The Free Press, Mankato, MN

January 1, 2013

Spear: New ways to share community news

By Joe Spear
Free Press Editor

— As the new year begins, we’ve come up with new ways to tell you the community stories that you’ve come to expect from The Free Press and The Free Press Media.

We rebranded our company a couple of years ago to reflect all the different forms of media we employ to tell the same great community stories and provide the same robust level of community news and information.

So, not only do we use the medium of newsprint with The Free Press, we use electronic means and multi-media to publish stories to We also use high-gloss magazine paper to publish three magazines, and this year our content even ended up in a book form.

Longtime Free Press photographer John Cross and Minnesota State University professor Dave Engen collaborated on “The Wagon Wheel Project,” a series that was first published in the Sunday Free Press for about 18 months.

Cross’ photos and Engen’s well-done narrative writing combined to provide a portrait of the people who make up the Mankato community. It’s best described as: “Your community, your story, told one person at a time.”

When I read those stories as they appeared in The Free Press, I was struck by how genuine the people seemed to be just talking about their life in general and how honest they were about life’s important moments. The Wagon Wheel setting — as the longest continuously operated cafe in Mankato — also was perfect for the project. The Wagon Wheel Cafe acts as what Engen calls a “third place” — an informal gathering place for a community that offers social enrichment.

Talking with Engen, I know the 500-700 or so words that were published as each person’s mini life story came from much longer meticulously conducted interviews and much gleaning of those interviews by Engen. The narratives in my mind turned out superbly and the book should be a staple in any Mankato area home as a piece of local history told very well.

The book can be purchased at The Free Press, Barnes and Noble and through our website at There’s a discount for Free Press subscribers if you buy them from us.




In the same vein, The Free Press Media has just published its first edition of a new high school sports magazine called “Final Buzzer.”

Produced by our sports department and with the photos of veteran sports photographer Pat Christman, the magazine is a review of the great moments, players, teams and milestones of the local high school sports scene for each season.

It’s a photo-driven magazine that highlights the drama of high school sports and celebrates the efforts of the athletes, win or lose.

We will publish three times a year after each sports season. We’ve made a limited number of copies available at area schools and allow booster clubs to keep all the proceeds from the sale of the magazines. Free Press subscriber/members can also pick them up at The Free Press free of charge while supplies last and non-subscribers can have them mailed to them for $8.85 per year or buy single copies for $2.95.

It’s an exciting project that so far has been enthusiastically embraced by sponsors and readers alike.

So in the end, we’re working to provide our reader/members a robust menu of local stories told in new and interesting forms but in ways that remain familiar and reflect the community.


Joe Spear is the editor of The Free Press and part of the operations team at The Free Press Media. Contact him at 344-6382 or