From the editor's desk: News deserts are blooming

By Sarah Nigbor
Posted 4/17/24

In Minnesota by the end of the month, eight community newspapers will close: the Hutchinson Leader, Litchfield Independent Review, Chaska Herald, Chanhassen Villager, Jordan Independent, Shakopee …

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From the editor's desk: News deserts are blooming


In Minnesota by the end of the month, eight community newspapers will close: the Hutchinson Leader, Litchfield Independent Review, Chaska Herald, Chanhassen Villager, Jordan Independent, Shakopee Valley News, Prior Lake American and Savage Pacer.

According to a column by newspaper publisher Reed Anfinson, their owner is an out-of-state investment firm/hedge fund that stripped them of their revenue and staff before deciding to close them all together. This is troubling on many levels: the loss of people’s livelihoods, the loss of newspapers that have operated for over a century in their communities, the loss of a local news source, leaving behind an information void or a news desert.

In these communities, who will inform voters about local candidates for school boards, city councils and county boards? Who will keep an eye on local government and help citizens understand the impact of local decisions? Who will tell the inspiring and unique stories of local citizens that otherwise might not be told? How will citizens be able to identify crime trends through police reports, or know who is living down the street from them? Who will tell the stories that people need to know?

I agree with Anfinson when he asks where is the outrage from the public? In his words, “Where is the demand for federal and state actions supporting community newspapers? We suspect that too many believe the internet will provide their news. They are disastrously wrong.”

I think that is even more apparent after witnessing the most recent Ellsworth Village Board and Pierce County Board meetings on the anaerobic digester proposal and judicial facility. I mean no offense to people speaking at public comment. But many of them had gotten their “news” and “facts” from ridiculous comment threads on Facebook. If that is people’s main source of news, I am afraid for our society. I highly doubt a lot of fact-checking occurs there. Here’s an example:

On one post about a summer school offering, one commenter was trying to convince people that Taylor Swift is the anti-Christ and that Ellsworth Community School District is trying to forward her evil agenda by offering a music/art class featuring the famous pop star. Watch out.

Social media can have its blessings, but again, I agree with Anfinson when he says we live in an “internet world that has fractured society into warring social and political clans. Death threats, misinformation and ridicule are more common than harmony, compromise and enlightenment. Lies gain power and the truth is harder to find.”

That was made clear during at least one Ellsworth Village Board meeting. Insults were hurled from the crowd toward the village president, clerk/administrator-treasurer and this newspaper. What is the point of insulting others in what is supposed to be a place for civil discourse? Do people think if they insult someone enough they’ll be shamed into thinking the same way as them? That makes me want to walk away from someone. I also spoke to one elected official, who declined to be named, who was in tears due to threats to their children if they voted a certain way. Is that what our society has become? If you don’t agree with me, I will hurt you?

I feel sad for the people in those Minnesota towns because their local news source is about to be gone. A lot of times, we “don’t know what we got until it’s gone.” That almost happened here when the Pierce County Herald merged with the Red Wing Republican Eagle and the River Falls Journal, Hudson Star-Observer and New Richmond News were combined into one. Our Journal staff is small but we try our best to cover our local communities so people know what’s going on in their own backyards.

Some people think Facebook, Instagram, X, Snapchat or TikTok are the places to get news. Do these companies and their “content creators” report on how daycare shortages are affecting local residents and employers? Do they let residents know the issues being studied by the local school board? Do they do hours of research to find out the history behind a proposed courthouse project? The answer is no. Social media usually provides opinions from anyone with a pulse, entertainment and bits and pieces of national news taken from news stations and – you guessed it – newspapers.

If you value democracy, accountability, civic education, the First Amendment, accuracy – then please support your local news sources.

From the editor's desk, Sarah Nigbor, news deserts, newspapers, column