Thursday, August 20, 2020

Aided by covid-19 relief funds, longtime officer manager buys and resurrects closing rural Minnesota weekly

Chatfield, Minn. (Wikipedia map)
After 40 years working at the Chatfield News in rural southeastern Minnesota, Pam Bluhm got a big promotion, in a way: When she found out the weekly was closing in March, the 60-year-old office manager bought it and is now the publisher, John Reinan reports for the Star Tribune in Minneapolis.

In doing so, the lifelong Chatfield resident saved a 164-year-old paper that's older than the state of Minnesota. Bluhm said she couldn't stand the thought of Chatfield, a town of 2,800, losing the News. And she wasn't sure what she would do with her life after working at the paper for so long.

"I didn’t know what I was going to do after 40 years," Bluhm told Reinan. "And I thought, 'This [ownership] is what I gotta do.' And Chatfield needs a newspaper. It was either this or go to work at the deli."

Bluhm only had $400 in her checking account when the paper closed, and still has a second job cleaning a local medical building 10 hours a week. "Her startup money was the $1,200 covid stimulus check she got in the spring. That was enough to register a new corporation with the secretary of state and buy the paper’s computers and file cabinets," Reinan reports.

Bluhm's determination to serve Chatfield has come back to her tenfold; as she helps the townspeople through policies such as free obituaries (which she views as a community service), the town helps her right back. "She has a small freelance budget but gets most of her content from community members who write for free," Reinan reports. "Volunteers make the weekly 60-mile run to pick up the papers in Calmar, Iowa, where they’re printed."

Bluhm lives on the second floor of the News building and is almost always around the office, ready to swap stories or take some news. Her policies seem to be working: "Since Bluhm took over, the News’ circulation is up about 15 percent, to 865 subscribers. A yearly subscription costs $35 — or $40 for out-of-towners," Reinan reports.

Subscriptions and volunteering aren't the only way townspeople support the paper. Current and former locals have sent Bluhm dozens of letters, many with checks for as much as $400, thanking her for keeping the paper going, Reinan reports.

Local business owner Dawn Cole told Reinan that the News "is kind of a staple here in town, especially for us business owners. There are still a lot of people in Chatfield who like to have the paper in hand."

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