In an era when small-town newspapers across the country are folding, residents in northeast Minnesota are getting a different story.
The Cook County News-Herald, based in the tourist town of Grand Marais, was sold recently to a national information technology firm from the East Coast. An executive said they plan to improve the newspaper's print edition as well as enhance the paper's online offerings.
CherryRoad Technologies Inc., based in Morris Plains, N.J., has long been in the business of helping governments bring in new technology. But the acquisition of a newspaper is the family-owned company's first, said chief executive Jeremy Gulban.
"For the last 20 years or so, our focus has been on helping state and local governments with digital transformation initiatives," Gulban said. "Over the summer, we got to talking about what else should we be doing with our technology tools. ... Local newspapers came up as a topic."
The purchase, for an undisclosed price, follows the closure of many newspapers around the country, including several in rural Minnesota such as the Lake County News Chronicle in Two Harbors and the Jasper Journal in southwestern Minnesota.
Hal and Deidre Kettunen, who bought the Cook County News-Herald in 2007, put it up for sale when tough economic conditions intensified with the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Nobody wants to advertise if they're closed," Deidre Kettunen explained. "That hurts us."
After helping with a transition in ownership, the couple plan to move to Grand Rapids, Minn., where they used to live.
With about 450 employees throughout the country, CherryRoad is establishing a media division and will eventually work on building a new website for the newspaper and updating it frequently, Gulban said. The site will include streamlined ways for readers to interact with advertisers.
"I think our overall goal would be to maybe look at one or two papers in a number of different states, and as we find the solutions that are good solutions, look to make the technology available to the other local papers within the state at a price point that's affordable to them," Gulban said.
But first, he said, they plan to add more local photography and reporting to the weekly print edition, which circulates about 4,000 copies in summer and has been around since the 1890s.
"Hopefully [readers] will notice that we're putting more content into it," Gulban said.
The sale of the News-Herald sent waves of concern through the small community on the shore of Lake Superior.
"It's all a mystery," said Jim Boyd, executive director of the Cook County Chamber of Commerce, pointing out that the company has no media experience and doesn't know the community yet. "Not clear how [Gulban] might change things. Best to wait and see."
Editor Brian Larsen, who will continue in his role, said the initial working relationship with corporate has left him optimistic. A new camera was being delivered to the paper, Larsen said.
"So far it's been good. Really good," he said, adding that the leadership has "a lot of ideas, a lot of fun stuff coming."
Gulban said he thinks Grand Marais — a place he had never been before the sale — will be a good place to start the company's new media endeavor.
"Grand Marais and Cook County is an interesting place to launch this," Gulban said, citing the tech-savvy and well-wired population. "There are a lot of interesting stories there."
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