Tough news from up the road

By: 
John Mueller

We received bad news last week, a gut punch to our industry, actually, from up the road.

The owner of community newspapers in Shakopee, Savage, Prior Lake, Chanhassen, Chaska and Jordan announced the final editions of these publications would be published later this month. Six well-established, once-profitable newspapers will be gone. In an era where revenue matters, the size of the return-on-investment matters more than ever.

After gutting the staff, the Denver, Colo.-based hedge fund owners may have unsuccessfully tried to sell the publications. We don’t know for certain. What we know is residents of six communities no longer have a community-based news source for locally-sourced accurate news on the school board, the county board or the city council or goings-on in town. The papers have long provided information on items like when the school play starts, whether the home team won the other night, who are the homecoming king and queen, interesting people impacting the community, news on Memorial Day ceremonies, why the street a block over is being torn up, how the school district’s students are performing academically, how much the city plans to levy next year, the new business downtown or when funeral services for your neighbor will be held.

The papers in Shakopee, Chaska and Jordan date back to the mid-19th Century in one form or another for goodness sakes. They’ve chronicled the return of soldiers from war, how communities are getting by during the pandemic and how the communities voted in recent elections. The papers in Chanhassen and Savage were first published in the 1990s. The Prior Lake American was first published in the 1960s. It’s hard to fathom, but The New Prague Times will be the lone community newspaper circulating in Scott County by the end of the month. Good lord, this isn’t right.

On a personal note, my resume includes 19 years (1987-2006) with the company that owned those papers, including a switch to out-of-state corporate owners. Plenty has changed since then. Many good, honest, sincere, talented people dedicated to community journalism worked there, logging long hours to serve their communities.

Social media and corporate greed are the obvious culprits for the demise of this respected brand.

Since the onset of the pandemic, advertising revenue, the lifeblood of a community newspaper, has been more challenging to win, especially when a business can advertise to a limited audience at no cost on social media. But social media offers no commitment to the community, employing no one here and contributing little value to the public. Still, we can’t ignore a generational shift on how people access and consume information. Sure, we could scoff and tell the new kid to get off our lawn, but painful as it may be for us old-timers, we need to adjust.

What do you want?
Sure, The New Prague Times places information on social media. We do so to keep people informed between publishing the print editions, and hopefully, drive readers to our weekly print edition where advertisers have invested in the locally-based newspaper and the community it serves.

Over in Belle Plaine, people lament The Belle Plaine Herald, a family-owned community newspaper, saying its farewell a few years ago.

We want to be the place you turn for local news, and yes, to support local advertisers who support us. Do you want more information on specific topics, less information, shorter stories or more details? Do you want more information online? More pictures, fewer stories? To provide you the community newspaper you want, please let us know, by email – news@newpraguetimes.com – via our Facebook page or by telephone (952) 758-4435.
We want to be the place you turn for information about your community.

(For more opinions, see the April 11 print edition of The New Prague Times.)

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