Through three centuries, 16 presidents and six state high school hockey championships, the Warroad (Minn.) Pioneer has served this community of some 1,800 residents on Lake of the Woods, a stone’s throw from the Canadian border.
The front page of the current issue features news of a proposed hotel along with a look at the school musical, complete with a cast photo.
But unless a white knight comes riding over the horizon, these kinds of hometown stories — along with the weekly newspaper’s run of more than 120 years — are set to end with the May 7 issue.
Culprits behind the paper’s death include the digital revolution and the loss of advertising from local businesses, owner Rebecca Colden said Thursday.
“We’ve had a lot of businesses close in the community,” Colden said. “We just have less to pull from.”
The paper’s annual revenue of about $200,000 is down “a solid 30%” since she bought the publication in 2008. Her staff, which once numbered 10, now consists of just three people.
In addition to advertising losses, the paper has been hurt by the drying up of commercial-printing jobs that once brought in extra dollars.
“Because that’s gotten so easy to do online, we’ve seen that drop,” Colden said. “People print their own forms.”
The paper still has 1,100 subscribers who pay $38 a year for their 52 issues, but that’s not enough to keep the lights on.
“We know the subscribers that look forward to it, and we don’t want to let those people down,” Colden said. “But we’re also a small business, and no different from the flower shop or the dress shop or the gas station on the corner.
“If we can’t make it on the dollars and cents, then it’s not a viable business.”
Lisa Hills, executive director of the Minnesota Newspaper Association, called the Pioneer’s end “sad” and “a big loss for the community.”
Her group’s membership stands at about 300, she said, down slightly from around 320 five years ago.
Nationally, newspaper losses have been far greater than that.
A study last year by the University of North Carolina found that more than one in five American newspapers has closed in the last 15 years. About 1,400 communities that once had a newspaper now have no local news coverage at all.
That’s a big problem for society, said Reed Anfinson, owner of two rural Minnesota weeklies and president of the National Newspaper Association Foundation.
Especially in rural communities, the local newspaper “is socially and civically the most important organization in the community,” Anfinson said. “At the founding of the country, Madison and Jefferson and the others knew that to truly have a free country, you have to have an informed citizenry.”
Studies have shown that in communities without a newspaper, people vote less and are less active in the community, he added. Even city revenue bonds become more expensive, “because the lenders know there is no watchdog, and corruption is more likely.”
Colden said she’s “in some talks — can the paper be saved, and what would that look like? But if something doesn’t come full circle, and we don’t find a way of continuing, then May 7 will be our final issue.
“I had to financially set a date that, this is as long as I can do it.”
The Warroad City Council has already prepared for the Pioneer’s demise. At a recent meeting, the council voted to designate the Roseau Times-Region, published about 20 miles away, as Warroad’s newspaper of record.
Times-Region publisher Jodi Wojciechowski said she will increase her coverage of Warroad, but that’s unlikely to fill the void, Anfinson said.
“Nothing can replace the community newspaper,” he said. “The digital world is not going to do it, we know that now.
“The internet is a king-of-the-hill game. There’s one Amazon, there’s one Apple, there’s one Google.
“The king survives with immense wealth, and everyone else is a peasant.”