|Ruth Stukel, 93, former librarian and two-term mayor in Warroad, Minnesota, read the paper at the Warroad Senior Living Center and said, “I’m gonna miss it. I’m missing it already.” (Photo by Tim Gruber, The New York Times)|
|Warroad and Roseau County, Minnesota (Google map)|
"It had been a death by familiar cuts," Fausset reports. "Hardly anyone took out a classified ad anymore. Amazon, with its doorstep retail service, has felt particularly miraculous in this remote stretch of Minnesota, where winter temperatures can dip to minus 35 degrees Fahrenheit. Storefront retail has suffered. Doug’s Supermarket, the only grocer in town, preferred to put its color shopping inserts inside a fat, free, ads-only mailer called The Northland Trading Post. . . . More than a year ago, [Publisher Rebecca] Colden was forced to lay off her sole freelance local government reporter. The desert was already creeping, and people felt it." Factory worker Bill Boyd, 55, told Fausset, “If you wanted to get a snowblower, you used to look at the paper. Now all of that’s on Facebook.”
Fausset writes, "This, then, was what the desert might look like: No hometown paper to print the obituaries from the Helgeson Funeral Home. No place to chronicle the exploits of the beloved high school hockey teams. No historical record for the little town museum, which had carefully kept the newspaper in boxes going back to 1897." A new, free-distribution paper, The Warroad Advocate, is in the midst of what its publishers call a 13-week trial, its fate dependent "on community and advertiser support," Fausset reports. UPDATE: The Advocate died after 13 weeks.
Without a local paper, some in Warroad "imagined the news moving from person to person, unedited and unchecked, on Facebook or other social media networks," Fausset reports. “A lot of it is going to be word of mouth through kaffeeklatsches,” former county commissioner Todd Miller told him. “And who knows what variant of BS gets passed around there.”
Fausset also describes the fundamental conflict in community journalism: the professional obligation to publish without fear or favor, and the personal desire to be a friend and neighbor in the community.
"There were only so many people in Warroad the paper could afford to offend," he writes. "In early April, they learned of the case against Joshua Demmerly, a hometown boy who became a Warroad police officer. In court documents, the authorities accused Mr. Demmerly, 29, of stalking, kidnapping and sexually assaulting a Warroad teenager. Detailed descriptions of the allegations were divulged in other, bigger Minnesota news outlets. And though The Pioneer ran the article on its front page, it was mostly just a bare-bones list of the charges."
But Colden also showed her professional steel "in April 2010, when she was forced to tangle with John W. Marvin," known as Jake, then CEO of Marvin Windows and Doors, the town's main employer. "The paper had published an article about Mr. Marvin’s daughter, Brooke Marvin, above the fold, along with her mug shot. The story described a chaotic scene at a trailer park, and reported that Ms. Marvin had been arrested on charges of misdemeanor domestic assault, obstructing arrest and criminal damage to property," Fausset reports. "It was a bold move. Mr. Marvin’s brother, Bob Marvin, has been Warroad’s mayor since 1995. During the recession, the company earned the gratitude of the community by refusing to lay off workers, instead cutting hours and pay — a strategy that also earned repeated praise from President Barack Obama. Ms. Colden said she heard from Jake Marvin soon after the article came out. He was angry. 'Your name’s no different than anybody else’s name,' she recalls telling him, 'and we publish other people’s children who get in trouble the same way.'" But no one does that now.