Ennyman: When did you first take an interest in writing? And who were your biggest influences?
Naomi: I first became interested in journalism when I was in junior high school. As icebreaker, our typing teacher had everyone anonymously write down his or her favorite television show on a slip of paper. My favorite show was 60 Minutes and when the teacher read it out loud, the whole class erupted into laughter.
As a high school junior, I wrote for our high school paper. The summer before my senior year, I attended Northwestern University’s six-week Summer Institute of Journalism in Evanston, Ill. We participated in mock interviews of famous people and we also had some real interviews. My senior year I wrote for the Grand Forks Herald’s Teen scene. I was paid to produce one story a week on area teenagers. (I doubt any newspapers are paying teenagers to write stories now.)
EN: Can you tell me the history of the Hillsider?
Naomi: The Hillsider is a non-profit, free monthly publication that was started about 13 years ago by a group of residents.
Its purpose was to give a voice to the culturally diverse residents of the communities of East Hillside, Central Hillside and Endion neighborhoods. A decade ago, the poverty rate in Central Hillside approached 37% compared to 10 percent for the whole city of Duluth. Often the traditional media does not cover issues that matter to the residents of these neighborhoods. Sometimes the only news out of the neighborhood is bad news.
The Hillsider was originally funded by some start-up grants but currently the paper is totally sustained by advertising. We continue to maintain our 501(3)(c) status. I am paid a modest amount, we have a person who is paid to do the books, and we also pay a stipend amount to a proofreader. Our all-volunteer board meets monthly and we have a totally new mix of people on its board from when I started.
EN: How did you become involved with The Hillsider?
Naomi: When we moved to Duluth in August of 2005, I was very concerned about reducing my carbon footprint. We only looked at homes within an area where my husband could ride the bus or walk to work. While we were apartment hunting, I picked up a copy of the Hillsider at the Beijing Restaurant. I knew I wanted to live in a neighborhood that fostered a newspaper like this. We settled on the East Hillside neighborhood.
My first Hillsider article was published that October and when the editor position opened, I applied for it. My first edition as editor came out on June 15 of 2006. We immediately stepped up production from every other month to monthly. We also added the neighborhood of Lincoln Park to our coverage area because that neighborhood has the same type of issues and mix of people as Central and East Hillside.
EN: What is its mission and vision?
Naomi: As I mentioned earlier, our mission is to cover the hyper-local issues of the Central Hillside, East Hillside and Lincoln Park neighborhoods. Our vision is to bring our news to more types of media. Currently we are focusing on our hard print newspaper, but our board knows that the whole world is going digital. Some of our readers do not have access to the Internet, but at the same time many of our readers are online. I email close to 2000 volunteer reporters, readers, and advertisers three times each month. The emails let people know a new Hillsider is out or remind people about deadlines.
I started a Hillsider Newspaper Facebook page to keep tabs on the community and also to have them help produce the paper. I write on The Hillsider wall when I need help with proofreading, story ideas or distribution. While the paper focuses on the core neighborhoods of Duluth, we are distributed throughout Duluth and often taken home by some of the 20,000 employees that work in the downtown area.
In June of 2010 The Hillsider received the Butterfly Award for the best use of online social networking tools to connect, convene and inform the community. This award was bestowed by Tech Tuesdays, a collaboration of the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits-Northeast Chapter, Lake Superior Initiative and the University of Wisconsin-Superior’s Center for Continuing Education/Extension.
EN: What is Sun Dog Press?
Naomi: Sun Dog Press is my writing and photography business, which I started in Grand Forks, North Dakota. I wrote stories and submitted photographs for a small independent weekly. I also helped edit hyper-local news Internet sites based in the east coast called Hukd.com and 21stnewsnet.com which had content unique to each Zip Code. I think it was a bit ahead of it’s time.
EN: You maintain an online presence called Everyday Duluth. How did that happen?
Naomi: Actually, I started Duluth Daily Photo in the summer of 2008 after registering as the photographer for the city of Duluth with the City Daily Photo Project. The City Daily Photo project was started by a man in Paris named Eric Tenin who started Paris Daily Photo in 2005 which became wildly popular. In 2006 he and his friends started a portal where you could register to photograph your own town. The rules are that it must be a photo that you took that day and it must be unique to your town.
In the fall of 2009 I was included as one of the first group of artists to take the C.RE.A.T.E. coursework from the Northeast Entrepreneur Fund. I was chosen as one of the artists to be mentored in a three-year program to learn business skills. Mary Mathews, the executive director of the Northeast Entrepreneur Fund noticed that many of our gift shops have artwork and souvenirs from other states and overseas. She thought it would be great if Northland artists could sell their work to gift shops.
Our assignment was to produce a piece of artwork that was replicable and that we could sell at a wholesale price to retail stores. I decided on a calendar as a vehicle to showcase my photography in an affordable way to the general public. I wanted to keep it within my own environmental values since many calendars and books are printed in China or Korea with unknown environmental controls, not to mention the oil required to ship the product back. The Everyday Duluth 2011 calendar was printed in Duluth on Forest Stewardship Council approved paper. Some of the calendars are protected with eco-friendly sleeves. (I wish I didn’t have to use plastic sleeves, but many of the retailers said it was necessary to protect the product.)
EN: Why are communities still important to you, and especially the Hillside community?
Naomi: I love a community where people walk and take the bus to just about anything they need. The Hillside area has lost some of the amenities that made it walkable. Two hardware stores have closed and the local branch of a credit union recently closed it doors. One thing that the Hillside is missing is stability. Some estimates put the neighborhoods that my paper serves at over 70 percent rental. I’ve always had a passion to help people. I enjoy a diverse community and there is no reason to be lonely or bored here. There is always something interesting going on.
EN: Thank you for sharing with us. It's quite apparent you have a passion for what you are doing.
Be sure to visit and bookmark the Duluth Daily Photo blog.
It's all good!