North News: New Stories and a Real Truth

Kenzie O’Keefe grew up in St. Paul. She now lives and works in North Minneapolis as editor and publisher of North News.

“We’re just trying to show folks that good things happen in North Minneapolis,” she said.

Kenzie O'Keefe Morris Grear North News
North News editor Kenzie O’Keefe and Morris Grear, a Minneapolis North Community High School student, in a 2017-18 journalism class at Minneapolis North. (North News)

North News, a print and digital news source that shares the stories of North Minneapolis with the community, is staffed by local high school students. The publication started about 30 years ago, and in 2015 the company was later sold to Pillsbury United Communities, a nonprofit that owns many social enterprises. O’Keefe was hired to run the publication almost three years ago.

O’Keefe was initially reluctant about taking on her roles at North News. “I had some hesitations about taking the job at the time,” she said, “because at the time, I wasn’t super connected to the community.”

What attracted O’Keefe to the work, though, was her observation that there is big a difference between what actually goes on in North Minneapolis versus the mainstream media’s and general public’s perception.

“In the Twin Cities as a whole, there’s this pervasive stereotype that North Minneapolis is a dangerous, scary place where only crime and violence happens and occasionally, you know, a flower springs up from a crack, and that’s the good story,” she said.

North News WCCO
The North News journalism class at Minneapolis North poses for a photo in the WCCO-TV studio last school year. (North News)

“I think we need to be thinking about educating the next generation of journalists,” O’Keefe said. “Getting people in the community involved and telling stories about the community, and really recognizing that folks of all ages have things to say about the community that we live in … felt like such a no-brainer.”

Blessing Kasongoma, a North Minneapolis resident and student at Patrick Henry High School on the northside, stumbled upon North News through her interest in photography, she said.

“I applied through Step Up,” Kasongoma said, referring to a Minneapolis job network for high school students. “I thought it was going to be a regular joblike my first job, I was a soccer coach. But then I was placed in North News.”

Her experience was nothing like she expected, she said.

Blessing Kasongoma
Blessing Kasongoma, a Patrick Henry High School senior, participated in North News in summer 2018. (Aaliyah Demry)

“I was really stressed,” she said. “Before writing, I was like, why am I doing this? Why does my experience matter, like, who’s even going to relate to this?”

According to Kasongoma, people loved and were inspired by her story about a language program at Patrick Henry. The feedback from her peers motivated her to continue with her storytelling.

    The experience also changed her views on North Minneapolis.

    “I feel like I kind of found that voice … to advocate for myself and also for others,” Kasongoma said.

    Currently, North News is participating in a project called Truth and Transformation: Changing Racial Narratives in Media.

The project is a partnership between a number of Minnesota media and community groups, including ThreeSixty Journalism, that aims to inform media of existing biases and how they can change the narrative.

    “One of the reasons North News has been involved in the Truth and Transformation project is because we also just see an issue just at the industry level that there are … you have a media industry that is predominantly made up of white folks,” O’Keefe said. “I think that’s a piece of why a community that is largely people of color is not well represented.”

    Like North News, Truth and Transformation hopes to contribute to a more complete mainstream media view of all communities.

“It’s telling the stories that are real, vibrant, creative and a happy life in North MInneapolis,” O’Keefe said, “and inserting those stories into the media narrative.”