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Whiteout draws attention to local news’ importance

Ann Daley needs to know the "full skinny" about what is happening in her community.

So she turns to her local newspaper for everything from city council decisions to where there is a taco feed.

"It is local events that I like to know about," the 86-year-old woman said about what she has found in the Bemidji Pioneer since she and her husband moved the community in 1976.

She does not want to miss any local news, and Minnesota newspapers want people to realize she is right in saying they are the main source of such information. More than 220 Minnesota newspapers are going to press one day this week — either Wednesday, Aug. 16, for those publishing an edition that day or a nearby date for weeklies publishing a different day — with a mostly blank front page to show what their readers would miss if it were not for community newspapers like the Superior Telegram.

"I am hoping it makes readers in the community aware of what an important role the newspaper has in their community," Executive Director Lisa Hills of the Minnesota Newspaper Association said. "It is a good reminder to let people know that they need to support their paper and subscribe, and support their local businesses."

Most MNA newspapers are taking part in what is being termed a "whiteout," thought to be the first statewide event of its kind. Over the years, individual newspapers across the country have left their front pages mostly blank to draw attention to local news, but Hills said she knows of no such action this widespread.

Whiteout day is part of the newspaper group’s 150th anniversary.

"Newspaper journalists across the state attend city council and school board meetings, they cover town festivals and local sports teams, and they arrive on the scene to document history during natural disasters and other community challenges." Hills said.

All Forum Communications Company newspapers with signficant Minnesota circulation are taking part in the event.

"We thought this was a good way to illustrate to Minnesota readers that the totality of what we produce every day and every week in our newspapers in the state is significant," said Matt McMillan, Forum Communications newspapers vice president.

McMillan told of a California community that declared bankruptcy after its leaders gave themselves excessive raises. He said that came after the local newspaper closed and there was no newspaper reporter monitoring government actions.

"Decisions are made closer to the people when the people know what is going on," he said.

Daley will not argue with that.

She said that government stories are important. "Those are so helpful in us getting the full skinny on the goings-on."

But for a story to be important to her, it does not need to be as weighty as a government decision. It could be an event like a concert she attended over a recent noon hour.

Daley learns about events in the newspaper. A story "would tell all about it in the Sunday paper, so we know what we are in for."

She clips stories out of the newspaper and hangs them up "so I know what is going on every week. People who don’t do that, I don’t know how they get information on those things. The local paper, it seems to me, is the best way to do that."

Readers like Daley are lucky to live in Minnesota, McMillan said, because many newspapers in the state are family owned.

"They are active in their communities," he said of newspaper leaders. "These family owners care about the journalism they produce and hear directly from readers."

Hills said whiteout may be more than just a one-day talker.

"I am hoping that it really is the door that opens conversations," she said.

Stripping local news from the front page, Hills and other Minnesota newspaper leaders hope, will emphasize the importance of the publications.

"I think newspapers get a bad rap," Hills said. "If you have a vibrant community, oftentimes a good newspaper goes hand in hand with that vibrant community."

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.