Lisa Hills and Sarah Jackson of the
Minnesota Newspaper Association
Vibrant communities have newspapers that
conversations forward to spur community change
A Civic Caucus
Review of Minnesota’s Public
Interview March 4, 2016
Bandeen, Pat Davies, Paul Gilje (executive director), Lisa
Hills, Sarah Jackson, Randy Johnson, Sallie Kemper (associate
director), Dan Loritz (chair), Paul Ostrow, Bill Rudelius, Dana
Schroeder (associate director), Clarence Shallbetter. By phone:
Dave Broden (vice chair).
According to Lisa Hills of the Minnesota Newspaper
Association (MNA), community newspapers around the state, i.e.,
smaller dailies and nonmetro and suburban weekly newspapers, are
very involved in talking about issues and challenges facing
their communities. They are the only source of information in
their communities and their reporters the only ones attending
meetings and reporting information from government entities like
county boards, city councils and school boards. She says many
newspapers are doing an excellent job of discussing issues in
their communities and sharing information before decisions are
made. Good, solid newspapers make for vibrant communities, she
MNA's Sarah Jackson adds that there is
a general feeling among newspaper people in the state that, as
community leaders, newspapers have an important responsibility
to push conversations forward and help make community change
where they can. Hills points out the importance of newspapers
carrying strong, locally written editorials on public issues.
She says most community newspapers across the state have active
editorial pages and nearly all publish letters to the editor.
MNA's nonprofit training arm, the
Minnesota News Media Institute (MNI), offers skills training for
newspaper people and a community leadership program for editors
and publishers to help enable newspapers to report and lead on
community issues and challenges.
Overall, Hills reports, Minnesota's
community newspapers are healthy and sustainable and are not
dominated by large chains. Jackson says research shows that
people are reading newspapers, either print or online. Many
community newspapers post their content online and some set up
paywalls charging digital readers for stories in past issues of
the paper or for stories beyond five or 10 that are accessible
for free. One sign of the health of community newspapers around
the state is that most report they have job openings, but can't
find people to fill them.
Biographies Lisa Hills is executive director of the Minnesota
Newspaper Association, the trade association for 330 member
newspapers, and its training arm, the Minnesota News Media
Institute. Hills has been with the association since 1989,
serving as its advertising director until 2006, when she was
named executive director.
Prior to joining MNA, Hills worked in
the advertising department of the Scottsdale (Ariz.) Daily
Progress. She served on the Minnesota Advertising
Federation board of directors and currently is president of the
national Newspaper Association Managers board of directors. She
is a graduate of the University of Iowa with a B.A. in Mass
Sarah Jackson is program director
for the Minnesota Newspaper Association, a position she has held
for five years. She manages all training programs for the
Minnesota News Media Institute, the MNA's nonprofit training
arm, as well as MNA's annual Better Newspaper Contest. Jackson
also oversees MNA's convention, which attracts more than 700
newspaper people annually to Bloomington, Minn.
Jackson speaks regularly about media
ethics, the history of press councils, the role of social media
in journalism, women's leadership and various journalism-related
issues with civic groups, visiting foreign journalists, high
school and college students, as well as in
newsrooms. Previously, Jackson was executive director of the
Minnesota News Council.
Jackson served on the board of
directors of the Minnesota Pro Chapter of the Society of
Professional Journalists for eight years, and is currently the
national awards committee co-chair. She graduated from the
University of Minnesota with degrees in journalism and
Background The Civic Caucus is undertaking a review of the quality
of Minnesota's past and present public-policy process for
anticipating, defining and resolving major community problems.
The Caucus interviewed Lisa Hills and Sarah Jackson from the
Minnesota Newspaper Association to learn about the role of
smaller newspapers throughout the state in raising public
issues, reporting on issues before decisions are made and using
editorials to make recommendations on resolving issues and
community newspapers are healthy and are not dominated by large
chains. According to Lisa Hills of the Minnesota Newspaper
(MNA), the 149-year-old trade organization for the state's
newspapers has 330 member newspapers. The members include 24
dailies in the state and 306 weeklies located mostly in suburban
areas or in communities outside the metro area.
