These independent journalists helped keep the Reformer humming in 2020

Daniel Balmer shows Abdi Hassan, 15, how to use his baseball bat on the 2900 block of S. 18th Avenue Thursday, July 16, 2020. Photo by Nicole Neri/Minnesota Reformer.

Many of the most important stories published in the Reformer this year have come from a mighty group of independent journalists, who all brought unique skills, sources and scoops to our site. 

Veteran newswoman Deena Winter was both prolific — writing dozens of articles — while also often holding up a revealing mirror to Minnesota and Minneapolis in particular. Her first story, about GOP state Rep. Steve Green’s outlandish claim that Antifa and Muslim organizations plan to “police Minneapolis under Muslim rule” wound up as one of our most read of the year, although partially because the right wing internet daftly thought Green knew what he was talking about. Deena interviewed Rep. Ilhan Omar and Gov. Tim Walz.  

She profiled Cup Foods, where George Floyd was killed, and the powerful women now patrolling the autonomous zone around there. And there were so many scoops: When the Floyd mural was defaced, she scored an interview with the vandal. Deena was the first to report that the ex-wife of the spokesman for the Minnesota GOP won a restraining order against him. 

Tony Webster’s first contribution to the Reformer were stunning photos of the industrial fire in Becker at the site of a longtime environmental scofflaw. By the end of the year, he co-bylined our most ambitious work of investigative journalism, “Bad Cops,” about the Minneapolis Police Department’s failure to discipline its worst officers. Tony’s ongoing public records lawsuit led us to important documents to tell the story.   

As a multiple-day fire burned at EMR’s Northern Metal Recycling scrapyard in Becker earlier this year, the morning sun highlighted the fire’s dark plume cloud. Photo by Tony Webster/Minnesota Reformer.

We sought to confront head-on the scourge of right wing disinformation, and Logan Carroll made that his specialty for us. He traced the money trail of well-known Minnesota donors to a disinformation outfit called Right Now Minnesota. He dug into the social media habits of the man who prosecutors say threatened Walz and even scored an interview with him. Logan also exposed state Sen. Roger Chamberlain’s strange fascination with a neofascist writer who uses the pseudonym Bronze Age Pervert.   

Sally Jo Sorensen, based in the rural upper Midwest, took on the wild COVID-19 conspiracy theories on the right; reported on state Sen. Julie Rosen residence issue; and traced the drug, tobacco and payday lending money going to support the Senate GOP’s reelection effort. 

Among several contributions, Cinnamon Janzer brought us the story of Hmong-American business owners struggling amid the weight of the pandemic and the looting that destroyed many of their businesses. 

Derrick Miedaner was a consistent voice of sanity in his economic analyses for us. 

Melissa Olson provided a nuanced picture of a split in the Native community in Minneapolis over the future of policing. Native people are killed by police at the highest rate of any group.  

Jared Goyette was on the ground near George Floyd Square, where he reported with Deena about the police department pulling back from the area, letting residents largely fend for themselves. Jared scooped a discrimination complaint against a major Minneapolis landlord. 

Jared also spent time with residents in a south Minneapolis neighborhood that sought to defend itself against rising crime. 

But that story would not have been possible without the beautiful photography of Nicole Neri, who became a regular Reformer contributor and whose work we will continue to feature next year. If you’re interested in joining the Reformer’s community of independent journalists, check out our submission guidelines. Even if you don’t have much experience, we love good ideas and will help you execute them.

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.