Wednesday, March 8, 2023

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: A Journalist's Education

I have been working as a professional journalist for

more than fifty-one years, but I have not ever attended 

a journalist class, nor ever enrolled in a journalism


I did attend the Writers Workshop at the University of

Iowa, received a masters degree in creative writing,

but learned quickly that earning a living in writing,

especially writing poetry, was not a promising economic


In fact, very few creative writers make their living with

their work. It’s true that a small number of successful 

and best-selling authors make enormous sums from 

their novels and subsequent movie rights, but most 

serious writers become college professors, and others

don’t seek a day job.

Circumstances, more than planned intention, led me 

to be a self-taught journalist in the early days of 

neighborhood and community journalism.

After graduating from Iowa, and a short stint teaching in

public schools in my hometown of Erie, PA, I moved to

Minnesota with the intention of founding a literary

publishing house as well as writing poetry and fiction.

Economic reality quickly set in as I found myself with 

an office, a new computerized typesetter, lots of debt,

and few resources. I lived at that time in the first Title IV 

new town, one that was literally started from scratch

out of rural farm fields. It occurred to me that this new

town (named Jonathan) had no newspaper of its own,

and was growing in population rapidly. Its own newspaper

seemed like a good idea, and being young, I went ahead

and created one, oblivious to the obstacles that might 

discourage a professionally-trained journalist.

That began, in 1971, a fifteen-year career as a community

journalist, a career that required me to be not only a writer

and reporter, but also an editor, publisher, lay-out designer,

ad salesman, bill collector, delivery boy and janitor. It also

gave me a much more practical and useful education than

i had received in my Ivy League undergraduate university

and later in graduate school. 

I soon started a second newspaper in a neighborhood

called Cedar-Riverside near downtown Minneapolis, which

also had a Title IV new town, and which had a much larger 


The issues which faced the rural new town were far less

complicated than those in the new-town-in-town. The

Title IV program, begun in the late 1960s, eventually saw

the creation or planning of about 20 new communities, but

these federally-guaranteed developments did not survive 

an economic downturn in the mid-1970s, environmental

lawsuits, and community activism. Jonathan still exists as

a subdivision of the city of Chaska; and Cedar-Riverside is

now primarily an ethnic neighborhood, but their original

corporate entities and urban innovations are no more.

My Cedar-Riverside newspaper lasted fifteen years. It was

not the first Twin Cities neighborhood newspaper, nor the

largest, but it was immediately different. The neighborhood

was a performing arts center in those days, so my paper

was filled with reviews and arts coverage. Local politics

then was burgeoning, and the city’s large daily newspaper

did little community coverage. I had a lifelong interest in

national politics, and again, the city’s large daily fell short,

so I wrote about state and national politics. Early on, I

predicted a surprising upset in city elections, and acquired 

readers from outside the area. But a feature I had casually 

added in each issue: reviews and recommendations of Twin 

Cities restaurants, became one of the most popular features, 

garnering me considerable local attention and advertising.

In the 1980’s my editorial forays into national politics even

got noticed outside Minnesota. I covered my first presidential

campaign in 1972, but took a more active role in 1976 with

early notice of Jimmy Carter. In 1982, I predicted the rise of

an obscure Colorado senator named Gary Hart — which, 

after the New Hampshire primary in 1984, had national

columnists calling me. A year later, I wrote a front-page

article predicting the emergence in 1988 of another

obscure senator to become president. His name? Joe Biden.

I made only a very modest living from the newspaper, and 

the work was exhausting, so by 1987 I had shut down the

publication, and was writing freelance articles about politics

and restaurants. I had continued doing my literary writing 

all this time, and my poems and short stories were

widely published in magazines, anthologies and even

a few books. It was time to move on to new careers, but

my experience in community newspapers had been not only

an invaluable education, but a rich grass-roots experience

that I would call on again and again in later life.

Forty years ago, there were more than three dozen Twin

City print publications serving neighborhood, community, 

cultural and other local interests. The internet, social

networks, inner city political correctness, the pandemic and

its aftermath, and print economics have now reduced their

number sharply.

But today, more than a dozen neighborhood and community

newspapers are still going strong in Minneapolis and St. 


These small local print news sources also flourish across

the nation. One notable example is The North Shore 

Leader. a Long Island, NY community weekly that exposed

the misrepresentations of local congressional candidate

George Santos weeks BEFORE the 2022 election. Their

scoop was ignored by local Democrat and Republican

campaigns as well as the major nearby daily newspapers 

and broadcast media until after the election when The 

Leader’s community news story became front page 

national news.

Community newspapers can give their readers news and 

information the dailies and other media do not, and 

contribute to the local identity and spirit in this difficult 

urban time. They can enable their local businesses and 

community organizations to thrive. Community print  

media defy reports of their demise. I honor their service, 

and salute their survival.


Copyright (c) 2023 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.