It is hard to believe that the Messenger is celebrating its 40th anniversary. My first experience visiting stakeholders from the Longfellow neighborhood was when Messenger founder Bill Milbrath offered to take me to a Longfellow Ministerial Association meeting back in 1986. Bill and his wife Maureen had started the Messenger back in 1983 and had approached deRuyter-Nelson Publications, who provided their typesetting for the Messenger, about buying out the Messenger so the Milbraths could move on with the next phase of their retirement. deRuyter-Nelson Publications, which provided typesetting and graphic design services to a host of clients, was at the time publishing the Midway Como Monitor in St. Paul as their sole community newspaper.
When we had met with the Milbraths initially about purchasing the Messenger it was obvious that the Messenger had been a very carefully considered labor of love for the two of them. Years prior to our discussion about the sale of the Messenger, I remember when they were doing their initial research before publishing a prototype for the Messenger. They went around to a host of community newspaper publishers in the Twin Cities to search out best practices and discover what it was like to publish a neighborhood newspaper in the Twin Cities. They were very methodical in their investigation before they even published their first issue. They took their mission to bring community journalism to Longfellow very seriously.
In the files they shared with us for our discussions about the sale, it turned out that at the very beginning of their journey publishing the Messenger the Milbraths had developed a rather long list of the institutions and stakeholders that they thought should be the subjects of stories in the Messenger during their time as publishers. These were some of the storylines that readers of Longfellow needed to know about, and not having a community newspaper put Longfellow at a great disadvantage in their minds. When they met with us, the Milbraths felt that they had done pretty much what they had set out to accomplish, not to mention achieving their overarching goal of establishing a community newspaper that would link all these important stakeholders together with businesses and residents.
The Milbraths believed strongly in that connection between community stakeholders and the Messenger. And one of the strongest connections they formed from the very beginning, was between the Messenger and local churches. Thus, Bill Milbrath’s suggestion to set up an introduction between the ministers of the Longfellow Ministerial Association and myself.
We gathered at one of the churches in Longfellow and the meeting was well attended. Bill introduced me and I said a few words about deRuyter-Nelson Publications and our hopes for the Messenger and our experience in publishing community newspapers. The Monitor in St. Paul was at the time published as a broadsheet, meaning that each page was the size of a daily newspaper, and the pastors asked about what our intentions were for the Messenger. Would it be a broadsheet or would it be tabloid size? Several of the pastors were of the opinion that a tabloid newspaper was easier to hold and read on a bus, for instance, which made it a more convenient size. Given the number of questions and the detail of them, it was obvious that the pastors considered the Messenger to be THEIR community newspaper and they intended to keep it that way. I was touched by their fierce devotion to the Messengerand their recognition what a difference it had made in building community in South Minneapolis.
After about 30 minutes most of the pastors had a chance to ask a question or two and there was a nice exchange of ideas about community journalism. Finally, one pastor said: “Denis, one last question before you go. Obviously one of our hopes is about the perspective the Messenger would have going forward. I’m just wondering…you know that big structure that crosses the Mississippi River between the two cities?”
“Do you mean the Lake Street Bridge?” I responded, a little bit surprised by the obvious question. The room erupted in muffled laughs and Bill chirped in with: “Denis, you passed the test!” The pastors, thinking that I was from the St. Paul side of the river, assumed I would think of the bridge as the “Marshall Avenue Bridge,” but since my sister and brother-in-law had lived in south Minneapolis for many years, I always thought of it as the Lake Street Bridge and was very familiar with all the landmarks on that side of the river. The pastor’s point, of course, was that for their community newspaper, perspective was everything, and they wanted to make sure that their community newspaper would have their own perspective. Well said!
Years later, I often think about my meet-up with the Longfellow Ministerial Association and their strong sense of belonging to the Messenger. Today, under the ownership of TMC Publications, we are proud to be continuing the tradition of publishing a community newspaper that continues to link important stakeholders and provides a sounding board for residents and business owners alike to share their views on building a better community in which to work and live.
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