently been on the rise. The April 25 University Avenue incident was also reported in the Monitor. The Lyndale Neighborhood News reports on that community’s Graffiti Busters program, with preemptive efforts to combat tagging, with plans to install Utility Box Wraps that will both present new art to the community and deter local graffiti.

In the same vein as Lyndale’s efforts to employ local artists to strengthen the neighborhood, the Northeaster outlines Northeast Minneapolis’s Arts Action Plan, detailing the neighbood’s agenda and progress over the course of the past nine years. Aside from designating Northeast’s official Arts District, obtaining signage, and marketing materials and efforts, steps to aid artists in obtaining affordable neighborhood housing, reevaluating partnerships with local organizations, and redefining zoning regulations throughout the neighborhood to increase arts activity. The third quoted point of the Arts Action Plan—“The City should use the Arts Action Plan as the template for a Cultural Plan for the entire City of Mineapolis.”—may be ambitious, but with a new set of volunteers, perhaps Northeast’s dream of conquering the Twin Cities by marketing arts will come true.

According to Southside Pride, South Minneapolis has a totally different dream: to end that community’s violence through a block-by-block approach to community involvement.

But, as we all know, the children are our future, even when many of our schools are in turmoil. Three Sixty, a newspaper compiled from the Twin Cities’ best high school journalists has a series of articles on students who go to school online, including one about an online high school for GLBT youth. (Here’s hoping there are none of the cyber bullies described by the Southwest Journal there!) And in designing successful, future-positive schools, North High’s redesign advisory committee held a “hopeful” and “passionate” meeting, according to North News. And, in the trial-and-error process of reorganizing schools, the Summit-University Planning Council hit a roadblock when it was the City of St. Paul did not reimburse $8,500 in Promise Neighborhood expenses. Compared with another St. Paul neighborhood that was reimbursed, Jane McClure in the Villager writers, “Frogtown did more door-to-door outreach work, while the [Summit-University] contact was more activity-based.” The lack of reimbursement affects the entire neighborhood, the Summit-University Planning Council says.

So how much of this belongs in hyperlocal storytelling? And how much of it affects how our cities work together? How do you like your local news? How’s this column working for you? If anything else (and as you’ve been hearing for a decade), online news offers the chance to tell us what you think. We’d like to know if you’re learning new things, if there’s more you’d like to see, if you’re still reading after 1500 words. Share below, and thanks for reading.

And I hope to meet you all at our event on Saturday.

*We are aware that socially oriented coupons show up on our site, too. We don’t actually make very much money from them, and one day soon we will get rid of them through our sponsorship program.

Deborah Carver is the editor and publisher of Twin Cities Runoff.