A new nonprofit news organization is starting up to boost news coverage in Eden Prairie.
In response to the closing of the suburb’s weekly newspaper, a group of entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, city leaders and residents have launched the Eden Prairie Local News Group under a charitable fund at the Eden Prairie Community Foundation.
“We’re trying to fill a gap that’s been lost here,” said Mark Weber, a longtime resident. “Local news and democracy are at risk here.”
In April, the Eden Prairie News printed its last edition after nearly 50 years in the west metro city of 65,000 residents. It’s part of a trend of local newspapers closing in Minnesota, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has accelerated the financial decline for newspapers that rely on ads and subscriptions for revenue. Eden Prairie News was owned by MNG Enterprises. MNG is controlled by hedge fund Alden Global Capital, which also owns the Pioneer Press.
“Definitely there’s a hunger … to know what’s going on in the community,” Weber said.
In 1979, Weber landed a job as a reporter at the Eden Prairie News. He left journalism in 2013 and runs the Eden Prairie Community Foundation; he is one of about 20 residents behind the news effort.
Brad Canham, a former journalist who is chief marketing officer at Thermal Diagnostics, wants to see more consistent coverage of the City Council and school board. He hopes to launch the website this fall with perhaps a monthly print edition, including obituaries and articles on high school sports and local officials.
“When the Eden Prairie paper disappeared, it was a shock to the community,” he said. “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.” Another weekly newspaper, the Sun Sailor, also covers Eden Prairie, among other surrounding communities.
Weber cited research showing that fewer people vote or run for local office when a local newspaper closes. While some Facebook groups spread the word about events, Weber said a local news organization will keep residents engaged, such as covering the Eden Prairie City Council race, and hold local officials accountable.
Weber said the nonprofit needs to raise at least $50,000 for its first year with volunteers and eventually will hire paid professional journalists. He said the organization will follow standard journalism ethics and is taking inspiration from credible news nonprofits such as MinnPost. As a nonprofit, the publication can get tax-deductible donations and grants that for-profit companies such as the Star Tribune can’t access.
Despite local newspapers closing, the group is optimistic Eden Prairie residents will back their effort, citing a survey of about 430 residents, 63% of whom said they’re willing to pay for a subscription.
“I don’t think that core of having that objective, truth-based fifth pillar of democracy has gone away. It still resonates here,” Canham said. “The alternative is more conspiracy-driven, partisan-driven, opinion-based stuff. I think people are tired of it.”