Tricounty News

Who would have thought that, in 2012, a community would be clammoring for its own printed newspaper? (I did.)

Amid all the doom-and-gloom talk of newspapers dying, who could have imagined growing circulation in a group of small towns in central Minnesota? (I did.)

And after more than a hundred years of newspapers in all of these towns, who would dare think that there's still lots more to write about? (I did.)

Nearly two years ago, when the Shopping News ceased publication in our rural area, I started the Tri-County News PLUS. It was a way for those advertisers who were suddenly abandoned to still reach nearly everone in our particular area. I put a lot of thought and research into it.

I knew I didn't want to start a "shopper," something that looks like a newspaper but is nearly all advertising. The garbage cans in post offices everywhere are stuffed with shoppers; people don't even take them home to throw them away.

Instead, I found a way to bring our award-winning newspaper into nearly every home and business in the area and bring those abandoned advertisers along with it. It's been a resounding success. Subscribers enjoy getting a thicker paper once a month. Non-subscribers get a free paper once a month. And advertisers get a reach that's about four times our usual weekly circulation. It's a prime example of a win-win-win scenario.

Each month, on the third Thursday, either a subscription copy of the Tri-County News or the free Tri-County News Plus is sent out to every mailing address in South Haven, Kimball, Watkins, and Eden Valley. (If you live in one of these communities, don't receive it but would like to, just give us your name and address and we'll add you to our list. We are reminded each month that the mailing lists we've purchased over time are woefully inaccurate, incomplete, and sometimes just bizarre.)

Earlier this year, it appeared inevitable that the Journal Patriot, a long-ago combined publication of the Eden Valley Journal and the

Watkins Patriot, was failing. The newspaper was delivered later and later each week, often not until the next week. Photos grew to be gigantic (an easy way to fill space), and original content disappeared. Pages were simply repeated week after week. Then it stopped. April 18 was the last regularly printed issue of the

Journal Patriot. Or was it? Three more issues would be printed, in May. Then nothing.

No one knew or could find out what was going on. All people knew was that they were no longer receiving their weekly dose of announcements, obituaries, sports photos, and outdated ads.

That first week the Journal Patriot failed to print, the City of Eden Valley had an important legal notice that needed to be printed. Because they could not print it in their official newspaper, an important hearing on the $2.5 million Highway 22 renovation project had to be repeated; no decisions could be made at the first hearing because legal publication was not made. A month later, the city engineer had to come out and re-present the whole project. Only then could the city council decide the scope and cost of the project.

That first week of non-publication, I contacted both Watkins and Eden Valley offices and the Eden Valley-Watkins school district. I knew well their predicament, not being able to print required legal notices in a timely manner. I offered my help, even before I knew what legally could be done when a newspaper ceases publication. The Tri-County News already had a means of distribution to every address there (in the Tri-County News PLUS), and we were ready at a moment's notice to do that, if needed.

In short order, the Tri-County News was named the official, legal newspaper for both cities and the school district. We've been receiving and printing school and community news for both Watkins and Eden Valley, much more than local readers had seen in quite a while.

As the first day of school approached this year, I kept wondering how we'd handle double the school and sports news. I attended a newspaper publishers' retreat in Wisconsin one weekend last month and it dawned on me: a separate EVW edition. (Creating an entirely separate newspaper was logistically and legally a problem. But an entirely separate edition - a separate paper but still technically with the Tri-County News name on it - worked beautifully.)

Then a bomb exploded.

I learned just last week, along with many others in the area, that the Paynesville Press is planning to start up a new newspaper in Eden Valley, to cover both Eden Valley and Watkins. "Interesting," is a comment we've heard a lot since that announcement. We can't print some of the other things people have said.

In the process of sorting out fact from rumor, we realized that indeed the Journal Patriot most likely will not publish again.

This threw our long-term plans into hyperdrive. The totally separate edition we'd planned to gradually ease into, well, it starts today.

We now have an office on main street in Eden Valley and we're working on signage and determining what the office hours will be. We're working on a drop-off site for Eden Valley (in addition to the one we've had in Watkins for years, at Ertl's Hardware).

Some have said, "This sounds like war." No, we're not preparing for battle. Our plan is to keep doing what we've been doing: the best job we can do, each and every week, and continuing to add and improve along the way. Input from our readers and community leaders has been invaluable. Thank you!

We've been covering both Eden Valley and Watkins for several months now, and receiving incredibly positive feedback.

Let me explain a little about the two editions. Because we've heard from so many that they love hearing news about the other communities we serve, we've decided to continue providing news and announcements for all our communities plus a few interesting things beyond. The main difference will be the size and location of the photos in each edition.

Long gone are the days of isolationism. We may live in one community, but we work, shop, visit or at least pass through several others. What's happening in one community does impact others. And more opportunities for community participation is a wonderful thing (attending benefits or school functions, utilizing libraries, trying out for plays, attending concerts or lectures, and so much more). I don't see the invisible "walls" between each town; I never have.