Woodworking again: The power of the press

By Dave Wood
Posted 2/21/23

Over the years since we moved to River Falls a quarter century ago, I thought I had pretty much given up on the power of the press as the nay sayers predict its imminent decline. And I had reason. …

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Woodworking again: The power of the press


Over the years since we moved to River Falls a quarter century ago, I thought I had pretty much given up on the power of the press as the nay sayers predict its imminent decline. And I had reason. When I wrote a column for the old version of the River Falls Journal, I constantly harped to the several mayors who have served since then about the condition of the sidewalks in front of my house on Walnut Street and asked more than 10 times if the city couldn’t do something about it. All I ever got for my efforts was a free sympathy beer from my pal Bill Smith and letters from other citizens disappointed with both my and their sidewalks.

And so it remains. Our sunken sidewalk slabs now collect water when the snow melts and which turn to ice for me to slide across on my ancient walker to the point where my Beautiful Wife holds onto my coattails in case I should slip and fall. Alas, the power of the press had failed me—until recently.

Turns out that some newspapers still have valuable sources of power. Recently, I complained on these pages about our hapless paper deliverer, who has ruined my mornings for more than a year for failing to deliver my subscription of the Minneapolis Star Tribune until close to noon. My almost continuous complaints to circulation have resulted in NADA, nothing. So….when my complaint was published in the Pierce County Journal, I thought I’d try another ploy to get my paper delivered at a civilized morning hour, like 8 a.m. and not have to wait around for hours until I could get my crossword puzzle worked and get down to other business. So I clipped out my Pierce County Journal column and mailed it to Mr. Glen Taylor, who not only owns the Timberwolves, but also the Star Tribune and has kept the latter afloat while competitors have filed for bankruptcy or disappeared completely.

Two days after I mailed the column to Mr. Taylor, one of the richest men in Minnesota, our Star Tribune arrived at 7:30 a.m.! And it wasn’t even thrown in the gutter, as it often has been. WOW! The power of the press has returned. The day after I received a phone call from Steve Yeager, senior vice president of circulation at the Pulitzer Prize winning newspaper, asking if service had improved and thanking me for staying loyal to the paper after the lousy service that hapless deliverer had delivered.

And it’s not only the insignificant problems like late delivery that has delivered under the aegis of press power. Two years ago, I read in the Star Tribune a sad story by reporter John Reinan about the fate of the Chatfield, Minn. News, billed as the oldest weekly newspaper in Minnesota. Seems that longtime receptionist Pamela Bluhm went to work one Monday morning to discover that the door to the newspaper where she had worked for many years was padlocked and the owner had left without telling Pamela.

Undaunted, Pamela cashed in her savings and purchased the newspaper from the owner— such sales are common these days—and Reinan reported that Bluhm had reopened, that the coffee pot was on and she was going to give publication a try. But she told the Strib that she had no money to hire reporters and was depending on Chatfield customers to drop in and report to her the news. She also told Reinan that local subscribers had volunteered to take her galleys to a town across the border in Iowa where the Chatfield news was printed and return with the published newspapers. Reinan’s story made the wire services and Pamela began receiving orders from former Chatfield residents for subscriptions and donations of cash to tide her over until ads started coming in.

I’ve been writing columns for rural and urban newspapers for years and have back files about life in rural America for years, so I called Pamela Bluhm who recognized my name from my appearance for years in the Star Tribune. I told her I’d send her some refreshed old columns and write new ones aimed at Chatfield— on the house!

She accepted. Soon other readers were writing columns for Pamela, including a retired local preacher named Vrieze who wrote charming vignettes about his life growing up on a farm near Chatfield. A former resident appears regularly to recall his days as an actor/ director of Chatfield’s arts community and how he once directed “The Music Man” at the Chatfield theatre and was surprised when its famous author Meredith Willson and his wife came to see the performance.

New subscriptions continue to fly in, local political and business news began getting covered and today I receive a very substantial issue every week, full of real estate ads and other local businesses who missed a chance to communicate with its patrons when the newspaper was shut down.

Through Reinan’s press publicity, Pam has been able to shuck her old receptionist’s job and now writes a column, reporting the names of new subscribers, a new Bundt cake recipe she has just tried, what she cooked for the town’s annual free Thanksgiving dinner and how “ John Jones,” a neighbor recently dropped by to fix the newspaper’s screen door fronting Main Street. She also spends time travelling to seminars sponsored by the Minnesota Newspaper Association to pick up tips on good newspapering, all the while providing services to the larger Chatfield community, including free obituaries!

And the fingers of the Press reach far and wide: I just received a phone call from a former Chatfield resident who now lives in Illinois to say that he enjoyed my column about making Gammelost, the stinky Norwegian cheese. Who am I to say the Press has lost its power?

Dave would like to hear from you. Phone him at 715-426-9554 unless you’re from the SPCA.

press, newspapers, Dave Wood, opinion, column