End of an EraFree Access

Nearly four years ago I arrived in Mayville for my very first visit upon taking the Area Publisher position for NorDak Publishing. I felt out of my league, having managed three South Dakota papers for the previous six years, adding four more to my docket was intimidating, but I was excited to share my vision for community newspapers and help these communities be represented. When I look back on that first visit I never dreamed I would sit here trying to make the toughest decision you can in our line of work, ‘how to save a newspaper’ and not liking the answer.
I firmly believe in community newspapers; I know they are the heartbeat of their communities and I firmly believe once they are gone there isn’t anyone left to tell the community’s story and record it for generations to come. In 20 years, 50 years, future generations won’t be able to wade through the massive amount of “fake news” online to know what really happened in our small towns. I firmly believe that it is the responsibility of the newspaper to make sure our communities are represented now and in the future.
Unfortunately, like most places that keep the wheels turning in small towns, newspapers are a business, and we must survive as such. Each community newspaper has employees and overhead expenses that must be met but often within the community they are held to the standard of being a community service, causing them to be unsupported and often taken for granted. No one gets into the newspaper business for the money. Sure, it’s a job and it pays enough to make a living, but at the end of the day, being part of your community newspaper is a calling to be an active part of your community and help keep that community alive for years to come.
So, what happens when a community newspaper can no longer survive as a business? How do you keep something alive when you can’t afford to complete your call to community service? Since COVID, I have watched many colleagues and newspaper groups struggle to keep their products alive, and once they reach the point of no return, they go one of two ways: they close the doors, or they cut their staff and lose their local touch trying to keep a business alive. This week, I had to answer that question for myself. For two-plus years we have struggled to get the Traill County Tribune to hold itself up, we have fought to grow readership and advertising, but times are tough. Our Traill County Tribune staff is loyal, the quality was solid, but the newspaper couldn’t survive on its own as a business and keep our local staff. M y choice was to either make it a ghost of what the community deserves or close it and save our other communities from carrying that weight or risk the future of other community newspapers who have the ability to thrive as the sole community news source for their small towns.
This wasn’t an easy or light decision, but I know that the community does still have a voice, hopefully one that can grow in our absence. We hope our staff stays with us to serve other small towns and their continued mission of community journalism and if they choose to move on, we wish them all the best on their new endeavors and thank them for their dedication to the newspaper and the community served by the Traill County Tribune. We are working through the process of closing out accounts and how to make this right with our readers and advertisers, as we know this will leave a hole. Bear with us you will hear from us soon.