Our View: Newspaper strive to stay afloat in a new world
July 9, 2021
Last month, U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar entered a statement into the Congressional Record lamenting the loss of yet another newspaper in Minnesota, this time the Journal in International Falls. Klobuchar holds a special place for the industry, as the daughter of revered longtime Minneapolis reporter and columnist Jim Klobuchar, who died in May at age 93.
“I grew up knowing just how important local newspapers like the International Falls Journal are,” the senator wrote. “Local papers played an irreplaceable role in my father’s life, as they continue to today for countless readers.” Growing up on the Iron Range, Jim Klobuchar read the Duluth Herald as a boy and was inspired to become a storyteller, his daughter said.
There are a number of challenges facing the newspaper industry today, including the decimation of locally produced news by social media and ad revenue going along with it. “I have introduced bipartisan legislation to let news publishers join together to negotiate fair terms with these giant digital corporations,” Klobuchar wrote. “We must give independent papers the chance to compete.”
She is also a co-sponsor of the Future of Local News Act, which would “create a committee to study the state of local journalism and offer recommendations to Congress on the actions it can take to support local news organizations.”
We at the Pine Knot News are proud to be an outlier when it comes to the disturbing trends in journalism. In the midst of chaotic change in the industry, with newspapers merging or going dark altogether to create news deserts, in 2018 the Pine Knot sprang up because veterans of the news industry here saw a need for a strong, independent local paper. In a few short years, we stand proudly on what we’ve achieved, including the highest statewide award for excellence from the Minnesota Newspaper Association.
But we are not outliers to the economic realities of the industry. We are surviving, barely. We appreciate a loyal following from hungry news readers. We have a strong base of regular advertisers that keeps the lights on.
As we crawl out of the pandemic that took hold in March of 2020, we relish getting back out into the community. By our nature, we are keen on local buzz, whether in person or online. In the past few weeks, we’ve heard an interesting drumbeat from the community. It’s questions. People are wondering about an event, a business development, or anything that is happening in the ebbing shadow of pandemic closures. Often, had they simply read a Pine Knot News, they’d already have the answer to the question.
Readership of newspapers has taken a hit. And we’re not sure how to fix that. There has always been the rumor mill to keep community gossip going, but in the past, people relied on the local newspaper to set the record straight. Today, the rumors just spin endlessly on social media, get peppered with often faulty opinion, and the element of getting it right by reading vetted, professional journalism has been lost.
We urge our loyal readers to point out on social media and in public discourse that useful, trusted information can be found for less than a dollar a week by subscribing to the Pine Knot News. We aren’t cable news. We aren’t a drop-in daily newspaper or television news crew showing up for just the big story and then leaving. We are here, on the ground, every day. We are at the public meetings that affect your bottom line and quality of life. We are here to tell the stories of your neighbors, be it a spectacular feat or just a simple tale.
Klobuchar’s statement went on to speak about what we lose without local news coverage.
“The International Falls Journal is a reminder of the value of local journalism. For more than a century, it has empowered its readers by providing them with accurate, relevant information about their communities. It has captured moments big and small that together tell a beautiful story of the region that will live on.”
Years from now, no one will be looking on social media to find out about our past and how it intermingles with the present. They will be at the library or historical center going through bound copies of actual news pages, filled with pictures and stories about this community. We joke in the office that you can’t just stick an iPad on the refrigerator every time your child or grandchild gets their face in the paper.
We get it, technology has created new habits. But everything goes retro. It is our hope that the value of newspapers in every community rises again, and readers and advertisers support the important, permanent work we are doing.
Imagine the dystopian world where social media opinion is all we have to tell the story of the community. Where public bodies have no accountability and achievements go unnoticed. That is not the world we want to live in. It’s what we face if news deserts continue to grow.
Let’s not let that happen.