Closing of the I’Falls newspaper at the end of the month

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David Colburn

INTERNATIONAL FALLS – Residents of this isolated border town are trying to cope with harsh news last week that the 110-year-old International Falls Journal will be shutting down at the end of the month.
The fate of the newspaper was announced in a brief article in its June 1 edition, and much of the blame has been placed on the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Like many businesses last year, the impact of the pandemic on The Journal and North Star Publishing has been dramatic,” the advisory said. “These challenges, combined with other difficult economic trends, forced us to make this difficult decision.”
The first edition of the Daily Journal was published on July 1, 1911. In 2010, “Daily” disappeared from the name when publishers reduced to two editions per week, and last year they switched to a weekly publication. The June 24 edition of the Journal will be the last.
“Our journal was a staple, it’s something you take for granted,” said Tricia Heibel, president of the International Falls Area Chamber of Commerce. “You don’t think about the possibility that this could close.”
“Unfortunately, we are faced with the reality that it can. It’s a rush, and community leaders and residents are discovering the many impacts of it.
Local Journal editor Rob Davenport declined to be interviewed for this article, referring to the published statement. The Timberjay reached out to MediaNews Group, the newspaper’s owner, for comment on the shutdown. Regional editor Greg Mazanec of the St. Paul office was no more open than Davenport in his email response.
“We are no longer commenting,” wrote Mazanec.
Corporate hatchet?
MediaNews Group is part of Manhattan-based hedge fund Alden Global Capital (AGC), which last month became the country’s second-largest newspaper publisher with its purchase of Tribune Publishing. When the Journal entered its fold in 2020 with AGC’s purchase of former owner Red Wing Publishing, AGC became the largest and most locally disconnected owner in the Journal’s 110-year history.
AGC has come under heavy fire from many corners of the print media community for its aggressive cost-cutting measures in the newspapers it has purchased. Among AGC’s most scathing assessments is that of Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan in February:
“When Alden arrives, it’s time for the slaughter and the burn,” Sullivan wrote. “Editorial jobs – journalists, editors, photographers – are cut to the bone. Decisions are not made for long-term sustainability, not for service to the community, not for the humane treatment of skilled and dedicated staff, but for the next quarter’s income statement.
Given that Davenport and Mazanec both declined to be interviewed, it is unclear how much, if any, local contribution contributed to the decision to shut down the Journal. However, Tricia Heibel offered a glimpse.
“I connected with our local editor,” said the Speaker of the House. “I understand that this is a decision that is not made locally. And my interpretation from him is that this is a final decision.
Local impact
As the only comprehensive source of information in the International Falls area, the loss of the Journal will in some way impact all business, government and community affairs in the area.
“The importance of the newspaper to business has many aspects,” Heibel said. “It’s a great way for businesses to communicate their sales, announcements, job postings, and a lot of what they do. It was a communication tool with our elected officials. (Business owners) are not always able to attend board and board meetings, so they can always be informed of the impacts on their businesses through articles in the newspaper.
Heibel said the House’s efforts to defend the interests of the larger business community would also be hampered without a local newspaper.
Koochiching County Administration Director Jenny Herman said the sudden news of the closure of The Journal, the county’s official legal journal, forces them to scramble to investigate what alternatives they can find.
“If we don’t have a newspaper that meets the guidelines, I don’t know what our options would be,” Herman said. “It’s new to us, and it’s being reviewed by the county attorney. We use the newspaper a lot to inform the public about things like sanitation hours, timber auctions, etc. It will also affect the courts with their public notices and the city of International Falls. “
Herman said she believes International Falls city council is due to meet Tuesday night to discuss the impact of the Journal’s shutdown on its operations.
Heibel also spoke of the loss of the Journal’s function of serving and communicating the social aspects of small town life.
“I grew up in the Twin Cities,” she says. “It was new for me to see open announcements like baby showers. From births, deaths, weddings, school and sporting events, lost pets to everything else, it was just a really central communication tool.
Like other small town and country newspapers, the Journal has helped define the city’s identity.
Nick Mathews spent 15 years as editor of the Houston Chronicle and regional editor of three Virginia dailies before undertaking graduate studies in journalism at the Hubbard School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Minnesota. His research interests have focused on newspaper closures and the plight of small towns and rural areas that have lost them.
“In a research project, I studied the impact of a 99-year-old weekly newspaper on its abandoned readers,” Mathews said. “(There has been) a clear negative impact on the sense of community of former abandoned readers. Residents missed the celebrations, felt more isolated, and noticed a decrease in pride in their community. “
“Some former readers have likened the newspaper’s death to the death of a loved one,” Mathews continued. “The newspaper meant a lot to them and to the community. The International Falls Journal has been a part of the lives of its readers for over a century. It is almost impossible to overstate the importance of loss to community members.
The Journal’s demise is also likely to have a huge impact on the operations of the Koochiching County Historical Society, CEO Ashley LaVigne said.
“This creates a problem for the museum where we now have to create a new system to archive all the news that would have been in one place (in the Journal),” she said.
For example, instead of having the diary as the source for city council and school board meeting reports, the historical society might need to start obtaining meeting minutes from every government and community entity it tracks. LaVigne explained.
People inside and outside the community depend on the historical society for genealogical research, LaVigne said, and “obituaries are the most important to us.” Envisioning a future without the Journal’s compiled reports of regional obituaries is definitely a challenge, she said.
“Losing the paper is difficult,” said LaVigne. “It’s a glimpse of a community and it tells a story over time. Now we have to find a way to record the story as it happens without the diary recording it. Whether there is a fire or a new business, it is all recorded in our assets. This information will not be available unless we do so, which we do not have the capacity to do. Our historical society only functions with a staff of two people.
Other options
Although the loss of the Journal is a blow to the community, Heibel said she has already discussed alternatives with others. One approach might be to try to recruit a new newspaper in town, while another might be to develop a community news site on the web. It’s too early for anything other than brainstorming possibilities, but Heibel is up to it.
“I think it’s worth exploring,” she said. “There are communities smaller than ours that have publications. I think we could get broader community support to bring something like that again. It all seems speculative right now as we explore options, but I think there are options. “



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