West St. Paul Reader: Five Year Anniversary

Five years ago today I launched West St. Paul Reader with the first-ever post, a recap of a City Council meeting.

That first post really epitomizes the work we do: It’s narrowly focused on what happens in our first-ring suburb. It celebrates what’s happening in the community. It serves as an archive to mark what happened, when, and why. I just spent some time reflecting on that first post five years later.

Reflecting on Five Years

We’re doing a whole five-year anniversary member drive with an audacious goal of 50 members to mark five years by 5/25. But more than flogging a member drive and trying to bring in new members, today I’m trying to reflect on five years of this work.

Grateful: First and foremost, I’m grateful for the members who make it possible. Five years ago I launched a Kickstarter campaign, and within five days we hit the goal. By the end, 68 people backed the project. Several months later, I launched membership through Patreon to make the project sustainable. Today, 275 people support West St. Paul Reader on a monthly or annual basis. West St. Paul Reader wouldn’t exist without them. Thank you.

Astonished: I never thought I’d be doing this. Seriously, I took a single journalism class in school. I wrote for the school paper once, and that was an opinion piece. I began writing about West St. Paul in 2014 here on my personal blog, and it kept ramping up. In early 2019 someone asked me if I’d ever do a site focused on West St. Paul. I said no way. But the idea clearly wormed its way into my head, because here we are. More than that, we found a way to make it work (thanks again to the members).

Joyful: I keep coming back to the fact that I love running West St. Paul Reader. I never thought I’d be doing this, but I absolutely love it. There’s something about the community engagement, about the locality, about knowing what’s happening on your street. I find it fascinating. For me, the world shrunk after the 2016 election, and for most folks I think the world shrunk after COVID-19. In a globally connected world, it’s just easier to get my head around my own neighborhood. That could seem limiting or small minded, but there are hidden depths. You don’t have to go far to find what you’re looking for. (Perhaps as a pedestrian example, West St. Paul has an incredible array of world food choices.)

Kevin D. Hendricks at West St. Paul Reader table.
Hosting a table at Moreland Made (Photo by Finley Gustafson)

What’s Next?

I don’t know what’s next. Since I didn’t want to do this in the first place, I’m clearly not very good at planning these things. But it keeps evolving and growing, and I’m grateful for that.

Students: We’ve got a paid intern right now. I didn’t necessarily plan for that. But it is an outgrowth of hiring contributors and trying to give students an opportunity to do the work. That pay-it-forward aspect is exciting.

Postcards: We’ve already created 13 postcards and we’re about to add five more. That’s a super fun way to put a spotlight on this community and showcase local artists. Making things physical is a fun component to an otherwise digital project.

Art: We’re watching public art blossom in our community, first with a mosaic sculpture, then with a tunnel mural, now with a giant school mural. We’ve had a hand in encouraging those projects to one degree or another, which is fun. It’s pushing beyond simple reporting to advocacy, which is a fine line to walk for sure, but I will happily defend supporting art and biking and Pride in my community.

There’s a lot to love about what’s happening right now with West St. Paul Reader. I’m trying my best to soak it in.

Kevin D. Hendricks in front of West St. Paul City Council table with flags and "City of West St. Paul" in background.
Selfie in the West St. Paul City Council chambers.

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