Web posted January 16, 2024
By Paul Boblett, Publisher
“Every new beginning, comes from some other beginning's end” - Semisonic, Closing Time
It’s bittersweet… Knowing this is the final edition of the Northland Press, and what a long, strange trip it’s been.
Okay, no more music quotes, I promise.
There is no magic bullet, no rabbit to pull from the hat. I decided over New Year’s weekend to discontinue publishing the Northland Press.
The passing of my life partner, Northland Press publisher Joanne Boblett, has been very tough on me and my family; and while the newspaper has been for sale for a time, no viable buyer has stepped forward to purchase or take it over at this time.
I have fielded a few questions asking why I would make such a rash decision so quickly following Joanne’s passing. Well, because the ‘Intro to Grief 101’ handbook clearly states, “Whatever you do, definitely don’t do that!”
The reality is it was not a quick or easy decision. The idea to close the paper was always the least popular option in the plan that we hatched about five years ago.
Some of you may know, we were determined to put the paper up for sale in 2019 and were a few days away from doing just that when Jo experienced her first recurrence of Fallopian tube cancer.
She was first treated for this cancer with surgery and chemotherapy in 2012, and we enjoyed seven fruitful years of remission, seeing milestone events for our three kids as they entered adulthood. No one is supposed to get seven years with that type of cancer, but Joanne did.
I digress, back to the summer of 2019… Joanne endured more chemo and another major surgery, and near the end of her recovery in 2020, COVID-19 hit the scene and the world shut down for a while. No one was buying much of anything in 2020, except for toilet paper and hand sanitizer, and least of all a newspaper.
While Joanne regained her health during the pandemic, we slowly rebuilt this business, as most of our clients had lost their customer base, or worse, were forced to close. It took a long time and in late 2021, we had stabilized. We were operating at a nearly pre-pandemic capacity.
Though the pandemic was extremely difficult to navigate, many positives were birthed: the community grew, and the ability to attend meetings remotely and work from home became commonplace. Most of our clients stopped wanting in-person visits from me, preferring weekly texts, emails, or phone calls to discuss their advertising needs.
Those things all remain in place almost four years later, and I don’t foresee that changing.
So, I revisited our plan to sell the paper or close up shop and move on. I know if Joanne were still here, we would maybe give it a little more time. But that’s a ‘what if’ - and I don’t play that game. I could continue in solo mode for another six months to a year, yet I would likely be sitting in the same place that I am now, but a year older: living alone in the woods and working myself silly.
Our conversations during her final months illuminated exactly what I need to do. I am following our plan; I’m just stepping on the gas a bit. And I am at peace with this decision.
“There's nothing on my horizon except everything. Everything is on my horizon” - Dwight K. Schrute, The Office (U.S.)
Anyone who knows me, even a little, knows that music is clearly more than a hobby or side hustle. Simply put, it never lets me down and it is where I constantly find magic. Joanne used to joke that, to me, music came before her. I won’t lie, there may or may not be, but definitely is a little truth to that.
The music business provided a living for me for many years and afforded me many unique opportunities - it is also how I met Joanne; we played together in a traveling band for a few years before moving to New England in 1983.
I have been active with music on a part-time basis in the region for the past several years, putting literally tens of thousands of miles on my vehicle during that time. My goal during the next year is to make that my only vocation moving forward. My plan B is what I have been doing for the past two decades for another publication. I am open to anything, and the horizon is wide open.
I will be selling our home and slowly migrating to the Twin Cities over the coming months - and working diligently to chase my dream of full-time bass player work.
Most important is the fact that I will be living much closer to my amazing children, my beautiful new granddaughter Hazel Jo, who arrived in late December, and a few of my siblings.
I will miss this place greatly, it has been in my family since I was a teen, and our home for over two decades, and the longest I have lived in one spot in my life. But I am ready to go, and I believe that change is always healthy, but never easy.
Who starts a newspaper?
After moving to Outing in 2002 from the Twin Cities and living in this community for a few years, we saw a real need for a different type of community newspaper. We didn’t want to create a traditional hard news publication, but one that reflected and hopefully celebrated the community where we live and to make it free to the residents.
We had zero experience operating a news publication, but we decided to step off that cliff and give it a shot. We dug in, spending nearly eight months reading, researching, and educating ourselves on the ethical, legal, design, and financial aspects of running a newspaper. We put together a business plan and secured some funding for equipment and a few months of expenses.
Our first edition was printed at the Crow Wing Press in Baxter, April 5, 2005. The Crow Wing Press went out of business a few years into our tenure there, and we eventually moved to the Brainerd Dispatch for printing service.
When we started, we gave ourselves the time to make mistakes by starting in that smaller market. We began by sending the paper to Outing, Emily, Longville, and Remer and we found success, realizing we were on the right track. After a year, we determined that expansion was necessary for the paper’s long-term financial stability.
In the summer of 2006, we started sending the paper to the Crosslake area, and quickly added Breezy Point. We opened our office in Crosslake in 2007 and staffed up with a salesperson, graphic designer, and a front office administrator.
At one point we were mailing over 13,000 newspapers every week, after we added Nisswa and Hackensack. I’m honestly not sure what we were thinking. That didn’t last long, as we soon realized it was too much growth too soon to sustain. It was also during this time that we began to see some cracks in the economy, with early signs of the housing and financial crisis that erupted in 2008.