She said in general, Minnesota
newspapers are not dominated by large chains. ECM Publishers and
Forum Communications Company own a number of newspapers, but
those companies are locally owned, as compared to large
corporate chain ownership. She remarked that local ownership is
very positive. This is different from other states where many
newspapers are corporately owned.
Overall, she noted, newspapers in the
state are healthy and the mood of the 700 Minnesota newspaper
people at MNA's January 2016 convention was very positive.
Community newspapers have stayed healthy, even during the
downturn in the economy, Hills said. "They're the only source of
information in the community and the only people going to the
city council meetings and talking about issues in the community.
Vibrant communities have good, solid newspapers." She said there
haven't been big changes in circulation or in readership in
recent years. One-third of MNA's member newspapers have 1,500
circulation or less.
Small newspapers are sustainable.
MNA's Sarah Jackson said small newspapers are sustainable, many
because they've diversified. For example, she said, the
Parkers Prairie Independent, in addition to running a
weekly newspaper, has a photography business, a shop selling
housewares and clothes and a commercial printing business. Hills
said many newspapers publish "shoppers", separate publications
with all or mostly advertisements, or have common advertising
supplements that are carried in a group of area papers. Some
newspapers also do specialty magazines or supplements like
summer tourist guides. "Newspapers are doing lots of different
things," Hills said.
People are reading newspapers.
According to Jackson, data from a 2013 study show that 89
percent of adult Minnesotans have accessed newspapers in the
last month, either print or online. People who are reading their
news online are going to trusted news sites like newspapers,
Jackson said. Nationally, 2015 data show that eight of 10
Americans read newspaper digital media each month.
The 2013 study shows that newspaper
print readership rises steadily from 52 percent of the
population in the 18-to-34 age group to 86 percent of the
population 65 or older. Readership on newspaper websites peaks
at 38 percent in the 35-to-49 age group and then declines to
only 10 percent for those 65 or older. Readership on smartphone
newspaper apps is most popular in the 18-to-34 age group, at 11
Most newspapers have websites, but it
depends on the community.
Many newspapers don't have a
strong digital presence or aren't necessarily maintaining their
own websites, Hills said. Those without websites are often
communicating through social media and Twitter.
In 2010, the MNA created the Minnesota News
(MNI). Jackson said MNA
created the nonprofit News Media Institute to do training work,
including the following:
Internships for high school students across the state,
done in cooperation with the Pohlad Family Foundation;
An Editors & Publishers Community Leadership Program, now
in its 12th year and funded by the Blandin Foundation;
Training programs in partnership with the Online Media
Campus, a consortium of other state newspaper associations
that include webinars a few times a month; and
Stand-alone courses, such as an introduction to newspaper
sales and a post-legislative download session for new
The nonprofit MNI can receive grants
from foundations. Hills noted that MNA, the parent organization,
is a not-for-profit organization that pays taxes so it can do
lobbying work at the Legislature.
Newspapers around the state are
reporting on meetings of city councils, county boards and school
An interviewer asked how many newspapers have
the capacity to cover what public entities, such as county
boards and city councils, are doing locally. Hills responded
that newspapers around the state are very involved in talking
about the issues and reporting information from all government
entities. "They attend the meetings and report on them," she
She said newspapers are focusing on
challenges in their community, such as economic, mental health
and drug issues. Part of MNI's goal is to give newspaper people
the tools and skills to cover that information and all the
important issues happening in the state.
MNA lobbies for data practices, along
with public notice, open meetings and other news media issues
. Hills said MNA is very active in
issues like the following:
Access to public documents. There was a big case recently
involving the Tower-Ely Timberjay newspaper trying to get
access to public documents related to a school construction
project. There was a subcontract involved and the paper was
denied access to the subcontract documents. The case took many
twists and turns and ended up in the state Legislature, where
legislation known as the "Timberjay bill" was enacted. It
amended the data practices act to clarify the classification
of data held by private contractors as public.
