It’s a real gut-punch to newspapers that’s sucking the life out of rural Minnesota. Well, at least in some parts of the state.
A few weeks ago, a colleague of mine, Reed Anfinson, a very well-respected publisher in western Minnesota, wrote about the gutting of rural newspapers. Anfinson owns several small-town weeklies, including the Swift County Monitor-News in Benson.
Anfinson pointed out how it’s the job of newspapers to assess the information of both sides and give citizens a balanced story, especially when it comes to the impact of government on local communities. He was also quick to say if there is still a newspaper in the community and if it has the staff to report.
He singled out Granite Falls, where the local newspaper no longer covers the city council, school board or county board. Anfinson was appalled.
It’s no secret that the internet has wreaked havoc on newspapers over the past few decades. But, as Anfinson said, there is a close contender for that unwelcome distinction—corporate ownership of newspapers.
The problem is corporate ownership is far removed from rural America with the singular goal of feeding dividends to investors. It is simply not interested in the communities they supposedly serve.
Readers of the Granite Falls Tribune, Montevideo American-News and Redwood Falls Gazette are discovering what corporate ownership does to their communities. The trio of newspapers is owned by Gatehouse, which bought Gannett and formed the largest newspaper company in America. The company took the better-known name of Gannett.
The rationale handed down by the corporate giant is that they need to improve profitability by targeting operational “inefficiencies.” With employees being the biggest cost of operations, they are the victims of those inefficiencies.
Since the directive, there is one editor for all three newspapers. Previously, there had been one editor in each community. Anfinson argues there isn’t enough staff to do the primary function of a community newspaper as a watchdog of local government.
“How does a representative democracy function when its citizens are ignorant of the actions of their governments?” Anfinson asks.
One person suggested to Anfinson that the city of Granite Falls hire someone to get the news out about important issues. But, as Anfinson asserted, the idea of government being the source of news for citizens is not a good one. He makes a valid argument: “While we can’t afford to support our independent community newspapers, we spend public dollars hiring government officials to write the news?”
He implies if that happens, we will be left with rumors, lies, opinions and lightweight stuff of Facebook for our news.
Corporate ownership of newspapers isn’t foreign to southern Minnesota either. However, this newspaper is not part of a corporate chain.
I hope our readers understand how lucky they are to have an independently owned newspaper with the Steele County Times. We are focused on all communities in our coverage area and do our best to cover the actions of the local governments throughout the county.
Our readers tell us that good local journalism by a dedicated staff of journalists is important to them. That’s why we focus on bringing the local news every week. I plan never to stray away from being hyper-local.
I am committed to going in hot pursuit of remaining true to our communities and not sucking the life out of rural Minnesota.