We culled the circulation numbers down to something more manageable, and somehow survived the housing meltdown.
When things started normalizing in 2011, we found ourselves in a far more comfortable spot with our ability to cover the news, and generate enough advertising to be viable in the long term.
During those early days, we thought that we would run the paper for about five years, sell it, and move on. Yet here I am, nearly 20 years after starting this venture in our 8’ x 8’ kitchen nook overlooking the north basin of Lake Washburn in Outing. (The photo on the masthead of the paper was the view from our side-by-side desks).
Through this paper, we have been blessed with many wonderful memories and relationships with our community, and having the opportunity to meet and get to know so many colorful characters has been an absolute joy.
The businesses that chose to advertise in these pages were the lifeblood of this paper, the coal that fueled the engine. Without them, you would not have had this publication stuffed in your mailbox every Tuesday. We cannot thank them enough for their trust and support.
There are so many individuals I need to thank: our trusted bookkeeper and close friend Sheila Erickson, who has been here since day one; Graphic Designers Josh Wold, Connie Jenson, and Mary Amiot; Office staffers Kirstin and Jennifer Olds, Wendy Jenson, Janice Dubois, Katie Wallace, and Mary Plein; Reporters Karyn Dekker, Diane McCormack, Kate Perkins, and photographer Donna Evans; and my brother Tom, who designed our logo.
Kudos to attorneys Brian Carlson, and the staff at Breen and Person, who contributed weekly columns on matters relevant to up north living, cabin life and our largest demographic - retired folks, including topics like succession, real estate issues and estate planning.
A very special thank you goes to the family of Mike Holst of Crosslake, who was hands down our most popular columnist, who passed on recently. His humorous and touching “Mike’s Meandering Mind” column was highly anticipated every week. Joanne and I always felt extremely lucky that we got to read them before anyone else. I chose to reprint his final column in this edition as a tribute to him.
I would also like to thank the production crew and the team at the Brainerd Dispatch for their weekly assistance in getting the paper printed and delivered to the post offices, and our delivery driver Jackie Kuhn. (If I missed someone, please accept my humble apology)
But most of all, we thank you, the gentle readers, for your support, feedback and letters to the editor, and photo submissions. It was YOU that let us know when things happened - like the times when cars and trucks got submerged at the public accesses; a house fire; when that deer hunter survived multiple days in the cold after falling out his tree stand, on the ground with a broken hip in the woods while having to play dead to deceive the circling wolves (he was later discovered by his nephew); the many fundraising events and community gatherings in support of those less fortunate; and the parents and grandparents who took the time to send us fishing photos of their kids and grandkids.
I know a lot of people have come to count on us for fair reporting and covering community events, both of which we did not take lightly. Again, we thank you for the opportunity to provide that.
We have seen so much change in the community over the last 20 years: large infrastructure projects, a population that is booming, a proliferation of sad looking pole barns everywhere, the National Loon Center opening soon in Crosslake; and real action on water quality issues.
It’s not lost on me that some of our residents are not happy about it, but the reality is this: 1950 is nearly 75 years ago, and it is not coming back. Time marches on. Things change.
At our best, I believe this newspaper held a mirror up to our community. At our worst, we inadvertently omitted a story, made some people angry by publishing letters, opinions, or cartoons they didn’t align with, we misspelled a name or three, or put unwanted mail in their mailbox…
I still hear that we only publish letters from one side of the political spectrum. The reality is not many people send letters to begin with, especially ones that people are willing to sign their name to… We have published a lot of letters that we didn’t agree with, and that is the job. So is taking any heat for running them.
The volume of unsigned notes and letters to the editor shoved under our door is enormous - for transparency, we didn’t read them. If there was no signed name, we had no interest and to the shredder they were fed. I firmly believe that the worst thing any newspaper can do is to allow public opinions to be anonymous. Accountability is paramount, even more so in a small community.
We were called all kinds of names over the years, and quickly developed a thick skin, a major requirement for the job. Conversely, we have been thanked by countless individuals and organizations for coverage of or publicity of their causes. Also, part of the job.
It’s very disappointing, and unfortunately a sign of the times, that many rural/small town papers around the country are closing. One of the most difficult aspects of this story ending is not that we’re going out of business, rather, that running a newspaper is not a vocation someone can just walk into without any experience and take over. It’s a complicated job and requires knowledge of civics and governing, graphic design and marketing, the postal system, flexibility, an ability to change on the fly, and, to consistently put a coherent sentence together. There just aren’t many people like that who want to buy this job, and that’s okay.
These things are not rocket science on their own, but add them together, and it’s the multilayered skillset that is required to do this job. Yeah, it’s complicated, but not impossible - we certainly did not know much when we started. I like to think we grew up with the community and got better and more consistent as we went along. You all allowed us to do that. Thank you.
Joanne and I are proof that it can be done from scratch, and it is my sincere hope that someone will take the initiative to create something new to provide the same level of community service to the community that accepted us. I am very proud of what we were able to accomplish together.
“Good Night and Good Luck” ~ Edward R. Murrow
Left of this article are two of our front pages from 2006. We’re unfortunately missing the first year of newspapers in our archives.
P.O. Box 145, Outing, MN 56662 • Phone 218-792-5842 • Fax 218-792-5844 • Email firstname.lastname@example.org