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Johnny Northside and friends: North Minneapolis' best-known blogger has spawned his own blogosphere

North Minneapolis is "going someplace amazing," says neighborhood activist John Hoff. "One day people are going to be interested in finding out how we got there."

Hoff is helping chronicle that journey--in a big way. His blog, The Adventures of Johnny Northside, is a colorful--and highly influential--blend of reportage and memoir about life on the Northside.

North Minneapolis has long struggled with issues such as foreclosures, drugs, prostitution, and gang violence. But Hoff says the area is in transition and he's here not only to bear witness, but also to contribute to its turnaround. Hoff's blog goes into detail about foreclosed homes, slumlords, sex offenders, and more, but he also keeps an eye on the small and large pleasures of the neighborhood, conveying tidbits from his daily life, such as his part in neighborhood cleanups and cookouts and observations about public art.

Hoff, who is prolific and has a wide readership, is one of a number of bloggers on the Northside who are seemingly on a mission to see that the neighborhood gets to that "amazing place."

Each blogger has his or her own style and take on things, but collectively they're "trying to re-brand the neighborhood," Hoff says. For Hoff, that means getting as much information out as possible, "even if it's scant, incomplete, and imperfect coverage," adding, "as long as it's the truth."

Getting Involved

Often, Hoff, who has journalism training, goes beyond simply writing about an issue or an event. For example, at one point he documented his efforts to rid the neighborhood of "shoefiti," or shoes that have been tossed up onto telephone wires and power lines. While he doesn't shy away from controversial topics, he's just as apt to write about a quiet jog around Jordan Pond. Anything and everything he encounters in his daily life is fodder for the blog, if it pertains to the Northside.

While it's unclear what impact the blogs are having just yet, they're attracting plenty of readers, including many who add to the discussion through comments and guest posts, or by passing along photos and other pieces of information.

Jeff Skrenes, who started out as a reader of Johnny Northside, eventually began commenting anonymously on the blog, then doing write-ups of his own.

He noticed that Hoff's blog had started to create a new culture of discussion in North Minneapolis: people were talking more about revitalization and less about racial politics, which had dominated for a long time.


The blogs have served a watchdog function.

Skrenes and Hoff together uncovered a multimillion-dollar foreclosed home on the Northside, which led to a larger story about 120 to 150 so-called Dream Homes that were shoddily constructed and fell into disrepair. "Fraud and infighting led to many of these homes going into foreclosure," Skrenes says.

Developer Paul Koenig, who was responsible for the Dream Homes, in part through a company he set up, Pamiko, and is now the subject of a lawsuit filed by Minnwest Bank, "either became over-leveraged or was committing some kind of financial misdeeds," he says.

Eventually the Star Tribune and City Pages covered the ordeal but "it was citizen journalists that worked tirelessly to reveal the details of Pamiko's downfall and drew connections to community and personal impacts."

Hoff nicknamed Skrenes the "Hawthorne Hawkman," a name Skrenes decided to keep when he started a blog of his own called North by Northside.

Right now an issue getting a lot of attention has to do with lawsuit documents, which Skrenes was the first to post, that claim north Minneapolis properties are being assessed unfairly and therefore taxed at a higher rate than they should be.

"I want to see real-world impacts because of what I'm doing," he says--and those impacts don't have to be a big deal. He's gratified, he says, when he sees someone patronizing a business he's praised on his blog or someone having coffee with the landlord of a problem property, talking the problem through.

"I look at what we're doing as cutting-edge," he says. "I think it appeals to a certain demographic of people who want to be a part of it."

A Sense of Empowerment

Eric Johnson, an IT professional who lives in the Jordan neighborhood, has recently joined in the effort, with his blog, the Irving Inquisition, in which he writes about housing issues, backyard fires, neighborhood parades, and more.

Once he started blogging, engaging people in issues through the online discussion and making connections virtually and in person, he says, "I felt a sense of empowerment," adding, "I realized that I have the ability to help steer things in the neighborhood, just by being there and volunteering."

In the past he thought that revitalization of the area was a losing battle. Now, he feels like it's a matter of working together. "It's up to all of us," he says.

Ed Kohler, a South Minneapolis resident who writes another popular blog, called The Deets, says via email that the Northside bloggers have a unique dynamic. "North is one of the areas of town where bloggers blog about their [sense of] ownership in their neighborhood," he says.

They fill a niche, he adds. The mainstream media doesn't "provide the community-impact-statement-style accounts of day-to-day struggle that bloggers like Johnny Northside and the Irving Inquisition provide." And the Northsiders' blogs inform the media. "If you Google any name or topic related to North Minneapolis," Kohler says, "you're going to end up on Johnny Northside more often than not."

Anna Pratt is Development Editor of The Line.

Photos of John Hoff, aka Johnny Northside, by Bill Kelley

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