A hometown newspaper writes its own obituary and then writes its second act
A hometown newspaper wrote its own obituary last month, then turned the page.
“We wanted to go out with a bang,” said publisher Ted Almen, who oversaw the 6,124th and final edition of the Raymond-Prinsburg News on the Fourth of July.
The News was the third Minnesota newspaper to go out of business in the first six months of this year. Its last words landed in nearly 400 subscriber mailboxes with a solid thump, stuffed with highlights from more than a century of community coverage.
“For once, the newspaper was absolutely full of advertising,” Almen said. “Unfortunately, it was ads from the 1920s and the 1940s. Businesses that used to exist in our communities and no longer exist. The car dealership. The harness shop.”
Almen, a third-generation newspaperman, swore the tiny newsroom to secrecy about the final edition, wanting to give his readers one last exclusive. He owns a small chain of smaller newspapers with his wife, Kari Jo, and they published the News through its last two decades of slumping ad sales and shrinking circulation.
“Really, financially, it should have happened a long time ago,” he said. “Emotionally, it was hard to be the publisher who stopped the presses after 118 years.”
Because there’s a special joy that comes from telling the stories nobody else is telling.
“We practice what I like to call ‘refrigerator journalism,’ ” he said. “I love to go to somebody’s house and see a photo of their child or their student or their athlete or themselves clipped out [of the paper] and taped to the refrigerator.”
Raymond and Prinsburg hug the western border of Kandiyohi County, where every week since November 1900, the News arrived with the latest births and deaths and high school football scores and City Council meetings. People leafed through — fewer and fewer each year — to see who was graduating and whose grandchild won the middle school track meet and who got in the photo from the National Night Out barbecue.
There’s no hometown newspaper for the 750 residents of Raymond and 500 residents of Prinsburg, but there’s still news.
The Clara City Herald, seven miles down the road and also published by the Almen family, now arrives in the mailboxes of the former News subscribers, with the same familiar bylines. The three full-time staffers and a handful of part-time reporters and editors in the Clara City newsroom will keep covering all three towns.
“At a newspaper with a staff of three or four people, you have to do everything — right down to sweeping the floor,” Almen said. “If somebody comes in and wants to buy a subscription, you help them. In a mom and pop business, you have to be flexible.”
His daughter, Jordan, is the fourth generation to join the family business, working as a reporter, photographer and columnist, covering City Council, writing features or anything else that needs doing. These days, Almen says most of his writing involves writing checks, but even he will jump in and take photos or lay out some ads.
News subscribers had a choice of a refund or a substitute subscription to the Clara City Herald, home to the same small news staff that wrote for the News. So far, Almen said, only a handful of subscribers have asked for a refund. In fact, the death of the hometown paper barely seemed to faze the community.
“I wish I could tell you the phone rang off the hook,” he said.
It may be difficult for the community to miss its paper if it doesn’t really feel like it’s gone. At the Raymond Public Library, substitute librarian Paulette Peterson, who has subscribed to the paper since 1975, said a reporter showed up, just like always, to cover the latest program they put on for the community.
“It was a good paper,” she said. But these days, she said, not many young people look for their news on paper. “Maybe that tradition died.”
Prinsburg might not have a paper anymore, but Prinsburg still makes the paper, said city clerk and treasurer Sarah Van Dyken.
“Even though the RP News is no longer we get coverage with the Clara City newspaper,” she wrote in an e-mail. “The reporter that covered our area, and she is awesome, is now the editor. She keeps our town in the news.”
There are about 310 newspapers out there in Minnesota keeping their towns in the news. That counts everything from the paper you’re reading down to Raymond-sized weeklies. Every year, that number gets smaller.
We lost the Sunfish Gazette in Atwater. The Lake Emo Leader. The Stillwater Courier. St. Paul’s Asian Pages. The Arrowhead Leader in Moose Lake. The Eveleth Scene. The Range Times in Biwabik.
Earlier this month, the Le Sueur News-Review and the Le Center Leader merged to form the Le Sueur County News. The Bird Island Union merged with the Hector News-Mirror last year. The free Anoka County Record folded in April after a seven-year run. Up in Mizpah, the short-lived Keeper Chronicles shuttered in March.
Sometimes, after deadline, reporters head to the bar to peer gloomily into our beers and wonder whether anyone would miss us if we were gone. Oh, how we would miss you.
“We think what we’re doing is important,” said Almen, whose grandparents ran the Truman Tribune and whose father published the Kerkhoven Banner. “It is very gratifying when you have someone come up to you and say, ‘I just loved your photo ... I loved your daughter’s story about so-and-so.’ It’s not extremely profitable ... but we get by and we’re just happy with what we do.”
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