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The Threat of News Deserts Looms in Outstate Minnesota

Plus talkin' about the new Prince book, the fight for better education, and Barkley's local shoe ad in today's Flyover news roundup.

AbsolutVision via Unsplash

Welcome back to The Flyover, your daily digest of important, overlooked, and/or interesting Minnesota news stories.

The News Isn't Great

When a large publication like Vice goes under, it makes national news. When a smaller business, like City Pages, for example, kicks it, local outlets mourn the loss. When the lone paper in a small county ceases to exist, however, often it’s just… quiet. And that’s what is happening all over the country; one third of America’s newspapers (since 2005) will be lost by the start of 2025, according to Northwestern University’s 2024 State of Local News report. Even more dire: Minnesota, Iowa, and the Dakotas are some of the most affected areas, and counties with limited Wi-Fi access and higher poverty rates are even more likely to have no local news source. 

None of this is good news! But, as Ava Kian reports at MinnPost, there are people fighting to keep local papers in small towns and rural areas. Hutchinson Station and Litchfield Rail came about thanks to funding from New Jersey-based CherryRoad Media, for example. “This is an important time because we’ve got a tribal election coming up and [Mahnomen Pioneer] gives some good coverage of the candidates,” Rev. John Cox tells Kian. He’s right: Local news is critical for public engagement. “One review found that 81% of people who follow local news ‘very closely’ are likely to vote, compared with only 35% of those who do not pay close attention to local news,” Kian writes. 

Good Trouble for Better Education

Jose Perez and Julian Spencer, the 20-something founders of new nonprofit org Good Trouble, believe that education is the civil rights issue of our time. As teens, both found themselves hanging with the wrong crowd, dealing drugs, and facing jail time. But rarely did they encounter mentors or resources to help them stay in school or even hope for the future. “I was so caught up in the day to day,” Spencer tells Katrina Pross in this profile from Sahan Journal. “I really do think that’s life for a lot of young people growing up on the North Side of Minneapolis, really living in survival mode with those generational cycles of trauma.” 

Enter Good Trouble, where the duo is advocating for changes to the education system as well as better support systems. So far, they’ve hosted over 70 community conversations, met with politicians to discuss bills they support, and testified before the Minnesota Legislature. Right now, they’re calling for less focus on test scores, more teachers of color, and help reaching at-risk kids much earlier, especially in middle schools, where the signs of a broken system is becoming increasingly obvious.

Andrea Swensson Talks Prince in SPIN

We love it when a local journalist gets the attention of national media, but I gotta say, as someone who worked with Andrea Swensson during her time as City Pages’ music editor, I gotta give an extra “hell yeah!” to this piece in SPIN magazine. Formerly at 89.3 the Current and now hosting the Official Prince Podcast (among many other gigs), Swensson is talking about the Purple One with the music mag in celebration of her latest book, Prince and Purple Rain: 40 Years. And it’s a Q&A, not a profile, so they really let her go long with her answers. Here are a few of my favorite takeaways:

On the first time she met Prince: “His eyes were enormous, his sense of humor was disarming, and… he was far more laid-back, soft-spoken, and gentle-natured than all the lore about him had suggested.”

On Prince’s unique Tweet style: “He would tweet my name in all caps with a link to the review between my first and last names.”

On being asked to dance during a Paisley Park jam: “I looked down at my feet and blushed, and when I looked back up he was gone.”

Wow! This Old Nike Commercial Features Charles Barkley AND VocalEssence 

That’s a combo you never knew you needed (and maybe don’t want?), but I assure you it’s very real and really weird. The year was 1993, and, as usual, Nike needed to sell some shoes. Somehow, the company landed on a campaign featuring pro athletes in full-blown opera productions singing about Nike Airs. Hungry NBA legend Charles Barkley was one of 'em, and can be seen below giving his all in a sneaker-themed parody of The Barber of Seville. But he’s not the one singing, of course. Turns out conductor, musician, and former MN Opera director Phillip Brunell was tasked with arranging the music and voicing Barkley’s part. Minneapolis choral music org VocalEssence contributed to the chorus, and everything was recorded at the original Orchestra Hall. And thus, this surreal commercial with multiple local angles was born:

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