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Upside Down Under

By Marvin Baker, a new weekly column in The Kenmare News


Newspapers have a rich history...

Posted 4/14/20 (Tue)

After last week’s information about the metamorphosis of  North Dakota newspapers in recent years, it might be good to reflect back on the history of journalism in the state.

Once upon a time, it seemed like every community had a newspaper and some small towns in the state had two and even three papers it could call its own.

The larger cities had two dailies or a daily and a weekly. There weren’t any more people than there are now, so what has changed?

There was no radio, no TV and no Internet. The only way to get official information out to the public was through the newspaper, and I stress, official information.

Radio and TV later came along and absorbed some of that share, but just like last week, I have to caution everyone, social media isn’t an official source of information and until it is, I’m not going to spend a dime on it.

Prior to 1975, Bismarck and Mandan had two dailies. The Bismarck Tribune was an afternoon newspaper and the Morning Pioneer in Mandan took care of the overnight news. It worked out really well.

Communities like Valley City and Devils Lake have a storied past in newspapers. As an example, Devils Lake once had the Inter Ocean, Valley City had the Patriot and the list goes on.

If you look on the State Historical Society website, you’ll find a list of more than 1,500 newspapers since territorial days that the historical society has on microfilm.

However, some of them are South Dakota publications and some were newspapers that changed names or merged with others in the one community.

One good example of how newspapers once operated; Langdon had about 1,200 people in 1900, yet it supported three separate newspapers at the same time.

How was that possible? Today it has one that is doing well, but think of that, a community of 1,200 people with three operating newspapers; the Cavalier County Republican, the Courier-Democrat and the Langdon Times.

Here’s an interesting tidbit that isn’t North Dakota, but demonstrates how media can survive in a small town.

There are 2,800 people living in Valentine, Neb., yet it supports two newspapers, the Valentine Newspaper and the Midland News, along with two radio stations.

The Midland News is a relatively new publication, having started in the 1980s and is the stronger of the two papers.

That scenario tells us several things; the people of Valentine want their community history told, there are fierce loyalists of the Valentine Newspaper, nobody can use the excuse that the radio stations cut into their ad revenue and these two papers compete well against neighboring newspapers.

Valentine is a great example of how newspapers can not only survive, but thrive in this day and age in a small town.

Going through the historical society archives, there are some obscure communities that once supported a hometown paper. Some of those communities no longer exist actually, like Winona. This was a community on the Emmons County side of the Standing Rock Reservation and was right across the river from Fort Yates.

The town is no longer there, but the newspaper flourished there from 1884 to 1898 until the Emmons County Record moved its operation from Williamsport (no longer existing) to Linton.

Two of the smallest communities in the state, Donnybrook and Amidon, each had two newspapers for a short time.

The Farmers Press and the Slope County News were both publishing when Amidon didn’t have an official population before 1920, and when that census came out, the population was about 125.

The Slope County seat now has 20 inhabitants.

Donnybrook, population 52, also had two newspapers in 1903, the Donnybrook Courier and the Donnybrook Mirror. At the time, Donnybrook had approximately 200 people.

There are others too numerous to mention; the Bathgate Pink Paper, the Grassy Butte Advertiser or the Border Tribune of Neche all had their community’s best interest at heart.

Newspapers are at a crossroads and its up to us to make sure they survive. This isn’t pity, it’s not charity or propping up a business.

Newspapers provide a valuable service every day, every week, every other week and every month. And when that’s gone it’s gone and we’ll never get it back.

That’s why it’s so important to subscribe and advertise in your local newspaper.