Community journalism is a balancing act

I’ve seen it all my life: Many Americans love to hate their local hospital, schools and newspaper.
That’s okay. All three are essential aspects of a healthy community. All three are basically local monopolies, so consumers have few options to spend their money elsewhere. All three make plenty of mistakes and can always perform better.
But often the criticisms of all three are knee-jerk, unfair, or based on fiction.
Five times each summer, we catch heck for giving one community festival more attention than another.
Believe me, we try to give somewhat equal coverage, but many factors must be considered, including how much advertising we have that week, how much breaking news occurs, how much time we have, and how much information we receive through email, phone calls or submissions.
Onamia Days and Isle Days get full sections in advance because of the number of advertisers willing to sponsor them. Garrison and Wahkon each get a four-page insert.
Garrison’s event has become nearly as big as Onamia’s and Isle’s, but it doesn’t have quite the long history. Rock On Wahkon and the Mille Lacs Band Powwow are a little smaller and shorter and may get a little less coverage.
Onamia and Isle get more coverage as a whole in the paper because they are larger towns with public schools. We do our best with Garrison, Wahkon, Malmo and Vineland, but it’s not apples and apples.
We try to give each summer festival a full center spread of photos in addition to thank you letters, articles on grand marshals and new attractions, and results the organizers send our way.
For the record, here are the numbers so far:
Onamia Days: June 6: 8-page advertising section. June 13: Full front page, 3/4 of center, 30 additional inches.
Isle Days: July 11: 8-page advertising section plus feature on Hometown Hero in regular paper. July 18: Front page photo, 3/4 of center, half of my column, and some follow-up coverage July 25.
Garrison Play Days: July 25: 4-page advertising pullout, plus 3/4 page on grand marshals. Aug. 1: Front page photo, 3/4 of center, 40 inches of additional coverage.
I also got a second-hand criticism last week from someone who thought we made too much of a launch being named the “Best in Minnesota.”
I understand that you can be voted “Minnesota’s best,” “America’s best” or “World’s best” in any one of a thousand contests held online or sponsored by some company or other. There are a bunch of launches that could be voted Best of Mille Lacs or Best in Minnesota and that may be featured on a Twin Cities TV station, as Fisher’s was recently, prompting us to run a story.
I ate the World’s Best donuts in Grand Marais last week, and I can’t really argue, though Isle Bakery might. I could probably be named the World’s Best Journalist if I vowed to use only Acme pencils.
Those little details don’t matter to me. As a community newspaper, part of our job is to be a cheerleader for all things local. Last week it was Fisher’s turn to be in the spotlight. This week it’s Eddy’s turn. Next week it may be Myr Mar or Rocky Reef or the Blue Goose or Castaways.
If you’re a business owner, your time will come, and it will probably come sooner if you take a minute to call the editor of the paper to tell him what’s new or stop by his office, where the door is always open. I like to visit, and the coffee’s on.
Brett Larson is the editor of the Messenger. (Note from a Messenger writer: skip the coffee — it’s awful)
This was published in the Mille Lacs Messenger on August 8, 2012.


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