In the few months since its start, individuals from the Eden Prairie Local News (EPLN) working group, sales and marketing, technologists, and team of journalists have collectively devoted expertise and thousands of hours to the “local news.”
The simple question is: What motivates people to do such a thing? What’s the point?
Let’s start with the facts.
On February 5, 2020, the Eden Prairie News, a 46-year old weekly was purchased by a subsidiary of the Alden Global Capital hedge fund. Eighty-five days later the newspaper was silenced.
No surprise really. The Internet has imploded the news industry’s advertising-driven business model. This and other market forces in the newspaper industry have led to waves of consolidation.
An increasingly fractious society has narrowed its media flows to venues reinforcing opinions, rather than presenting facts. Algorithms drive clicks, and advertising revenues, by delivering stories and user comments promoting outrage.
Articles on a small drop in local taxes often get ignored. The powerful media entities that are ascendant use the power of technology coupled with ideological positioning in service to profits.
In fact, financial entities buying (and closing) local newspapers argue they are buying extra time, in general, for the other local newspapers. Those that remain will survive a bit longer. It hard not to see the economic point.
As such, it is simply more realistic, they say, to accept the death of local news, premised as it was on a business model from the era of horse-drawn carriages, with quiet dignity. As such, Eden Prairie should be sad for its newspaper, yes, but also grateful for the 85 extra days the hedge fund provided.
The truth is, we are unlikely to ever know the exact reason for the demise of the Eden Prairie News. The subsidiary, MediaNews Group (formerly Digital First Media), says the closure was based on the already mentioned market forces coupled with declining revenues due to the coronavirus.
And yet, of the 11 Minnesota newspapers acquired by MediaNews Group in the February 2020 deal, only two – Eden Prairie News and Lakeshore Weekly News – were closed. All 11 newspapers likely experienced the general news market declines as well as coronavirus-related declines in advertising.
An article profiling Alden Global Capital in the New York Times on January, 2019 “Hedge Fund Called ‘Destroyer of Newspapers…” as well as other watchdogs writing about the news profession provides another angle on the closure story. It is a story of intentional newspaper closures and decimating cuts to newsrooms in the name of ‘wealth extraction’ by Alden Global Capital.
Moreover, it is naïve to believe that a New York hedge fund’s intention is advance the common good in an upper Midwestern mid-sized suburb, rather than its shareholders interests.
In either case, by extraction or implosion, as of April 30, 2020, the Eden Prairie News was dead and gone.
And yet, within days of the announcement of Eden Prairie News’s demise, and even as the impacts of the pandemic accelerated, a group of people in Eden Prairie spontaneously found each other. They began talking about a revival effort of Eden Prairie’s local media.
Talks turned into meetings. Informally at first, but by June 2020 an Eden Prairie media “working group” was meeting regularly.
And meetings turned into action. Facing the November 3, 2020, elections and aggrieved by a lack of coverage of local candidates, EPLN quickly launched.
And EPLN evolved into, perhaps surprisingly, the antithesis of a portfolio property for the Alden Global Capital. EPLN is a volunteer-driven, non-profit, non-partisan effort.
As importantly, is what EPLN is not becoming.
EPLN isn’t merely chasing profits. It isn’t promoting outrage, opining on a partisan agenda, or latching onto the spectacle and conspiracies promoted via click-bait and memes. Much of EPLN’s local news is quaint when compared to the highly produced national media. By contrast, EPLN is focused on local facts, not memes or stories immersing the reader in an alternative reality.
With that noted, there will be no argument here that profitability, politics, technology, and the truth (or lack-thereof), don’t matter. They do, even as tawdry and imperfect as they can be, tremendously.
The argument here is that a fundamental question needs to be asked: What advances the common good in Eden Prairie?
Specifically, for a media organization like EPLN, how is the social condition of knowledge in Eden Prairie best advanced in service to the common good?
Ideas about knowledge and the common good are ancient. And yet, each continues to be redefined through history and have bearing on the present.
Including this very day in history, more than ever.
Knowledge, unlike raw information or an opinion, is, as Plato noted “secured by a chain” within a specific context. My knowledge about my “chair” as I write this, is not the same as information about a “chair” any chair, anywhere, at any time. My chair has meaning and characteristics defined in a manner unique to this time and this place.
Knowledge does not end with my personal opinion about my chair. (My opinion is it’s a fine chair for my office, but not so fine for a formal dinner or a palace setting.). As Plato noted, my opinion of my “fine chair” becomes knowledge if it can be backed up by an explanatory justification. When the “why?” question (Why is the chair fine?) can be answered describing what is versus what is not.
Knowledge about Eden Prairie, in all its flavors, is no different.
At EPLN, we believe the social condition of knowledge decreased when the Eden Prairie News died. Besides the loss of day-to-day information about sporting events, politics, community events developments etc…the community lost knowledge about itself.
For example, not only did the Eden Prairie lose easy insights into the light rail trail project in Eden Prairie, the community lost more importantly the in-depth, detailed Eden Prairie perspective on transportation in Eden Prairie whether from the past, present, or future.
By way of example, this in-depth knowledge includes an ox cart trail of the late 1800’s, as well as a vision of rail transportation from the 1970’s, the current status of SWLRT project work, to include discussions about what SWLRT means to Eden Prairie into the future.
If the day-to-day local news is the melody of knowledge in Eden Prairie, then the nuances of knowledge, the feelings, histories, many perspectives, dreams and visions – all in one place – are the rich harmony of this place.
We believe the melody and rich harmony of local knowledge advances the common good in Eden Prairie. We are, individually, and collectively, more able to reach our fullest measure for knowing it.
Inviting attention to local knowledge is a challenge when everything is screaming for it.
Even if, as a practical matter, attention to this type of local knowledge is more important than the current deluge of conspiracies, memes, opinions and unfiltered information. It is hard to listen when the media is “now cascading over us in a garbage-laden tsunami of raw data” as noted by Author and National Book Award winner Annie Proulx.
And yet, attention to local knowledge can keep us from drowning.
And one of the surest ways to invite attention is by giving the clear, plain truth.
Writing about the nature of power, French philosopher Michel Foucault said power creates “accepted forms of knowledge, understanding, and ‘truth’” based on its “anonymous intentions.” He described this power and knowledge duality as power-knowledge. This power-knowledge, said Foucault, creates reality.
But, what happens to reality when the intentions of power remain anonymous? What happens when knowledge itself is attacked, twisted, and obscured?
What happens to reality when guardians of truth, the free press – the only profession specifically noted in the US. Constitution – are labelled “Enemies of the people” by the most powerful person on the planet?
What happens to the clear, plain truth?
Here’s a local example: the Alden Global Capital hedge fund didn’t asked the people of Eden Prairie if they wanted to kill off their local newspaper. They didn’t tell the people of Eden Prairie they intended to either.
They simply made its death a reality. That is a fact.
And the people of Eden Prairie were left to accept that knowledge.
The clear, plain truth is they didn’t accept it.
And neither should you.
Instead, people are working to build knowledge every day in Eden Prairie to advance the common good.
The plain, clear truth is, you should too.