It would be easy to start where everyone was on Tuesday, as crowds of journalists and community members waited outside the Hennepin County Courthouse and around Minneapolis for the verdict in former police officer Derek Chauvin’s trial for George Floyd’s death.
But maybe it’s better to start in the days before that.
On Monday, April 12, Mark Vancleave was in Brooklyn Center covering the community’s reaction to Daunte Wright’s death when a police officer shot a rubber bullet that hit Vancleave’s finger, breaking it in two places. The Star Tribune photojournalist spent the night in the hospital before surgery.
Nearly a week later, on Sunday, Jaida Grey Eagle was planning to attend an event at George Floyd Square when she saw a Black Lives Matter rally marching down her street toward the governor’s mansion. The Sahan Journal photojournalist stepped out of her home and followed them.
That afternoon, after flying in to Minneapolis to start her new job, Sarah Glover rented a car and headed for George Floyd Square. The new managing editor at Minnesota Public Radio spent three hours there, just watching and listening.
The Twin Cities has a rich ecosystem of local news — television stations, newspapers, public media, nonprofits.
“We’re not a news desert, we’re a competitive media landscape,” said Andrew Putz, executive editor of the nonprofit online newsroom MinnPost.
And while the world has been watching Minneapolis since last May, the journalists who live there aren’t covering a story for the world, but for their neighbors.
The day after the former police officer was found guilty on three counts in the death of Floyd, I checked in with some of the journalists who have been covering this story from the start.
Grey Eagle, a Report for America fellow, started with the Sahan Journal four or five days after Floyd’s death. The last year, she said, has been intense, enlightening, sad …
“It’s been everything.”
The Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder is the state’s oldest Black-owned newspaper.
“We’re writing from the perspective of the Black community,” said Mel Reeves, community editor. “We live in the community, we live the experience, so we write from that experience.”
“The vast majority of us, especially the ones who are on the ground doing this work, most of us live in Minneapolis, these are our communities,” said The Star Tribune’s Vancleave. “These are our neighbors, our coffee shops, our streets, our friends who are in the middle of what’s going on right now, which I think is important. That’s what local news is all about.”
And while the heaviness of the news is exhausting, said MPR’s Glover, particularly for Black journalists and journalists of color, “They are working very hard to tell this story and meet the historic moment of this tragedy. It’s a level of commitment that is remarkable.”
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On Tuesday, the day of the verdict, The Star Tribune’s Vancleave worked from home. He won’t be able to make pictures for the next six weeks because of his injury. Sahan Journal’s Grey Eagle was outside the Hennepin County Courthouse. With all the national and international journalists, it took her awhile before she recognized anyone.
“Most of my photographs from yesterday have so many cameras.”
The Spokesman-Recorder’s Reeves covered the verdict from there, too.
“It was a scene,” he said the next day.
But it’s not one that should get overplayed.
“That was just one little victory that was earned by the people,” he said. “There won’t be any more coverage about how happy we are. … We’re still in the middle of it. It’s a victory in the middle of a long battle. It doesn’t say anything about the system.”
Covering those systems has been some of MinnPost’s work, from police reform and pretext stops to a future piece explaining how Minnesota’s sentencing process works. With so much coverage, MinnPost hasn’t focused on the day-to-day, but on offering depth and context, Putz said.
The question that drives them: “Are we serving our community in the best and smartest way that we can?”
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“It’s a very strange thing when the national and international media comes to town,” Putz said. “They didn’t just parachute in for a couple days this time. People have been here for weeks and months.”
There’s been impressive coverage, he said, and stories “where you’re like what is this place they’re talking about?”
Some local journalists have also found work with national outlets, said The Star Tribune’s Vancleave.
“A lot of the national coverage you saw there was still coming from local people.”
But as a newer journalist, seeing the press from outside Minnesota reminded Sahan Journal’s Grey Eagle, who is Oglala Lakota, of her early years on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.
“Being from there I experienced a lot of parachuters coming into our community and telling our stories for us. I was always very mad at the stories they produced. This isn’t us. How do you see us this way?”
On Wednesday, she imagined the airport was busy with all the national journalists leaving town.
“Even just being here today I think is powerful,” she said.
For the journalists who live in Minnesota, the daily work continues — Daunte Wright’s funeral, Derek Chauvin’s sentencing, the trials of the other officers involved in Floyd’s death, and the underpinnings of a system where all of this keeps happening.
“George Floyd’s death and the impact that his death had, it literally shook the world, and journalists are important to help the community understand the impact of why the world was shaken,” MPR’s Glover said. “There’s much more storytelling to come.”
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This piece originally appeared in Local Edition, our newsletter devoted to the telling stories of local journalists
Correction: Mark Vancleave spent the night in the hospital before surgery, not after. It has been corrected. We apologize for the error.