May 27, 2021

One year ago, Susan Du was on the streets of Minneapolis covering George Floyd’s death, then protests, then riots, then cleanup, then calls for reform, then neighborhood repairs.

“It’s been nonstop since this time last year.”

A lot has changed in that time, too — for Du, the newsroom where she now works, and the city she covers. I reached out after reading text she wrote for a Star Tribune photo essay, “The crossroads of Minneapolis,” that shows the last year from the intersection that’s become a memorial to George Floyd.

The images by Star Tribune photographers show early protests in south Minneapolis, where Floyd was killed; makeshift memorials; art; people who’ve come to see it for themselves; and celebrations after former police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted of Floyd’s murder.

It’s the kind of work local newsrooms do best, showing up day after day.

“Our photographers have been covering George Floyd Square since its inception really,” Du said. “It’s become a real lightning rod in Minneapolis. It’s also extremely complex.”

There’s a 40-year old church at the intersection that’s working to address issues with drugs and gangs. A gas station there was destroyed and is now a headquarters for protesters. The intersection has become a semi-autonomous zone, shut down to traffic. That hurts some poor and elderly residents, Du said. The memorials to Floyd are constantly evolving with the seasons. And people come from all over the world to see it.

A year ago, Du was covering all this for the alt-weekly, City Pages. When it closed, she found herself in the same position as thousands of journalists who’d been laid off during the pandemic.

She started at The Star Tribune six months ago and found a newsroom that’s working to better reflect its community and produce more nuanced reporting. The Star Tribune made photo editor Kyndell Harkness assistant managing editor of diversity and community, a job Harkness was already doing unofficially.

“But they made it official,” Du said.

It’s been hard, in the last year, to make time for the conversations inside the newsroom that have to happen. Given the choice between that work and covering their community, they choose the community.

“We are waiting for that moment when we can breathe a little better,” Du said. “It hasn’t come yet.”

There have been bright spots, too. Du is grateful to work in a city that’s highly literate and cares about local news. The Star Tribune is not owned by a hedge fund.

The kind of work that local journalists do best — showing up day after day — is also the kind that can be the hardest.

“I know that my colleagues have had a very difficult year, especially as we try to move past some of the real hostile, anti-journalism rhetoric of the past four years, just trying to stay focused on rising above propaganda and false influences that come from all sides while trying to capture the authentic experiences and opinions of our community without bowing to political pressures,” Du said. “It is very hard. Most days, we can’t spend too much time thinking about the stress. You just gotta march forward and do the job. There’s no complaining. You gotta just do it.”

More from Poynter:

How journalists in Minnesota covered a story that shook the world

How two local newsrooms are sewing diversity into the fabric of their organizations

This piece originally appeared in Local Edition, our newsletter devoted to the telling stories of local journalists

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Kristen Hare covers the people and business of local news and is the editor of Locally at Poynter. She previously worked as a staff writer…
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