Working to keep public notices issued by government
entities in newspapers rather than moving them to government
websites. People reading newspapers are more likely to see
public notices than if they have to access them by going to a
government website. And newspapers that carry public notices
are required to post them on the newspaper website, if they
maintain a website.
Making sure that police body-camera data are accessible to
There's a general mood that newspapers
are community leaders.
There's a feeling, Jackson said,
that as community leaders, newspapers have an important
responsibility to push conversations forward and help make
community change where they can. MNI's Editors & Publishers
Community Leadership Program includes a community engagement
project where newspapers try to target an issue facing their
particular communities and look for a place where they can make
Jackson remarked that attitudes toward the newspaper and
relationships between the newspaper and various public entities
differ from community to community.
Getting timely access to public
information is a problem.
An interviewer commented
that, in his experience, often people who've requested access to
public information aren't granted access until sometime after a
decision is made. "If access isn't timely, it doesn't help," he
Hills responded that it is a problem
and an ongoing issue at the local level. Some states have
specific timelines for granting data access, but Minnesota
doesn't. State law just says access must be granted in "a
reasonable time," but she said that's open to interpretation.
The Minnesota News Council, which
helped resolve disputes involving the news media, shut down in
2010. Jackson, former executive director of the Council, said
calls to the Council are still directed to her, so she is still
able to offer advice on dispute resolution.
Most newspapers have active editorial
pages and nearly all publish letters to the editor.
Hills said a large percentage of newspapers across the state
have editorial pages. Most papers publish strong local
editorials at least some of the time.
MNI offers training that encourages
newspaper people to publish editorials and offers information
about the components of a good editorial. Jackson said there is
a category for editorials in MNA's Better Newspaper Contest. The
entry judged as the best editorial is honored with the Herman
Roe award. The 2016 award went to Andrew Broman of the
Litchfield Independent Review.
The list of must-read Minnesota
newspapers can change, depending on what's going on in the
An interviewer asked which newspapers the
governor should read every day or every week. Hills responded
that he should read the Star Tribune, the Pioneer
Press, the large regional dailies, northern Minnesota
papers to keep up with issues on the Iron Range and community
newspapers, especially in southern Minnesota, to keep up with
water issues. She said the list changes, depending on what's
happening in the state.
When the interviewer asked what the
best newspaper in the state is, Jackson replied that in the 2016
MNA Better Newspaper Contest, the Detroit Lakes Tribune
was named the top weekly newspaper, because it won the most
awards in the weeklies category. Similarly, the Forum of
Fargo-Moorhead was named the best daily. (The Star
Tribune and the Pioneer Press are not part of the
Many newspapers are doing an excellent
job of discussing issues in their communities and sharing
information before decisions are made.
Hills pointed to
some recent issues, such as the school closings in Stillwater
and mining in northern Minnesota, as examples of newspapers
keeping the public informed before decisions are made. She noted
a recent "Mining Edition" special section published by the
papers in Chisholm, Virginia and Hibbing.
Young people finding their news on
Facebook and Twitter are still being directed to traditional
news outlets like newspapers.
Jackson said she reads
more national and regional newspapers than before, after being
referred to them through social media. "I have more access than
ever," she said. "There are 24-hour news cycles now, especially
in the Twin Cities."
Small newspapers often share photos
and stories, especially in the same regional areas.
Hills said there is "quite a bit of sharing" among newspapers.
She noted that the Forum News Service
works with a number of newspapers in the region, weeklies and
small and large dailies, which contribute and are able to pick
up stories from the other newspapers in the group.
According to Jackson, a lot of
newspapers exchange their papers with other newspapers, so they
can get ideas from each other or perhaps rerun an editorial
they've spotted in another paper. Also, MNI sponsors
idea-sharing events among newspapers.
Even with the sharing, Hills said,
newspapers are still very independent and competitive in news
reporting within their own communities.
Lack of broadband Internet access in
some areas of the state means not all newspapers are able to put
their content online.
Jackson said the Blandin
Foundation is working to get broadband access throughout the
state. "We're not there yet," she said.
