The Longfellow-Nokomis Messenger is not only one of Minneapolis’ oldest neighborhood newspapers, it is part of a long tradition of such Minneapolis and St. Paul publications.
Coverage of city neighborhoods was a 19th century staple for Minneapolis’ daily newspapers. Correspondents sent in copy describing which family had motored to Red Wing or entertained guests for Sunday supper. That coverage was phased out over time as daily paper news space faced other demands.
The earliest versions of neighborhood newspapers began in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. As Minneapolis expanded beyond its downtown area, and the streetcar network grew, distinct commercial and residential districts took shape.
Every neighborhood had at least one print shop. Printers were needed to produce letterhead, posters, business fliers, greeting cards, invitations, business cards and other paper goods. In some cases newspapers were a sideline for a printer, taking a back seat to job printing. In other shops the newspaper was the main focus. Printing jobs provided extra income.
Newspapers began rolling off of these small presses starting in the 1880s and 1890s. City directories indicate that Minneapolis had several dozen of these small papers over the years, most of them printed on a weekly, bi-weekly or monthly basis. They joined papers printed in several languages, predominantly Scandinavian languages and German in the 19th century.
These inaugural neighborhood and community newspapers not only served as advertising vehicles for their business districts, their printed pages were an important means of promoting or “boosting” community interests. Neighborhood causes filling the news columns included demands for paved streets, street lighting, better schools and adequate fire and police protection.
A frequent theme of early papers was to urge readers to “shop at home” at locally-owned stores, and not at “chain stores.” Stores and catalog companies including Montgomery Ward and Sears Roebuck and Company were viewed warily.
Papers came and went. It wasn’t unusual for printers to move their shops, discontinue one neighborhood newspaper and start another paper at the new location.
Some printers served as newspaper editors. Others provided printing services for individual publishers or for groups, which provided copy and editing. Civic booster or commercial clubs often served as publishers and editors.
The Southeast Civic Association published the East Minneapolis Bulletin and later Southeast Minneapolis Bulletin, starting in 1915. The South Side News, published by the South Side Businessmen’s Association, only lasted for a few issues in 1934.
Other late 19th and early 20th century South Minneapolis newspapers included the Southside Telegram, South Minneapolis Argus, Southside News and South Minneapolis Press. Various papers published under the name South Minneapolis News, with the earliest paper in 1883-1888. Names were reused by different publishers over time.
Some early papers were saved by historical societies and libraries. But others are only found with a reference in old city directories.
By the 1930s and 1940s, the number of neighborhood newspapers had dwindled. Increased advertising competition from daily newspapers, radio and later, television, took a toll. Changes in printing technology were another factor. Minneapolis retained a handful of papers, most owned by suburban chains.
Neighborhood papers enjoyed a renaissance in the 1960s and 1970s. It was time when Minneapolis, like so many other cities, found itself caught up in debate over urban renewal. People needed a way to communicate in the pre-Internet days, beyond distributing fliers door-to-door.
An example of a 1970s paper with a community betterment focus is the Seward West News, later the Seward West Gazette. In the early 1970s, the City of Minneapolis’ Housing Authority announced plans to demolish 70 percent of the houses in a 35-block Seward West neighborhood. It was part of an urban renewal and housing development effort.
Neighbors fought to preserve homes and their community, organizing as the Seward West Project Area Committee to fight City Hall. They crafted a development plan which emphasized historic preservation.
Eleven houses on Milwaukee Avenue were eventually demolished and replaced with new housing that reflected the historic homes. One house was moved onto the avenue from an adjacent street. The rest were preserved and rehabilitated.
Similar battles were unfolding throughout Minneapolis and St. Paul. Editors began to network and organize among themselves. It wasn’t unusual for editors to help each other with stories, page layout and the loan of equipment. Because neighborhood papers weren’t allowed to join the Minnesota Newspaper Association at that time, editors organized as what became the Neighborhood and Community Press Association in 1974. One argument that kept neighborhood papers out of MNA was that their coverage was “advocacy” journalism.
It was time to form their own group. Activists from the cities got together to share ideas. Jim Scheibel, an editor and organizer in St. Paul, helped bring the group together. He later became mayor of St. Paul and is now on faculty at Hamline University.
The organization at its peak had more than 40 members, with spring and fall conferences and an annual awards contest. But online advertising took a huge toll. The NCPA folded more than a decade ago. Today Minneapolis and St. Paul have fewer than 20 print publications between them. Along with the Messenger, Hill and Lake Press (1976), Camden Community News (1976) and Northeaster (1978) are among the oldest print publications.
Interested in neighborhood newspaper history? The Minnesota Historical Society maintains many papers on microfilm at its library, along with a digital newspaper hub. https://www.mnhs.org/newspapers
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