Read all about it: Blooming Prairie, Kasson newspapers raise awareness for community journalism

Published 9:12 am Wednesday, May 15, 2019

BLOOMING PRAIRIE—Imagine if there’s no community newspaper, where will you go to find your source of news?

That’s one harrowing question that many local newspapers are facing today, including two newspapers in the area.

Rick Bussler, editor and publisher of the Steele County Times and Dodge County Independent, was approached by his news staff at the DCI in Kasson about raising awareness for community newspapers through a GoFundMe campaign. Within the last year, two other local newspapers closed in the Dodge County area: The Byron Review and the Star Herald, leaving several towns without their own paper.

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Not wanting to see this fate befall any other newsroom, Bussler agreed to the idea and the staff shared the campaign on social media. Soon, the two papers were thrust center stage in the ongoing dialogue of why local journalism matters.

There were a couple things that led to the decline of newspapers, according to Bussler, which included digital news consumption, declining advertising sales, increasing expenses for newsprint and smaller subscriptions. Struggling to finance a newspaper business, Bussler said that operating to keep his publications afloat is expensive, adding “I’d be lying if I said we aren’t struggling.”

The Steele County Times and the Dodge County Independent newspapers serve small communities. Their GoFundMe campaign to support local journalism recently caught statewide attention.

“Sometimes, (people) take their local newspaper for granted,” he said. “We recognize there’s a younger generation that simply does not pick up a newspaper when they have a phone in their hand. We’re trying to figure out how do we get these people to take ownership or interest in the newspaper.”

Losing a community newspaper has its effects in the towns it serves. During the last 15 years, local newspaper circulations decreased by about 30 percent. The number of statehouse reporters covering local government issues also dropped by 35 percent, according to the Columbia Journalism Review. Studies also indicated that “a lack of local media coverage is associated with less informed voters, lower voter turnouts and less engaged local politicians.”

The DCI and the Steele County Times had to lay-off eight staff members within the last several years, and the Times’ building is on the market for purchase.

“We’re down to the bare bones already,” Bussler said. “I think the bigger picture is to raise that awareness that if you don’t support your local newspaper, don’t advertise your business or subscribe, that’s not going to be good for the community. People become less engaged. It’s a travesty for everyone.”

Adapting to changing ways of how readers consume news, small newsrooms are continuing to make several pushes for promoting stories on social media, as well as trying to enhance their storytelling through multimedia and digital content.

Alex Malm, Dodge County Independent editor, looks through the past archives of the DCI newspaper that has long served the community of Kasson and surrounding towns in Dodge County.

Over at the newsroom in Kasson, Alex Malm, the DCI editor, also reports on city council meetings as well as school board. He knows that with a smaller newsroom, this is where the community comes to get their source of news. Using training he learned in school, Malm implemented more digital engagement through live video streams and photo galleries on Facebook.

“We write about the sports teams, birthdays and stories that matter to them,” Malm said. “Who’s going to cover their sports, school board, city council and all that if the newspaper is gone?”

Malm went into journalism because of his love for small towns. Having found the affinity of writing stories about the people around him after having gone to school originally for political science, the landscape of local journalism opened his eyes to the joys—and the struggles.

He acknowledged that many newspapers about the size of the DCI and the Steele County Times continue to encounter challenges that small town papers face, including the adaptation of print news to digital and increasing social media engagement.

Despite what others may view as bleak, communities typically embrace and support their small town paper.

“By large, we get a lot of people who say they love their newspaper,” Bussler said. “Occasionally, there’s someone who didn’t get their paper and I’d hand deliver it to them in the country or Owatonna. They are thrilled to get their paper, and love the content. We put out a great product and they really love it, and it’s hard when in the back of our minds that we’re struggling financially. I don’t want to ever see this go away, whether it’s me or someone else.”

Check out the “Saving our local community newspapers” GoFundMe campaign here: