Woodbury news website to launch by fall – Star Tribune

Four years after the death of the local newspaper in Woodbury, two former state legislators have an audacious plan to start a news website from scratch.
The site doesn’t yet have a name, or a staff, or a budget of any kind, but locals enthusiastically embraced the idea at the first planning meeting, according to former Minnesota state senators Susan Kent and Kathy Saltzman.
“People were like, ‘Oh my gosh, let me know what I can do to help,'” Saltzman said.
The city has gone without its own newspaper since the death of the Bulletin in 2020. The 33-year-old weekly already was struggling when a pandemic-related ad slump finished it off.
Hundreds of local weekly papers died the same way that year, including papers in Eden Prairie, Osakis, Two Harbors and elsewhere across the state. Other recent losses include the 2019 shuttering of the 82-year-old Lillie Suburban News chain, which covered several St. Paul suburbs.
Newspaper readers have declined steadily across the country since the mid-1990s, but local news still sells, and locally focused news websites have seen growth in recent years, according to the Pew Research Center. Efforts to start local, nonprofit news websites have launched at a rate of about one per month since 2017, according to the Institute for Nonprofit News. The organization guides and supports some 425 local news sites nationally. Many of the sites are in urban areas with communities of 100,000 or less.
“I’m thrilled about it,” said Woodbury Mayor Anne Burt, who also has been in on the planning. Obituaries, local sports news, high school news and things happening in City Hall: Burt said she hopes all of it ends up on the new website. “It’s just about sharing local news in the community. I just think it’s vitally important.”
Kent said she felt the absence of local news while trying to reach her constituents after the Bulletin closed down.
“We would send out a press release; over time there was nobody to send a press release to,” she said. Her constituents would learn about something after the fact and say they simply weren’t told about it. Kent feared some voters thought she was trying to hide something.
“Woodbury, as I keep pointing out to people, is the 8th largest city in the state and it’s ridiculous that we can’t know what’s happening in our local government.”
They hope to launch online this fall. They envision a site with a community calendar, lists of volunteer opportunities, stories about people in Woodbury and perhaps occasional print offerings. They want to see a free voter’s guide mailed out to everyone in Woodbury. And they want to keep it nonprofit and nonpartisan. “We’ve been very intentional to say just because it happens to be lead by two local DFL officials, this is nonpartisan, very local,” said Kent. “It’s going to be about straight information.”
The staff will be volunteers, initially, but similar nonprofit news sites elsewhere have a mix of paid and unpaid staff. Kent recently sat in on a Zoom meeting with the Institute for Nonprofit News.
“The idea will be that we will need to build something big enough to support some level of paid staff,” Kent said.
Their model is a site in Eden Prairie that sprang up under similar circumstances. The EPlocalnews.org site about three years old and now generates about 1,000 stories per year for 3,000 non-paying subscribers. It has annual revenues of about $200,000, according to publisher and CEO Steve Schewe.
“The position we are trying to take is that we are hyper local,” Schewe said. “Most of us live here in Eden Prairie and most of us have a real passion about the community.”
For now, Kent and Saltzman are calling the site the Woodbury News Project, but they don’t consider it the actual name, which is still to be determined.
“I think a lot of people really miss having the Woodbury Bulletin,” Saltzman said. “I’ve heard from people saying ‘Gosh, I never really appreciated it until it was gone.'”

Matt McKinney is a reporter on the Star Tribune’s state team. In 15 years at the Star Tribune, he has covered business, agriculture and crime. 
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