The Free Press, Mankato, MN


January 1, 2013

Spear: New ways to share community news

— 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.

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