'It will be heartbreaking': Warroad newspaper prepares to close; Crookston to reduce days

Regional newspapers
A collection of regional newspapers sit on a desk in this photo illustration. The Warroad Pioneer will close after the May 7 edition, while the Crookston Times will transition from a Monday through Friday print to a biweekly publication on May 6.
MPR Photo File

By Tess Williams, Forum News Service

Major changes are coming for two century-old area publications as one newspaper plans to shutter and another reduces printing days.

Warroad Pioneer Publisher Rebecca Colden said her weekly paper likely will close after the May 7 edition, but she is holding onto hope that someone will be interested in buying the publication in the coming weeks.

"It's like any other small business," she said. "We're always trying to keep them open, looking at new avenues for revenue flow. At some point, you have to look at it less from the attachment of the community and the 120-year-old paper and what will be lost if the paper closes. You have to finally look at it just from a dollar-and-cents business platform, and if it can't work as a business, it can't work."

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Also, the Crookston Times newspaper will be transitioning from a Monday through Friday printed product to a biweekly publication beginning May 6.

Managing Editor Mike Christopherson said the newsroom is shifting to a digital focus to cut printing costs and give reporters more time to seek stories and produce in-depth content. He said the twice-weekly print versions will be larger than current daily editions and the Valley Shopper will begin to include editorial content.

The Crookston Times has been printing since 1885 and the Warroad Pioneer launched in 1897, although it was initially named the Roseau Plaindealer.

The Warroad Pioneer caught attention from readers in a March 2017 issue that highlighted the importance of local news with a blank front page that only included one headline: "Without YOU, There is NO Newspaper!"

Colden said that's when the paper first began to pay attention to how significantly the Pioneer was struggling.

Warroad has just under 1,800 residents and is roughly 90 miles northeast of Thief River Falls.

Two other papers, the Warroad Explorer and the Warroad Commonwealth, have closed within the last two decades. Colden said she thinks the area will suffer without the paper because it provides a valid source for information.

"I think that it will definitely fragment a line of communication," she said. "I think that there are just things that people hear and know and they got a factual answer to something through the paper that they're probably not going to get anywhere else. They may hear what's going on through social media or they may hear it word of mouth, but they're not going to have that factual forum that they know they can trust. We've done our due diligence to make sure what we're putting in the paper is factual and pertinent."

The newspaper industry has been struggling throughout the last few decades as content has shifted to social media and digital platforms and many readers expect instant and free content.

"You wouldn't go into the grocery store and put $50 in groceries on the conveyor and say 'I want this for free.' You would expect to pay for it," Christopherson said. "But with news content people kind of look at that differently and that it should just be something that they can have."

Colden said many local businesses have closed in Warroad, which has also impacted the paper's ability to draw in ad revenue. The paper offered printing services, which have seen a significant decline due to online shopping, she said.

"It's hard when you look at our subscribers — our subscribers are loyal, they look forward to the paper every week and look forward to that kind of unification of community," Colden said. "But without the dollars and cents to make it work, it's just like any other small business — we have the same struggles."

Colden said she's still hoping an opportunity will fall into place that will allow the paper to stay open.

"It's sad," she said. "I'm a big believer in newspapers. I'm a believer in the value it brings to a community. We've been so involved with the community. We know the good things that have gone on in the community, we know the not-great things, we've seen the struggles and we've also celebrated the high points. To not be involved in that will be hard. It will be heartbreaking."