If you were participating in a journalism-themed trivia night (most exciting evening ever, right?) and the question was "successful newspaper publishers," would you shout out names like Joseph Pulitzer or William Randolph Hearst? Or Gilbert Pierce or William Murphy, who purchased the Tribune (now the Star Tribune) in 1891?
Maybe. But true journalism nerds could go for the win with a shoutout to Gabriella, Cris and Lucia Olson, founding staff members of the Ewing South Post.
Since their first issue debuted in May 2020, the three siblings have chronicled notable and newsworthy doings right on their street. To date, they've produced 16 news-packed issues, publication of which has held steady even after the trio of journalists headed back to Carondelet Catholic School this fall.
The ESP, whose acronym was popularized by loyal readers Cheryl and Jim Bernstein, makes life a little nicer and better informed for residents of the 29 houses on this particular south Minneapolis block. Its readers certainly have more opportunities to celebrate and connect with their neighbors than other, less journalistically blessed blocks (take that, Nextdoor).
ESP's pages include articles about newly moved-in neighbors, profiles of new pets and stories about neighborhood social events, like block parties and scavenger hunts. Other neighbors contribute artwork, poetry and family news. In addition to articles, the paper has had contests, comics, surveys, recipes, poetry, crossword puzzles and reviews of video games.
The paper's motto, "To connect us while we are apart," reveals its pandemic origins. "It was a lonely time then, and we wanted a way to help people feel more connected," says Gabriella, 11, a sixth-grader and editor in chief.
Why not a website or social media page instead?
"We wanted to have physical copies for people to read, because it's nice to have something you can hold and actually touch," says Lucia, a 9-year-old third-grader and the newspaper's copy editor. "Virtual learning was happening then, and everybody was on their computers a lot, so we thought people would want to escape from technology by reading something printed on paper."
From the beginning, readership has been loyal and enthusiastic. "We never would have accomplished something to connect neighbors without the neighbors themselves," said Cris, Gabriella's twin brother and ESP's business and circulation manager.
In addition to appreciating their readers, they clearly appreciate their parents, Elaine and Eric. It was Elaine who initially suggested a blockwide newspaper during family discussions on how to help during the pandemic.
"The kids have a strong sense of community service, rooted in our faith, and I suggested the newspaper as a possible idea to empower them to help in their own way and bring meaning to what we were experiencing," she said.
"I love that they found a way to bring joy and connectivity to our neighborhood during these times." On a more practical side, Eric gets special recognition from circulation manager Cris for his ability to expertly un-jam the home printer on which the issues are printed.
Cheryl Bernstein, the neighbor who popularized the newspaper's catchy acronym, agrees that the siblings have created something worthwhile. A 38-year resident of the block, she says the newspaper has created a sense of belonging and has brought people together. Plus, it's good reading. "There are lots of fun and interesting things in ESP, and it always makes us smile," she says.
Nanc (pronounced "Nance") Malone, another neighbor, says she's especially grateful for how ESP's staff has welcomed editorial ideas from her granddaughter, Mara, age 7.
"There's a regular comic strip called 'The Adventures of Billy Bob,' and Gabriella has used some of Mara's ideas, which is so kind," she said. Remembering the days in which the early issues were delivered to her door, she recalls: "It was a gift to me during COVID lockdown, when I couldn't even see Mara. I was alone, but the newspaper helped me learn about neighbors and find out more about them. I had thought that perhaps after a year they'd wrap up the project, but they're still going strong.
"It's just so cool that these kids did this, and I think it's amazing."
Kristen Hare also thinks it's amazing. "The Ewing South Post is brilliant because it connects a neighborhood with each other, centered around the editorial and artistic decisions of tweens," said Hare, an editor at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies, a nonprofit journalism school and research organization.
"Social media, which a lot of kids interact with, creates this cycle of post-and-wait-for-reactions that's pretty immediate and, we know, pretty addictive. What's happening with the creation and distribution of the Ewing South Post is a slower version of that process, and one that's a lot healthier."
In fact, readership has been growing post-lockdown. "We've had requests from former neighbors who want to read it, so we've passed along issues to them," Bernstein says. "People have mailed our issues to four different states," Gabriella reports.
Along the way, the trio has come up with plenty of good ideas to fill 20-plus pages of each issue. "We've had interviews with a photographer, a psychologist, a local vet and a farmer from Fulton Farmers Market," Gabriella said.
Lucia said that finding newsworthy topics has been relatively easy. "I can just walk up and down the block and I'll run into someone who will come out of their house to suggest a story," she says. All three contributed to an article about their family's summer vacation to the Black Hills.
"We each told a different part about what happened," Cris says. The three agree on the hardest part of the project: deadlines. "We set the deadlines ourselves, but we need to make sure everything we print is still timely, so we need to meet those dates," Gabriella said.
It remains to be seen how this experience will frame their futures. Cris says his favorite subject is math, and he loves anything involving numbers, including the newspaper's circulation data. Gabriella, who loves writing and creating art, said, "I'm not totally sure what I'd like to do, but I want to use words to help people and help them find their voice."
Lucia, who loves science and social studies, said she'd like to be a nature photographer for a magazine like National Geographic.
For now, deadlines must be met, and the siblings need to focus on putting out issue 17, for which they've tentatively scheduled a sneak peek at a new ice cream shop in the neighborhood, a "goodbye" interview with a family who's moving and a "welcome" interview with the folks who are moving in, a tribute to Hispanic Heritage Month and an interview on kids and vaccines with an expert in allergies, immunology and pediatrics (their uncle) — plus lots more.
Hare of Poynter hopes they keep it up. "Find a way to support it financially," she suggested.
"For example, if the dentist down the street can support the Little League team, she might want to advertise with you."
Julie Kendrick is a Minneapolis-based freelance writer. Follow her on Twitter @ KendrickWorks.