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More than 100,000 voters cast ballots in Minneapolis for Tuesday’s election: the highest turnout in a primary for more than 50 years, according to city election officials. No one needs to be reminded that we’re in the middle of a calamitous pandemic. But voters refused to be discouraged.
An event like that is a boon to a newsroom. Coming almost exactly one year after the launch of our nonprofit news site, we at Sahan Journal took it as a kind of birthday present.
As the results started pinging on our screens, we posted a slate of stories about some of the intriguing and consequential winners. And here’s where we got our birthday cake: Tens of thousands of readers followed our social feeds to www.sahanjournal.com and read our coverage. Thank you!
The heavy turnout didn’t entirely catch us by surprise. For a few months, we’ve been following a handful of races that seemed unusually exciting. We first profiled Esther Agbaje and Omar Fateh back in May when these progressive candidates from African immigrant backgrounds shocked the party by winning DFL endorsements. Would they—could they—win again at the polls?
We assigned writers to interview all the candidates, neighborhood backers and voters leaving the polls. Call it routine political reporting: You talk to people and write down what they tell you.
Hey, no newsroom can cover everything. But we started Sahan Journal a year ago based on our belief that Minnesota’s mainstream newsrooms kept missing the same thing: stories involving immigrants, refugees, new Americans and people of color.
In his founding editor’s note, Mukhtar Ibrahim put it this way:
Minnesota’s immigrant populations are increasingly politically active. Professionals from immigrant backgrounds are a growing force in the labor market. Where can they find high-quality journalism that’s about—and for—them?
Looking at that mission statement, we recently added the words “by them.” In the past 12 months, we’ve added four full-time reporters, a photojournalist, and a managing editor. And we’ve seen how a Black-led newsroom with a highly diverse staff covers the news differently.
Among the things we’ve noticed: Our readers call, email, text and tweet at us about issues they want to see covered. Some of us on staff joke that Mukhtar’s phone is a newsroom unto itself. (He won’t mind us telling you his number for your own story ideas: 651-983-1550.) More seriously, there’s a responsiveness—and responsibility—to the community that comes with all those news tips.
What do you do when a reader texts at 8 a.m. to tell you about two family friends who just got accosted and nearly assaulted by a hostile white man while photographing a turkey on the side of the road in Bloomington? You better call the young sisters, track down the police report, and write the story.
One of our reporters, Hibah Ansari, jokes (with a wince of regret) that Sahan Journal has discovered a steady news beat in stories about Minnesota racism and Islamophobia. Like the Somali women who ordered a frozen drink at a Starbucks at the Midway Target and found the name “ISIS” written on her cup. Or the award-winning educator from a Thai refugee camp whose windshield got shattered by a stray golf ball—and then got stonewalled by an elite Minneapolis country club.
Those accounts draw a lot of traffic to Sahan Journal. At one point in July, we tallied 100,000 unique visitors in a week. When we started a year ago, we hoped that we’d connect this way with readers—and yet, to be honest, we’re still surprised and thrilled.
It would be a grim job if all we did were report on hate speech, bigotry, roadside turkeys and golf accidents. So it’s nice to be able to share with you that the other stories driving our traffic sang out in a much brighter key.
- Our education reporter, Becky Dernbach, profiled two educators who just stepped into jobs as the first Somali mainstream public-school principals in Minnesota.
- Our immigration reporter, Ibrahim Hirsi, visited with the founder of a massively successful Ethiopian news site, who fled arrest and persecution—across deserts and seas—to practice journalism in St. Paul.
- Our photojournalist, Jaida Grey Eagle, created a photo essay where young Oromo activists talked about what they learned through the George Floyd protests and their hopes for change in Ethiopia—and Minnesota.
- Our health reporter, Joey Peters, explored the traditional healing methods of Jesus De La Torre, a “sobrador” from Durango, Mexico, who treats patients in Minneapolis’s Powderhorn neighborhood.
- Our culture reporter, Hibah, explored the efforts to preserve paj ntaub: traditional Hmong embroidery that Hmong women crafted and sold to help support their families.
Each of these news pieces chronicled the experiences and achievements of immigrants. They also represented deeply American narratives and themes: education, free speech, entrepreneurship, civil rights.
In his first editor’s note, Mukhtar laid out a list of goals so ambitious they strained credibility: substantial fundraising targets, numerous hires, deep community engagement. Looking now, we’re proud to have made great progress in achieving all of them. We have a lot more journalism goals, too: broader community coverage, more public events, efforts to help young immigrants explore careers in journalism, and engagement with the emerging leaders of our communities. We’re excited to tell you more about them in the months ahead.
In truth, however, while we’ve strived to work hard, Sahan Journal owes all its success to you: our readers, newsletter subscribers, and financial supporters. Along with your donations to Sahan Journal, you’ve told us why you felt compelled to support our work:
- “This news source is covering issues and communities not previously covered by mainstream media.”
- “I work as a PR Manager for the City of Saint Paul. I literally could not do my job without you.”
- “I want to invest in making Twin Cities media more representative of everyone who lives here.”
Simply put, you wanted more news—better news—about immigrants and people of color and for the past 12 months we’ve tried to deliver it to you.
Thank you for reading our birthday card. Let’s do this again next year?
— Sahan Journal staff