Some newspapers have put up paywalls
that require digital readers to pay for at least some online
An interviewer asked what kinds of revenue
streams newspapers are finding for delivering online content,
which many people assume should be free. "There is no perfect
model out there," Hills responded. Some small community
newspapers have put up paywalls and then taken them down. "What
we're seeing most frequently is, if there's breaking news, it
goes ahead of a paywall and is free," she said. "But if you want
the newspapers' regular content, it stays behind a paywall and
readers must pay for it. It's a model people are still trying to
Weekly newspapers' websites are mostly
open, she said. Sometimes, people who are traveling and want to
stay up with the community news will get a PDF of the entire
newspaper. That provides more of a revenue stream for small
newspapers than the paywall approach.
Jackson added that the most popular
model for papers using paywalls is a metered paywall. Under that
system, digital readers can see five or 10 articles for free and
then must spend $1 a week for digital access. That's the model
the Star Tribune, the New York Times and other
large newspapers around the country are using. Sometimes, small
weeklies will post the current week's stories for free, but past
stories, including last week's, are behind paywalls. "There's
not one thing that's working great yet," she said.
Newspapers around the state report
that they have job openings, but they can't find people to fill
Jackson said that's the top thing MNA hears from
newspapers around the state. While there might not be as many
job opportunities at the Star Tribune or Pioneer
Press, there are lots of opportunities at community
newspapers. She pointed out that all of Minnesota's 87 counties
have at least one newspaper.
An interviewer asked which schools are
providing highly qualified people for these jobs in small
communities. Jackson responded that graduates of the University
of Minnesota's journalism school seem to look for jobs at larger
or regional newspapers or jobs in advertising or public
relations. But there are many journalism programs in the state
beyond just the U of M's. She said she's seeing many students
from two-year programs at local community colleges and from
smaller four-year colleges throughout the state participating in
the college Better Newspaper Contest. In turn, many graduates of
those programs are filling some of the openings at community
Other journalism programs that are
feeding into these newspapers include Bethel University; St.
Cloud State University; Minnesota State University, Mankato;
University of Minnesota Duluth; Moorhead State University;
University of St. Thomas; and Rochester Community and Technical
College. Finding the right recruits is the current challenge,
Hills said MNA's Journalism Education
Committee members have been visiting some of the state's
journalism schools to tell students that newspapers are alive
and well in Minnesota. They're also telling students that
working at community newspapers can be a good steppingstone for
other journalism jobs. "You might not get rich," Jackson
quipped, "but there are definitely jobs available."
People who want to get through to a
newspaper should make a personal connection with the editor.
Jackson mentioned that MNA operates a press release service for
clients who wish to get a message out to various newspapers
around the state. But she tells the clients that it's very
helpful in this digital age to pick up the phone and talk to the
editor. Hills added that it's good to send out e-mails, but
people who want to reach a certain newspaper should make a
personal connection with the editor.
Part of MNA's mission is to promote a
fraternal spirit among newspapers.
An interviewer asked
if there is a role the state's newspapers could play in helping
reduce the disconnect between Greater Minnesota and the metro
area and between rural and urban. Hills responded that MNA tries
to promote a fraternal spirit among the state's newspapers
through gatherings of newspaper people. MNI's Editors &
Publishers Community Leadership Program is another opportunity
to decrease the rural/urban division, she said. "It's important,
because the division is getting stronger," she said. "Newspapers
certainly have a role in starting the discussions to help change
The Civic Caucus
is a non-partisan,
tax-exempt educational organization. The Interview Group
includes persons of varying political persuasions,
reflecting years of leadership in politics and
business. Click here
to see a short personal background of each.
S. Adams, David Broden, Audrey Clay, Janis Clay, Pat Davies, Bill
Frenzel, Paul Gilje (executive director), Dwight Johnson, Randy Johnson, Sallie
Kemper, Ted Kolderie,
Dan Loritz (chair), Tim McDonald, Bruce Mooty, Jim Olson, Paul Ostrow, Wayne
Popham, Dana Schroeder, Clarence Shallbetter, and Fred Zimmermany,