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BREAKING NEWS

Sad day for folks in Minn Lake

By Chuck Hunt - Editor | Feb 21, 2021

Since I have been involved in the newspaper biz all of my adult life, it is always a sad thing when I see a newspaper cease to exist.

So, it was some sad news last week when we learned that our fellow Faribault County publisher, Don Kain, decided to stop putting out the weekly Minnesota Lake Tribune.

There were a variety of factors, of course. COVID-19 was one. That has hit just about every newspaper in the country pretty hard. The business shutdowns and slowdowns have translated into lots fewer ads which means many fewer pages each week and that means a lot less ad revenue at a newspaper.

But, COVID was not the only reason, according to our friend Don.

There are just plain fewer businesses in Minnesota Lake – and other small towns for that matter. Fewer businesses equals fewer ads. Banks are often good advertisers, and Minnesota Lake just had theirs shut down, for instance.

Another reason is the inability to find a good reporter, publisher Kain says. With his work day dedicated to the other part of his business, the commercial printing operation, he needs to have a reporter to help with writing the stories of Minnesota Lake. Lately, he has been having trouble finding one. Who wants to move to little Minnesota Lake for a job?

I feel his pain. We are having the same situation here at the Register, trying to fill a vacant reporter position and finding very few applicants. Apparently no one wants to come be a reporter in little Blue Earth, either.

Another problem Don has is with his health. He recently had cervical spine surgery, which he is pretty well convinced has come from years of being hunched over the computer working on the newspaper.

Again, I feel his pain, this time literally. I, too, have developed neck pain that I think is directly the result of too many hours at the computer. (Luckily we have a fine physical therapy department at UHD which is helping me find some relief from the pain).

But, I digress.

Don Kain made the very tough, emotional decision to cease publishing the newspaper, and instead to continue with just a local shopper, which will have mainly all ads. That way local businesses, which still want to get their advertising message out there, can do so.

It was an emotional decision because Don cares deeply about the Minnesota Lake Tribune and the community of Minnesota Lake itself.

The Minnesota Lake High School graduate left town and was off on different jobs and adventures for many years before finally returning home in 2008.

That is when he discovered the Tribune was struggling and going to close. He bought it and saved it from extinction back then. And, he is happy he could keep it going to serve the community, and to keep publishing it through 2019 when the paper celebrated its 125th birthday.

But now, sadly, Don has decided to call it quits, at least as far as the Tribune is concerned.

He is not the only one. There are an estimated 400 to 500 newspapers, most of them small town weeklies, which have closed, or will close, their doors in the past couple of years or later this year.

There are a variety of reasons. Some have combined with a neighboring small weekly, as did the Wells Mirror and Bricelyn/Kiester Courier-Sentinel not so long ago, to form the South Central News. Newspapers have a history of doing just that, including the Blue Earth Post and Faribault County Register – and even large newspapers such as the Minneapolis Star and Minneapolis Tribune and the St. Paul Pioneer and the St. Paul Press.

Other reasons are that newspapers get bought up by chains, and those large newspaper operations sometimes buy several newspapers at once, with the intent of closing some of the financially weaker ones.

In other cases, newspapers in small towns, where the town has lost many of its businesses and even its school, eventually have to close as well, since the town they serve has basically dried up and doesn’t have much left.

And then there are the cases of small town newspaper owners getting older, ready to retire and can’t find anyone interested in taking over the operation and continuing publishing the local newspaper for the community.

Many other types of small town businesses are facing this very same dilemma, it is a pretty big issue in many places.

One more issue is competition. Most of the time small towns are lucky to have one newspaper, and having more than one is almost unheard of.

But local businesses often have several options for placing advertising, including these days, places such as Facebook.

Unfortunately, many mistakenly believe that if they advertise on Facebook, they don’t need to do anything else.

Believe it or not, not everyone looks at Facebook every single day, week or hour.

There are those who say print is dead and newspapers are dinosaurs and deserve to fade away into the tar pits.

That is a pretty scary thought. Not just for newspaper people but for the communities these newspapers serve. Small town weekly newspapers cover the news of their community, often when no one else does.

You might find some accurate news of the world, nation and state in many places, but only one source brings you the news of the city council, school board, high school sports, local businesses, county board, your neighbors and obituaries.

In depth, with photos and fair and unbiased – and, usually, pretty darn accurate – reporting.

When a newspaper shuts down in a small town, I am not sure who is going to take up that responsibility.

And, that is pretty sad.