Star Tribune reporter Andy Mannix gives a behind-the-scenes look at how the story One night in Minneapolis came together.
What made you decide to report this story?
I wanted to do something that brought context to the public safety conversations in Minneapolis. Crime is political. It's emotional. I see people downplay and exaggerate it all the time. The reality is that violent crime is up here – and we devote a lot of resources to covering it – but to pretend that alone defines a city of 425,000 is lazy or in bad faith. Other major cities are experiencing similar crime spikes. Policing is on the ballot, and Minneapolis gets special attention because of George Floyd's murder and the riots. Some of the narratives conjure a post-apocalyptic city a la Mad Max. The "dystopian ghost town" quote came from a Thomas Friedman column in the New York Times. Minneapolis is complicated – maybe now more than ever – but it's not that. So my editor, Abby Simons, and fellow reporters and I brainstormed how to report a more nuanced story, and this is what we came up with.
Did you have an expectation of how it would turn out?
We all approached the idea honestly. We wanted to capture one single night in Minneapolis, warts and all, from a diversity of perspectives. This would include first responders and whatever mayhem inevitably manifested downtown at bar close, but also kids playing in parks and other normal/mundane summer activities you can find every day here but don't often make the news. We didn't intend for it to be a comprehensive study. We just wanted to make an honest record. If we found a slow and peaceful night, we would write about it. If we found bedlam, we would write that up too. It ended up being somewhere in the middle.
How was it decided where reporters and photographers would be placed?
A group of us came up with a list of possible characters and places to focus on. We wanted to find the right balance. We put out a call for volunteers across the newsroom, and I was pleasantly surprised that so many reporters were willing to spend their Saturday nights roaming the city and talking to strangers. A lot of reporters came with their own ideas. Some would travel around to different locations; others stayed in the same place, or with the same person, all night.
What was the timeframe of this reporting? Were reporters and photographers out all night?
The first scene started around 5 30 p.m. I was out the latest, riding along with the firefighters of Station 17. Our last call came in after 3 a.m. So it was about 10 hours.
Tell us about the writing process. Was it hard to tie it all together? How did you structure this?
We did the whole thing in a week, so I mostly wrote it in two days. Everyone sent me their notes in various stages of completion. I started by putting everything in chronological order. It was well over 10,000 words, so basically a book. There was a lot of strong material, which made it a challenge to pare down. Everyone understood the assignment. Then I had to rewrite it all in one cohesive voice.
My fear from the beginning is this would end up feeling like a list of clever observations. There's no incentive to read until the end with that. To make it feel like a narrative story, I chose a few characters who we'd flesh out a bit, and see a couple times throughout the night in different situations. These had to complement but not repeat one another, and also carry the narrative chronologically from the start of the night to morning. I chose Liz Sawyer's reporting from a ridealong with a police officer on the North Side, my stuff from the fire house near George Floyd Square and Chris Serres' beautiful transmission about a woman living in a tent encampment. I also broke it up into three chapters (early evening, dusk and bar close) to emphasize the story had a beginning, middle and an end. It was all leading somewhere. And then of course we see the climactic chaos of bar close.
I puzzled the shorter anecdotes together by chronology and theme. I wanted it to feel like you're getting this roving tour of little vignettes unfolding across the city. By the end, I hoped to leave people with the impression that Minneapolis is more complicated than any soundbite–because of course it is.
Would you ever embark on a project like this again?
Of course. I think these types of writing/reporting experiments are worthwhile. The response has been positive, which I hope is because we captured a flicker of the diversity of experiences that make up this city.
What did you learn from reporting this story/this experience?
There's an appetite for unconventional storytelling with our readership, and we should experiment more as a newspaper. Also that we can do something like this quickly. People may not realize how much goes into a project like this. In addition to the reporting, writing and editing process, you have the digital and print production and design work. Copy editors, photo editors, audience editors and more were key to this being successful (sorry for anyone I forgot!). We did all that in a week (and put out a daily newspaper in the meantime). It was a helluva swing. It's been a hard past couple years for just about every reporter I know, and I was heartened to see how many in the newsroom are still game for an ambitious idea.