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A handful of weekly newspapers in the southwest metro area will publish their last issue this week, leaving a void for local governments, school districts and residents who want to share news and stay informed about happenings in their hometown.

The Shakopee Valley News, Prior Lake American, Jordan Independent, Chaska Herald, Chanhassen Villager and Savage Pacer will cease operations this week, with some printing their final papers on Thursday and others on Saturday.

The Southwest News Media website will also go dark. Two of the newspapers, the Chaska Herald and Shakopee Valley News, have been around for over 160 years, since shortly after Minnesota gained statehood.

The publications are part of Denver-based MediaNews Group, which is owned by Alden Global Capital, an investment firm that purchased the group of papers in 2020. The company, one of the largest newspaper publishers in the country, is known for gutting and then closing local papers. It has published the St. Paul Pioneer Press since 2012.

Two other Minnesota papers owned by MediaNews Group — the Hutchinson Leader and Litchfield Independent Review, published by Crow River Media — also will shut down by the end of the month.

A news release from Southwest News Media suggested the closures are due to financial problems, including loss of ad revenue and people's increasing reliance on digital news sources.

"From a historical society sense ... it's one of the main ways that the county's story is told," said Lindsay Marshall, the Scott County Historical Society's executive director, adding that local newspapers highlight everything from community celebrations to residents who died.

They also provide a place for cities to publish local notices — such as public hearings for property actions or ordinance changes — as required by state statute. Prior Lake Mayor Kirt Briggs said the City Council will decide next week where to post those documents now. But losing the sense of community connection is an even greater casualty.

"Quite honestly, I'm devastated by the loss of the community voice," said Briggs. "Essentially the daily diary of our community is being closed."

Amanda McKnight, Shakopee's spokeswoman, said she knows the value of community newspapers firsthand — not only do they help residents keep up on municipal decisions, their reporters sometimes uncover dramatic stories of corruption.

McKnight, a Shakopee Valley News reporter from 2013 through 2019, broke the story that the school district's former superintendent, Rod Thompson, charged nearly $74,000 to district credit cards for personal expenses including plane tickets for his wife and an Xbox gaming system. Thompson eventually resigned and pleaded guilty to 19 state felonies, including embezzling public funds and possessing stolen property.

"What would have happened if we didn't have a specific-to-Shakopee newspaper?" McKnight said. "There's more of a danger of these things flying under the radar without a dedicated newspaper to be monitoring these types of things."

Alden Global Capital did not respond to a request for an interview. Southwest News Media general manager Laurie Hartmann also declined to comment.

Reporters share memories

The news industry has struggled in recent years. By the end of 2024, the country will have lost a third of its newspapers since 2005, with more than two newspapers continuing to vanish every week. The U.S. has also lost nearly two-thirds of its journalists since 2005, a 2023 report by the Medill School of Journalism said.

Bill Reynolds, Shakopee's city administrator, said good local newspapers "bind us together in a common dialogue" and keep local governments accountable.

"News stories for the most part are researched and factually based," he said. "Now people will turn to non-factual and spurious information gleaned from social media."

Current Shakopee Valley News reporter Julia Fomby will soon lose her job, one she's had for just four months. She recalls the shock after realizing that she and other employees would be laid off during an all-staff virtual meeting on April 4.

"I'm devastated to not be doing [journalism]," she said, adding that employees get one week of severance pay for every year on the job. "I don't know what I'm going to do."

Fomby estimates she's written about 50 stories so far, covering topics such as the Shakopee public works department strike and the Shakopee schools' creation of a smudging space for students.

"They're stories that bigger papers aren't going to pick up on," she said.

Noah Mitchell, who was hired in March as the Chanhassen Villager reporter, will also be laid off. Even editors didn't seem to see the shutdown coming, he said, adding it is "just brutal" for the community.

Reporter Unsie Zuege retired in 2020 after more than 25 years with Southwest News Media, in Chaska, Chanhassen and Eden Prairie, where it also used to publish.

She enjoyed reporting on smaller communities, she said, because everything and everybody are connected. Feel-good features and stories about social issues were her favorite. She recalled writing about a Navy veteran who survived a shipwreck during WWII and being the first reporter on the scene when Prince died.

Zuege said that Southwest News Media had been cutting costs and making employees do more with less for years, including outsourcing layout of the papers to workers in India.

Hope for the future?

In Scott and Carver counties, local leaders, librarians and historians are left wondering where they will get their news.

Marshall, of the Historical Society, said obituaries are especially important. Funeral homes list upcoming services online, she said, but you have to know someone died to look for the obituary, which isn't posted forever.

"We can't do anything about [the closures], so how are we going to pivot, and what will the local research look like in the future?" she said.

Janet Williams, mayor of Savage and the county's former library director, said she used to stop at the library every Saturday to catch up on local newspapers. She recounted all of Savage's previous news sources, including the Savage Review from 1984 to 1994, which the city funded.

The current paper, the Savage Pacer, is where she publishes her occasional "Around Town with the Mayor" columns. She worries that now residents won't have a place to learn about candidates for local office.

Prior Lake and Savage officials plan to publish public documents in the Star Tribune.

Art Wann owns Suel Printing, which publishes the New Prague Times, likely the last local newspaper in Scott County.

The paper has no plans to close, he said, but he noted he is 71 years old.

"We are holding our own. Everybody still gets a paycheck and we're paying our bills," he said.

Even as more printing presses go silent, there are signs that other models for producing local news can work. In Eden Prairie, the community banded together to create a nonprofit online news source — Eden Prairie Local News.

Steve Schewe, the site's publisher, said it produced its first article in the summer of 2020, months after Southwest News Media stopped printing the Eden Prairie News. The nonprofit has the equivalent of 2.75 full-time, paid staff members; freelance writers and photographers get $60 per submission. Volunteers do the rest.

In a way, Alden Global Capital "did us a favor by kicking us out of the nest four years ago," Schewe said. "They galvanized us."

The site has published 2,800 articles so far, he said. "There's a lot to be hopeful about."