The Aberdeen Insider: No news desert here


The people of Aberdeen, South Dakota, were not about to allow their town to become a news desert. The local newspaper of many years, The American News, was withering on the vine. Contractions, layoffs and buyouts had reduced the staff to one reporter.

The board of the local development corporation had discussed the issue and contemplated buying The American News or starting a newspaper. Because Troy McQuillen was the publisher of the Aberdeen Magazine, many people and the development corporation thought he was best positioned to launch a newspaper — and The Aberdeen Insider was born.

“Our local newspaper was becoming less and less connected with the community. It has become invisible. The building was shut down, the press was sold, and whatever staff was left moved into an office building. The community became incredibly annoyed; people couldn’t place a classified ad or ask about a circulation issue,” McQuillen said.

Starting a newspaper from scratch is typically challenging work, but the situation at The American News made it much easier.

Elisa Sand was the last person at The American News. She has been a South Dakota newspaper reporter for over 20 years. At a local event, McQuillen approached Sand and invited her to be the first new member of The Insider staff as reporter and associate editor.

Elisa Sand, reporter and associate editor, The Aberdeen Insider

“When Troy approached me with the idea, I said, ‘Absolutely, let’s do it.’ I started writing immediately, and within three days, we had content. Troy said, ‘Let’s flip the switch and go live now instead of a week from now.’ People started subscribing immediately and have been excited from day one,” Sand said.

Scott Waltman was a reporter and editor at The American News for 23 years but decided to accept a voluntary severance package in the fall of 2022. The next step in his professional career was unclear until McQuillen contacted Waltman in January 2023. Waltman became The Insider's manager a few weeks after the February launch of the website.

Scott Waltman, managing editor, The Aberdeen Insider

“The Insider felt like a great fit for me. It allows me to keep doing the career I enjoy. The news business is fun, or at least news is fun, even if the new business isn’t sometimes fun. That was a huge draw for me to serve my hometown with the skills I have,” Waltman said.

The pace of subscriptions at The Insider is almost unprecedented, totaling approximately 2,000 today — in a town of 28,000 people. It prints approximately 4,000 copies of the print edition and mails over 900 to print subscriber households.

Advertising is also a critical revenue stream, especially for a smaller local newspaper. McQuillen attracted two former ad reps from The American News to The Insider, and many advertisers followed them.

Julie Lillis, The Aberdeen Insider ad representative, right, explains advertising options with the owners of the Hitch 'n Post.

“I did not anticipate the huge response of subscribers in my budgeting, and that’s just totally changed the game. I have at least three to four times the annual operating projection after just three months. Our new target is 5,000 subscribers by the end of the year,” McQuillen said.

According to Waltman and Sand, the feedback from the community is very positive. Almost every day, someone walks into the office to subscribe. Because McQuillen, Waltman and Sand are familiar faces, people don’t hesitate to chat with them about The Insider’s content.

The Insider staff also includes a layout designer and a digital team of four people — two of them interns. A few local columnists and a freelancer also contribute content, and Aberdeen Magazine shares stories. The Insider also has partnerships with three news services in the state.

Bob Sillick has held many senior positions and served a myriad of clients during his 47 years in marketing and advertising. He has been a freelance/contract content researcher, writer, editor and manager since 2010. He can be reached at


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