Business SPOTLIGHT: Pine Knot News
December 1, 2023
The Pine Knot News observed its fifth anniversary at the end of October rather quietly, because staff members at the independent locally owned newspaper were busy working.
From humble beginnings in October of 2018 when its five owners mailed free copies across northern Carlton County, the Pine Knot News has grown to become the dominant newspaper in northern Carlton County.
From the start, the goal was to cover local news, sports, issues, faces and events across Carlton County as comprehensively as possible. It wasn't a venture to make great fortunes - the goal was to show that a local newspaper can survive and even thrive by producing a top-notch product that both readers and advertisers will support.
Over the past five years, the Pine Knot News now boasts four times as many Carlton County subscribers as its direct competitor, which closed its local office and moved operations to Duluth in January 2018.
Its in-office staff numbers have doubled, and so have the number of freelancers working for the paper.
In four years of competing in the Minnesota Newspaper Association's Better Newspaper Contest, the Pine Knot News has received more than 100 awards for writing, photography, advertising, layout, special sections, community leadership and reporting on everything from open meeting violations to local sports events. As a result of all those wins, the Pine Knot was awarded the traveling Mills Trophy the past three years for being "the most outstanding weekly newspaper in Minnesota."
"The fact that the paper is staffed by veteran journalists and other staff with loads of newspaper experience certainly helps, but we couldn't do it without the contributions of freelancers and community members who believe in newspapers, along with the support of subscribers and advertisers alike," said editor Jana Peterson.
Advertising support - from the businesses featured on this page and many others - has also grown. Advertising director Ivan Hohnstadt said it's gotten easier to sell the paper as more and more people realize that local businesses should stick together and that newspaper readers are thoughtful consumers.
Hohnstadt said he tries to approach his job as a professional advertising consultant, partner and problem solver "rather than television's WKRP's slick Herb Tarlek."
"If I keep my clients' best interests in mind, the ad sales will follow," he said.
The Business Spotlight feature that runs on the first and third Friday of each month is one example. The spotlight features began this past spring when Aaron Hanson, owner of the River Inn Bar & Grill in Scanlon, contacted Hohnstadt and asked about the possibility of getting a news story in the Pine Knot about his new cooks and new menu. After consulting with the editorial department, he realized that that type of news would be better served as a feature story.
So, Hohnstadt created the Business Spotlight program, an advertising feature that gives businesses an opportunity to tell their story in their own words and let the community know more about them.
"When clients say 'newspaper advertising doesn't work' or 'we're not doing any newspaper advertising,' I try to let them know that not all newspapers are created equal," Hohnstadt said. "There are three local papers that claim Carlton County as their home. Only the Pine Knot News is locally owned and operated, and that makes all the difference."
Each fall, any publication distributing its product through the mail is required by law to file a Statement of Ownership, Management and Circulation with the USPS and publish it in their publication. Hohnstadt is most interested in the number reported as "Mailed in-county paid subscriptions" since that's what's most important to local advertisers.
"Advertisers want to reach prospects who are most likely to patronize their business," he said. "I've been pleased to see the Pine Knot News' circulation growth over the past five years."
The Pine Knot News is clearly the dominant local paper, distributing 2,094 print copies of the paper a week, with 1,589 of those mailed directly to subscribers in Carlton County. Compare that to the Pine Journal, which distributes 884 printed papers, with only 373 going to local addresses, according to the USPS report.
Hohnstadt used the Cloquet High School auditorium to illustrate the difference. The auditorium has a maximum capacity of 550. "The Pine Knot News has enough Carlton County subscribers to fill the auditorium nearly three times," he said. "We need 61 more local subscribers to fill it three times. In contrast, our competitor is shy of filling the auditorium with local subscribers even once, leaving 177 vacant seats."
Circulation is one thing. Readership is another.
For each paper sold, an estimated 1.7 to 2 people read each issue. That means more than 3,000 people read the Pine Knot every week, not counting online readers. According to figures provided by Meta, the recent story on the new Holy Smokes restaurant garnered more than 50,000 impressions on the Pine Knot's Facebook page.
"Putting the right message in front of the right audience will increase the likelihood your advertising will produce the desired results. We've got the right audience, Carlton County," Hohnstadt said.
To find out more about advertising opportunities in the Pine Knot News, please contact Ivan Hohnstadt at 218-391-3696 or [email protected]. Got story ideas? Email [email protected], call Jana Peterson at 218-213-1231 or stop by the office at 122 Avenue C in Cloquet.
The Business Spotlight is an advertorial product available in the Pine Knot News.