Final Edition

10 April 2021
Illustration of City Pages covers
Illustration by Jonathan Reese

The recent closing of City Pages, a Minneapolis-based alternative weekly newspaper, saddened but did not surprise founders and former owners Tom Bartel ’73 and Kris Henning ’75. The couple, who launched the publication in 1979 as Sweet Potato—with a focus on the nationally revered local music scene—sold the operation in the mid-1990s and then watched from afar as the paper was ravaged by a series of cost-cutting corporate owners (Village Voice Media, New Times) and the emergence of internet-based personal ads. There was hope that when the locally owned Star Tribune purchased City Pages in 2015, the paper might get back in the black; but then came the pandemic, and what was left of local bar and restaurant advertising all but disappeared.

Bartel and Henning, who were, respectively, religion and English majors at Carleton, say their foray into publishing was inspired by friend David Wright ’74, who launched the original Sweet Potato in Portland, Maine, in 1975. David’s sister, Marcia Wright ’77, was the Minneapolis paper’s first art director, and Henning and Bartel often relied on Carls across the country for advice and camaraderie. Graduates from the 1960s and 1970s joined or built alternative newspapers in Chicago, San Diego, and San Francisco. “Watergate inspired a whole generation of people,” Bartel says. “You could see the power of good journalism.”

In its commercial and creative heyday, City Pages employed a host of Carls who were interested in magazine-style writing and intrepid reporting, including Julie Caniglia ’88 and Michael Tortorello ’94, who shaped the paper’s audacious arts section, and Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl ’92, whose James Beard Award–winning restaurant reviews became a weekly must-read for local foodies and restaurateurs. Caniglia says the small size of the staff (a dozen or so writers and editors) meant everyone had to be as curious as they were versatile, shifting beats as necessary from true crime to civil liberties, local politics to documentary film. “Alt weekly newspapers like City Pages were great places to test new forms of writing and explore ideas,” Caniglia says. “That’s not unlike a liberal arts education in many ways, right?”

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