Public notices: What does the MSBA have against us?

Just a few weeks ago, Tara and I hosted a little party to commemorate five years of owning the Tracy Area Headlight Herald. 

In 2029, we’ll do the same thing for our 10-year anniversary. And 10 years after that, we’ll throw a party for 20 years. And so on, and so on.

As other larger papers in this state are closing or coming close to closing, we plan on being here for the long run. We have no choice. This is what we know. This is what we love. This is what we’re committed to.

However, the Minnesota School Boards Association is doing everything it can to take money out of our pockets.

I’ll preface the rest of this column with this: It isn’t just about a money grab. Newspapers surely aren’t laughing all the way to the bank because we bring in a few dollars from public notices. There is an underlying principle involved here, and that’s this: We’re here to inform, that’s our priority. That’s our purpose. And the MSBA, in its infinite wisdom, is doing what it can to prevent us from doing just that. You should all be bothered by that.

The MSBA has turned up the heat on its penny-pinching crusade that will allow schools to be able to skip the paper and publish their school board minutes on their own websites. That means those minutes won’t go in newspapers for everyone to see — where they’re used to seeing them. That means taking revenue from us. And that hurts.

Earlier this month, Alden Global Capital’s operating entity announced it would close the doors at eight Minnesota newspapers: the Hutchinson Leader, Litchfield Independent Review, Chaska Herald, Chanhassen Villager, Jordan Independent, the Shakopee Valley News, Prior Lake American and Savage Pacer. Unless a hero swings in to save them, their demise comes at the end of the month.

“School districts, in response to (newspaper) closures, are forced to go to a regional source outside of the school district community to publish the required postings at higher costs and a greatly diminished effectiveness in getting important information to the public,” the MSBA says.

True to a point, but don’t throw that blanket over us. Small towns with strong newspapers don’t need a “regional source.”

We don’t need a regional source.

The MSBA head honchos are oblivious to what newspapers mean to small towns, and honestly, nor does it care.

But you do. Right?

I started at the Headlight in 2017. It’s been my honor to cover TMB for all these years. In that time, the total number of Panther athletic home events we haven’t been at is three. That’s in seven years. That’s committment.

The Headlight is a hyperlocal newspaper, and a huge part of that content comes from our schools. We understand the importance of covering all of our schools, because these are our kids, and schools are the heartbeat of every town.

It’s part of why I work seven days a week (except for this past weekend when I actually took two straight days off to support my daughter at DSU). We’re there for games, we’re there for concerts, we’re there for FFA, we’re there for school board meetings, and features on students and staff who earn prestigious honors. We’ve proven we’re 1,000% devoted to the school district. We just hope the feeling is mutual.

But hope is a funny thing. We all have it, we all lean on it, but we all also know that hope can only go so far.

I’m not opposed to websites. I know they serve a purpose. Heck, we’re in the process of finally updating our own to make it more reader-friendly. And the school district has a great website that serves as a vessel for school staff to get the word out to parents when needed. It just happened a couple weeks ago when a notice was published about the vandalism in the boys’ locker room.

But guess what? We were there, too and wrote about it because it was newsworthy.

This public notice issue, like so many other political fiascos, has begun in the metro, which always tries to run all our lives out here. St. Paul has discussed it the most and seems poised to make it happen. But we can’t let it happen in greater Minnesota.

A small-town newspaper is just like any other business, whether it be a restaurant, boutique or hardware store. We’re a small-town business, and small towns are supposed to stick together and lift each other up, not throw dirt on a grave that will never be dug. The MSBA clearly doesn’t care about small-town businesses. That’s its prerogative, I guess, but it better be careful what they wish for.

Newspapers don’t matter to the MSBA; it’s too expensive, it says. Well, everything has a price tag. But what price will communities pay if they lose their newspaper?

Now that’s a good question.

As Reed Anfinson, publisher of the Swift County Monitor-News wrote in his own editorial last week, “Public notice has been fundamental in supporting community newspapers in America for centuries. That purpose is as important today as it was at the founding of our representative democracy.”

If this bill passes in the Legislature, the industry will suffer. And so will all of our readers.