In early 2018, the town of Cloquet, Minn. in northern Carlton County was dangerously close to becoming a “news desert” after its local paper, the Pine Journal, closed its office doors and moved its operations to the Duluth News Tribune office 23 miles away. Both publications are owned by Forum Communications.
Reporters and sales reps continued doing their work (some at home and some relocating to Duluth), including editor Jana Peterson. But after about eight to nine months of working from home, Peterson said she started to consider creating a community newspaper of her own.
In September, Peterson resigned as editor and recruited Rose Chu, Peter Radosevich, Tim Franklin, Ivan Hohnstadt, Deb Zime and Ann Marksen to discuss the possibility of starting a new local newspaper.
Peterson said the bulk of the work to create their first issue was done in a month, and on Oct. 26, 2018, the first edition of the Pine Knot News rolled off the press.
“It’s been wonderful having a local office.” Peterson said. “There is a big difference between having an office that people can stop by when they want, versus working from home and people having to either ‘attend’ office hours at a public place or track you down via email or phone. Being part of the community matters.”
Peterson said the quick turnaround to launch the paper was due to the experience of their staff, and the fact that one of the co-owners (Franklin) also owned four other weekly papers. He set the new paper up with a place to print, and put them in contact with businesses to help launch a website and even to supply office equipment.
The Pine Knot News staff includes an editor (Peterson), advertising director, office manager and production director. The paper also has a publisher, which is an unpaid position. Peterson, Marksen and Radosevich, along with contributors, write for the paper.
Even with a small staff, the paper is able to produce a paper every Thursday and deliver it to subscribers Friday. Currently, Pine Knot News has about 700 subscribers, and prints 1,000 papers a week. The paper also sells about 200 copies a week in rack sales at 15 locations.
Overall, the establishment of the Pine Knot News reiterates that local news matters and that a local presence is important.
“It is vital to keep local newspapers going, especially in the age of the internet,” Peterson said. “We have lost that common narrative that used to be supplied by a local paper that everyone read or a news show that everyone watched.”