The honest truth: Pelican Press needs your support

Pelican Rapids Press managing editor Louis Hoglund in this, the 125th year of continuous publication of the weekly newspaper.
He’s displaying a pelican mug that was a special gift from Tom Albright, a late 1960s Pelican Rapids High School graduate who is both a faithful reader and contributor to the Press.
“Newspaper friends” like Albright, who sent this custom decanter as a surprise—out of the blue and unexpected—are an example of the folks that make the gritty, sometimes thankless labor of publishing a “weekly rag” all worthwhile.

by Louis Hoglund,
Managing Editor

Imagine all the barrels of ink that have been poured over 125 years of weekly newspapers!

The Pelican Rapids Press has published more than 6,500 editions since the first copy rolled off the presses in 1897. (Actually, about 6,499—because in 1919, one edition was canceled due to staff illness, during the infamous “Spanish Flu Epidemic.”)

In terms of total pages of newsprint, we estimate conservatively at about 160,000 individual pages. 

Whether the Press publishes another 6,500 editions, at least in conventional newsprint, remains to be seen. 

Thanks to loyal readers and advertisers, the Press has been a weekly staple for households not only within the city but at farmsteads and lake homes from Norwegian Grove Township to Pelican, Lida, Lizzie, and the greater lakes area. 

Our 125th-anniversary edition is an upbeat statement for the newspaper, and the community. 

We at the Press are proud that we are among the relatively few newspapers that have maintained, and actually increased, readership. 

In Otter Tail County, we can accurately say the Press is the second-best-read periodical—behind the Fergus Falls Journal. No small feat, considering that Fergus Falls is the largest population base in Otter Tail. 

And, thanks to younger and more internet-savvy staff, the Press has one of the top independent newspaper websites in the region. 

“The loss of newspapers mean a loss of community information and opposing perspectives needed in a divided political landscape,” to quote Forbes magazine. 

Where would the Otter Tail lakes area be without viable print and online newspapers? 

Well, I can give you an idea. And I’m going to specifically point to the “Conservative Coalition of Otter Tail County.” It is a political action group, with a social media following of less than 500. (For perspective, the Press Facebook has between 4,000 and 5,000 followers. Our print newspaper has an estimated readership averaging around 5,000 each week.) 

The Conservative Coalition doesn’t claim to be a “newspaper,” admittedly. But among their followers and broader sphere of influence—the Coalition has an out-sized impact, presenting biased information, as well as endorsing political candidates. 

Imagine that the only “news and information” is a dizzying array of political interest social media sites? Telling you how, and whom to vote for—from legislature down to county and school board level, to your local city council or township board?

With strained resources, declining revenue, and limited staff—we acknowledge that newspapers have a difficult time consistently maintaining a journalistic mission. 

But you need to ask yourself: Who do you trust? Local newspapers? Or an assortment of internet sources with various agendas? 

We’re grateful the Press has an unusually high—and measurable—“reader loyalty.” 

“Advertiser loyalty” is another matter. We graciously thank our advertisers for their support. 

Unsettling newspaper statistics

As optimistic as we’d like to be here at the Press, it falls upon us to also point out the grim realities of the newspaper business.

• More than 1 in 5 U.S. Papers has closed, and that was through 2019. Many more have closed since.

• Of 3,143 counties in the U.S., 200 of them no longer have a newspaper at all.

• Furthermore, 1,449 counties have only one newspaper.

• 2,514 weekly publications closed down or merged with other papers between 2004 and 2022.

• The number of non-daily papers fell from over 7.4 thousand to just 5.1 thousand.

We realize that small businesses, main street retailers, and service sector businesses aren’t advertising like the “old days.” There was a time when almost all businesses in a market area advertised in the local newspaper—some of them every week of the year. 

Changes in commerce and small market economics mean some small businesses aren’t able to budget for frequent advertising. 

But to be frank—we have businesses that could support the local newspaper, but don’t…or won’t. 

Newspapers can’t survive on subscriptions and individual copy sales. Advertising has always been necessary to meet staffing, printing, newsprint, postage, and overhead expenses. 

As hesitant as we are, we will be “leaning” on our loyal readers to help carry more of the freight, so to speak. We are discussing an upcoming price increase in both our annual subscription and our single copies. 

An interesting new phenomenon is newspapers taking a more-or-less “non-profit” form. There are papers now basing their “business model” on memberships, pledges, and fundraising campaigns. 

The Press isn’t ready to convert to that non-profit public radio and public TV-type model—yet. 

In the meantime, we continue to sincerely thank
both our readers and advertisers for past, present,
and —most importantly—future support. 

We hope to see you around 125 years from now!

How to support your local newspaper

Subscribe: Subscribing is the easiest way to support the local free press. Your newspaper or online subscription helps in two ways. First, the money goes straight to the publication to help pay for reporters, editors, and photographers. Second, advertisers track subscription numbers and are more likely to pay for an advertisement when they think more people will see it.

Get a gift subscription for someone else: Know someone who loves to follow the news and debate current events? Get him or her a gift subscription. It has all the benefits of your own subscription, with the additional benefit of reminding someone just how valuable the local free press is.

Buy a subscription for a school, senior care center or library. Help make the news accessible to people who otherwise might not have access.

Place an advertisement: Businesses that place ads in local newspapers know that they are reaching local readers. Ads aren’t just for business, though. Anyone with a message to share can buy an ad. Celebrate someone’s success. Send well wishes.

Tell local businesses that you learned about them or their sales from the ad they placed in the newspaper. They’ll be more inclined to take out another one in the future.

Engage with your local free press: Share your thoughts with reporters and editors. Send an email or comment online not just when you’re angry but also when you read something really good. Tell the people who brought you the story that you appreciate it.

Before you fire off an angry email, think about how you frame it. Rather than call someone an idiot or worse (you should see some of the emails I get each week), offer constructive criticism. 

Tell elected officials that the local free press is a priority: At all levels of politics, elected officials tend to listen to their vocal constituents. Send an email to a senator or a representative urging them to support legislation that would bolster the free press. Call your city council member and remind them that the best way to reach the public is through the local news. Ask candidates where they stand on supporting the local news media.

—Edited from the Seattle Times