Though he’s brand-new to journalism, 7-year-old Elias Snyder-Fall, the Neighborhood Tattler’s “editor-in-cheif [sic]”, knows how to hook his readers.
“Oh no, the COVID-19, we can’t go close to each other?! At least 6 feet ... ” Snyder-Fall wrote in the first edition of the Tattler, which covers one block of Minneapolis’ Fulton neighborhood.
As his barely legible handwriting neared the bottom of the page, Snyder-Fall deployed a real cliffhanger: “Elias was outside getting news for this newspaper, but he didn’t notice it started raining! A giant branch fell on the S.F.’s house!!!”
The Tattler, which debuted in March, is among many new neighborhood newspapers produced by kids who have a little extra time on their hands. With schools closed and activities canceled, there’s hardly been a better time to self-publish.
Some youth-produced papers feature crudely scrawled stories and stick-figure comics, while others are neatly typeset (often with help from grown-ups) in newspaper templates, accompanied by photos and clip art. Some publications trade strictly in fact. Others are pure fantasy.
But no matter their angle or aesthetic, these papers have been day-brighteners for many homebound neighbors. Some wait by the mailbox for the next delivery. Others hand over 20 bucks and request a subscription.
Kid-made papers aren’t just informative or entertaining, but a source of community camaraderie. While the big metro dailies may dominate in the depth and breadth of coverage, they don’t stand a chance when it comes to the cute factor.
Diary of a Tattler
Snyder-Fall created the Tattler without his parents’ assistance — or knowledge.
“Otherwise, we might have given him more guidance on handwriting,” his mother, Annamay Snyder, joked.
A few weeks ago, Snyder-Fall set out reporting after rereading a favorite Diary of a Wimpy Kid book, in which the protagonist starts his own newspaper.
“There’s this house down the street called the loud house by Elias,” he recounted in the Tattler. “But today, in the driveway, I heard NO NOISE [from the kids]. Today, all cars parked on the street were white.”
The Tattler’s first issue catered largely to kids, running three reviews of local pizza joints (“Get Carbone’s pizza now!”) along with one for a video game system.
But there was also adult appeal. A political cartoon lamented Elizabeth Warren’s exit from the presidential race. In an advice column, Snyder-Fall thoughtfully responded to a neighbor’s question about how we will get through the coronavirus crisis: “Be calm. If we get the disease, it probably won’t be deadly, and get [to] a hospital right away if deadly.”
After Snyder-Fall dropped off the eight-page edition at the 26 homes on his block, neighbors responded with thank-you notes, drawings and a gift card to an ice cream shop.
The encouragement spurred Snyder-Fall to start work on another edition, but there was a holdup.
“I was going to make the second edition a few days ago,” he said last week. “But there wasn’t much news going on around the block.”
Gazette gets laughs
The Hartford Gazette, a weekday one-pager launched in March by two sets of sisters in St. Paul’s Highland Park neighborhood, focuses on creative writing. In its more than 30 issues, the Gazette’s newsiest story was a recap: “Snow Complicates Easter Bunny’s Mission.”
The Gazette takes cues from glossy lifestyle magazine mainstays, offering workout tips, personality quizzes, and a poetry corner (e.g. “A worm got a perm. The worm was blue and it lived in a shoe.”).
But its headlines also offer insight into kids’ current anxieties: “Will Caronavirus [sic] Trigger a Zombie Apocolypse [sic]?” “Will Our Hair Look as Nasty as the Caveman Period?” (Answer: “As a kid, I don’t really care. But grown-ups, they’re freaking out.”)
Maddie and Cece Pierce (ages 13 and 7) and their neighbor friends Clara and Olivia Plumstead (ages 10 and 6) generate the paper’s articles and conduct a nightly editorial meeting over FaceTime.
Basically, “the two younger ones do what the older ones want,” said Maddie and Cece’s mom, Kelly Pierce, summarizing the editorial process. Though they did allow Olivia to write “How to Annoy Your Sister,” which instructed: “Hide your sister’s candy behind the shelves, sofas, etc. Then, when she asks you, ‘where’s my candy,’ you shrug.”
After the girls delivered their handwritten debut issue, neighbor Sean Haley (who happens to be the Star Tribune’s director of advertising strategy and creative) volunteered his page layout services.
To fill extra space, Haley sometimes adds his own goofball graphics among the articles, including a list of “Famous Extinctions,” from the dinosaurs of 66 million years ago, to 2020’s toilet paper.
“Sean is really funny, and he writes a lot of good content that helps the adults understand [the paper],” Maddie said. Her sister especially appreciated Haley’s insertion of a Girl Scout cookie ad, which brought her an extra 20 boxes in sales.
Print delivery reaches about 20 households, with e-mailed PDFs adding about 30 more. Along with thank-you notes, neighbors have offered to buy ads, Kelly Pierce said.
“All that is just a neighborhood coming together,” she added. “It has been a really lovely diversion for our girls and the neighbors.”
Neighborhood calls for news
Young publishers spurred to their presses by COVID-19 might look to the Highland Caller for guidance.
Since January 2019, the Caller (tagline: “Your news is our business”) has distributed an eight-page issue roughly once a month to 220 households in the Highland Park neighborhood, funded by donations and two regular advertisers.
The Caller’s 12-year old instigators, editor Noel Varco and assistant editor Gabe Kleiber, have worked with several neighborhood friends to cover everything from weird weather (“Polar Vortex Slams St. Paul”) to the community’s biggest social event (“Highland Fest Extravaganza”).
“The original idea was the news would be completely fake, and that we would just write about nonsense stuff that wasn’t true,” Kleiber explained of their initial, Onion-esque approach. But after going door-to-door to poll neighbors, the Caller staff found an overwhelming preference for true neighborhood news.
So they started reporting on basic city infrastructure, from plans to redevelop the old Ford plant site to the new tracking chips on curbside recycling bins.
Reporters have interviewed Saintly City Cat Show competitors and described a quarantine-inspired scavenger hunt. Pre-coronavirus travel articles recounted recent family vacations; the sports page included game recaps and predictions.
The Caller’s entertainment section has featured reviews of movies (four stars for “The Kid Who Would Be King”), video games (a Fortnite pan dissed the game’s glaring graphics), and a new Indian restaurant on Snelling Avenue (its Streaky Bacon Naan was “like a delicious Indian BLT”). Plus, the usual comics, crossword puzzles and recipes.
While the Caller carries national news that’s widely covered by other media outlets, it’s one of the few places where neighbors can learn about what’s happening at area schools, including Lego League and Disco Bingo events.
And even at a time when world news is as accessible as it is paramount, hyperlocal papers produced by kids resonate.
“I think when people read articles about something that’s happening two blocks away, they’re going to feel more connected to their neighborhood,” Varco said.