Small town newspapers must branch out

Published 9:17 am Monday, May 19, 2014

Something About Nothing by Julie Seedorf

Small town newspapers have been around for decades. It is fun to look back through the archives of small town newspapers and read the announcements and the way they were written. This is the announcement of my grandfather’s first wife’s death.

Mrs. Jerome Young who lives about six miles northeast of town in Freeborn County, died on Wednesday morning of last week of lung fever. The funeral services were held Friday. The deceased leaves a husband and four children to mourn her death. Mrs. Young was a fine woman and very active and progressive. Her death is a terrible blow to her family. This was in the Forum-Advocate, Tuesday, Sept. 5, 1907.

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In the same paper was also this note exactly as it was written; run-on sentence and all: “Last Friday the Basket Ball girls were all at the depot and ready to go to Lake Crystal, the train was late so before it came Mr. Barnes received a telephone message telling the girls not to come on account of the rain. The game was postponed until Monday.”

The Forum Advocate was filled with news about what the residents of the community were doing, who they were visiting, whether they were traveling as is the case of E.O. Oren and Alex Enochson.

This little tidbit was their little news of the week: “E.O. Oren and Alex Enochson left Saturday Evening for New York on business. Mr. Oren had started a car of dressed poultry ahead and expected to reach the metropolis about the same time the freight did.”

Writing has changed since 1907. Newspapers have changed. If you look back in the archives of old newspapers across the decades you would see the change in the way the newspapers reported the news. Those newspapers might also give you a glimpse through their changes of the progression of changes in the way people live their lives. If you look back at the past, you may see the reason newspapers in 2014 must change it up another notch.

No longer do people want it reported in the newspaper when they are leaving town. It is not safe. The Internet has also changed those hometown tidbits. We already know what is happening in the lives of the people we care about because of the convenience of social media. Communities have gotten smaller and people’s worlds have gotten bigger.

We, in the southern Minnesota area are very fortunate to still have small town newspapers such as The Courier Sentinel, the New Richland Star-Eagle and the Wells Mirror to name a few. We are still fortunate enough to have bigger community’s newspapers still going strong, such as the Albert Lea Tribune.

As the small town newspapers struggle to stay successful in this competitive news world, they are making changes that occasionally upset their readers. Change is hard on everyone, but for small community newspapers, the changes must be made to stay in business. These newspapers must reach out to a broader reader base outside of their communities. Newspapers rely on advertising and with small communities there is not the broad business base there once was, so newspapers must appeal to those also outside their area in order to sell advertising.

Communities used to be sufficient within their borders. Our small towns had clothing stores, grocery stores, shoe stores, restaurants, lumberyards, car dealerships, churches and people to support these businesses. These businesses advertised and the local news was reported. Small towns were happening.

As much as we want our area newspapers to stay the same, if you look back through history there has been change in the newspapers formats and there has always been resistance to change. Life is change. Every single day when we open our eyes something about our life is going to be different.

I like to look at the change in area newspapers as progress. I love reading a story outside of my little world that broadens my learning and my knowledge of places and people. I love reading a story in a newspaper that challenges my thinking whether I agree with it or not.

Newspapers now have an online presence. They have a Facebook page. They need to keep up with social media to survive.

When I used to read my local paper when I was younger, the local stories pertained only to my hometown. It was a time when businesses were thriving, schools had double the kids we have now and life revolved around activities only in our community. I was content with that. As I look at what is happening now and the possibilities for our young people to learn more about people halfway across the continent, I think perhaps I missed out. There is so much good to learn from others stories.

That is my opinion. The next time you pick up your local paper and the stories reach out and are about others in other communities, you can thank the editor for expanding your world or … you can be upset because the paper isn’t about only your community or your interests.

The choice is yours. Does the community newspaper tradition grow into the future or will its obituary report its death?


Wells resident Julie Seedorf’s column appears every Monday. Send email to her at Her Facebook page is