A group of Eden Prairie residents and community leaders has started a nonprofit website to cover local news, months after the city's longtime print newspaper stopped publishing.
The all-volunteer Eden Prairie Local News, which launched mid-September, has reporters doggedly covering beats, a handful of advertisers and more than 80 articles posted online.
"I'm surprised that it's happening," said Mark Weber, an Eden Prairie resident and former journalist who leads the Eden Prairie Community Foundation. "It's a daunting task but I remain hopeful by what I see from this group."
The publication's next steps include obtaining nonprofit status and paying its staff, including a part-time salary for the editor and stipends for writers. The "ultimate goal" is a print product, Weber said, though others involved said they're still researching that option.
Seven or eight reporters meet once a week to go over story ideas, said Brad Canham, the publication's editor-in-chief and a former journalist. Their work has included an interview with a school district nurse about managing COVID-19, a piece offering historical context to Light Rail Transit construction and a story about the city's plans to preserve a forgotten 19th-century road.
"We're not people's best friend," Canham said. "We have a role to play."
After the Eden Prairie News published its last edition in April, ending more than 45 years in print, about 20 community members began meeting to brainstorm ways to create a new, Eden Prairie-focused news source.
The shuttering left "a most definite void in the community," said Jenifer Loon, who chairs the publication's working group and served in the Minnesota House of Representatives from 2009 to 2019.
Loon said a resident survey showed there's strong support for a news source to serve the west metro suburb of 65,000 people, and people are willing to pay for it.
"We really wanted to focus on something that felt more like what we had lost," Loon said. "We want original, local reporting."
Group members secured the Eden Prairie Community Foundation as a fiscal host to oversee the finances of Eden Prairie Local News, and they began looking into different models of delivering news that met their goals and were viable long-term.
The group has surveyed thriving community news sources from New Jersey to Michigan to understand how they work, Weber said. In the Twin Cities, nonprofit website MinnPost is a model.
Eden Prairie Local News expects to obtain nonprofit status, which will allow for revenue streams such as grants and donations, in the next six months. The working group is developing the organization's bylaws, Loon said.
So far, expenses have been minimal — buying the URL and software. A local tech volunteer has done work on the website pro bono.
In the works is a mailing to residents that will include a brochure and pledge card, Loon said, with the option to donate one time or every month.
The publication initially aims to raise $50,000 and is almost 20% there, Loon said. About 50 people have contributed between $10 and $1,000, and an anonymous donor is offering a $5,000 challenge match.
Increasing readership is another goal. Canham said it's picking up every month — the website has gone from 3,000 unique visitors in September to 16,000 in November.
As the publication gains its footing, the biggest long-term challenge may be sustaining enthusiasm and volunteers, group members said.
"It's a lot of time," Loon said. "It's just basically a labor of love at this point."