Welcome to the Minnesota Reformer

Family Photographs

Our family visited the Minnesota History Center last weekend, and I was struck by the simple power of an exhibit showing a tiny prairie homestead from the 1870s. It’s a dark, earthen hovel with little more than a bedroll and a stove. A video projection shows the harsh weather out the “window,” first rain and then sleet and snow, the howl of the wind a constant sonic reminder of isolation.

My how far we’ve come.

As we are quick to tell each other but not the rest of the world, Minnesota is now one of the most prosperous, healthiest and best educated states in the nation. We are home to a mix of top flight colleges and universities, giant multinational corporations, perhaps the greatest health care institution in the world and a thriving regional culture.

As Charlie Paar sings in another exhibit at the History Center, “Minnesota’s gonna be a paradise if you put your back into it.”

And yet.

Elsewhere in the History Center there is an overhead diagram of the Rondo neighborhood, and what it was before it was cleaved in half by the interstate. The people of the mostly African-American community put their backs into it, and this was their reward — a highway that displaced people, businesses and churches. At the First Avenue exhibit, we learn that before Prince made the venue iconic, the spot was called “Uncle Sam’s” and discouraged black patrons from coming — well into the 1970s.

In another part of the museum, a tipi evokes the broken promises and atrocities visited upon another people, the legacy of which we live with today.

And even though that hovel on the prairie is now civilization, we know that Greater Minnesota comprises dozens of counties struggling to keep their residents, who must leave to find work in the face of the ruthless vagaries of the globalized economy.

In short, Minnesota is a paradise, but its treasures and opportunities are too often denied to black, brown and indigenous residents as well as those born in poorer zip codes.

This is the great conundrum of Minnesota today. We have achieved great things with the labor of our hands and minds, catalyzed by innovative and progressive public policy.

But we have not extended that vaunted quality of life to all.

This is the tension we will be exploring at Minnesota Reformer. We hope you’ll join us.

Some basics about us:

  • First and foremost, we are four journalists, and we’re interested in telling great stories, without fear or favor. The state’s most powerful people and institutions should be ready for our scrutiny and hard questions. We’ll work hard to bring you analysis, investigations and storytelling, so you’ll know not only what happened, but why it happened, who is responsible, and what it means for Minnesota’s present and future.
  • Our news section will be separate and distinct from our commentary section, and all commentary will be labeled as such. You’ll hear from activists, big thinkers and people in communities that have been left behind. We’ll have some big names, too, like former Vice President Walter Mondale, who in today’s Minnesota Reformer calls readers to action to protect the Boundary Waters.
  • The Potluck will bring you quick takes on the news of the day and valuable scoops.
  • Five days a week, you’ll receive a newsletter from yours truly. I’ll give you the latest important news from Minnesota and Washington politics and policy, as well as curated best reads to give you a head start on understanding what is happening in these deeply weird times.
  • We are nonprofit, nonpartisan and independent. Although part of a family of news sites called States Newsroom, which seeks to help fill the void left by declining print media, no one is telling us what to report and write. Funding comes from grants and donations, not advertising or subscriptions. If you decide to support the Minnesota Reformer financially, all the money will stay in Minnesota, and we will never sell your data.

Back to the History Center. In the model boxcar where Parr’s song played, another exhibit showed images of Worthington, one of the most diverse cities in Minnesota. Today’s Reformer brings you a story by Ricardo Lopez about Worthington, and how a little city’s struggle to pass school levies in the face of demographic change is really a bigger story about Minnesota’s future.

Check it out.

And finally, one last thing: We — that’s you and the Reformer team together — are going to have a lot of fun, so come along.

J. Patrick Coolican
J. Patrick Coolican is Editor-in-Chief of Minnesota Reformer. Previously, he was a Capitol reporter for the Minneapolis Star Tribune for five years, after a Knight-Wallace Fellowship at the University of Michigan and time at the Las Vegas Sun, Seattle Times and a few other stops along the way. He lives in St. Paul with his wife and toddler son.