Journalism and COVID-19: Minnesota Newsrooms Affected
This page is part of Journalism and COVID-19: The Toll of a Pandemic, PEN America’s project covering the toll of the coronavirus crisis on the journalism industry in the United States. For “Newsrooms Affected,” we looked at five U.S. states with among the most negatively affected newsrooms; Minnesota was one of the states. Here are the Minnesota newsrooms that have faced furloughs, layoffs, pay cuts, reduced hours, shifts to solely online coverage, suspension of print, temporary or permanent closures, reduced print schedules, or mergers as a result of the pandemic.
Last updated: December 15, 2020
Aitkin Independent Age
Location: Aitkin, MN
- Lost two and a half reporting positions, down from three total, and one position in the front office
- Reduced hours by 25 percent
Excerpt from a note to readers by Jennifer Eisenbart, editor of the Aitkin Independent Age:
“It’s a bit of a time of change at the Aitkin Age in other ways. By the time our newspaper comes out, our full-time reporter Mike Armstrong will be moving on to a new job. That leaves myself and part-time reporter Lynn Mizner as our news reporters – and as of Tuesday, both of us are spending the majority of our time working from home.
“What does this mean for our readers? Hopefully, very little. Myself and Lynn both have access to our work phones, as well as our emails. We will continue to provide you the same level of coverage of events, and we want to continue to share all of our important news coverage.
“As we’ve seen over the last few weeks, however, it’s the news itself that has changed. So much of our news is, by necessity, focused on COVID-19. As we move forward in the following weeks, we will try to bring you updates not only on businesses, but on everything from events to church services.
“But one thing we hope to be doing every week is bring you the stories of the people behind the scenes – the people doing essential work and working to brighten our lives during this difficult time.”
Location: Minneapolis–St. Paul, MN
Action: Shuttered completely, laying off 30 people
Quotes from City Pages’s farewell post:
“If working for this wonderful publication has taught me anything, it’s that anger, sadness, personal experience, and loss have a place in how we report and process current events. I don’t think I would be able to speak as loudly and as truthfully without it.”
—Hannah Jones, Staff Writer
“City Pages was truly unique—a source I could look to when digging into the local arts and music scene, a place I genuinely enjoyed working. The entire staff is full of hilarious, insightful, whip-smart little trolls that I’m lucky to know and love. Em Cassel’s leadership was actively making the paper better with every issue. From the writers and readers to the faceless angry commenters on Facebook: Thank you for caring.”
—Shelby Lano, Layout Editor
“Writing for City Pages over the past 11 years has allowed me to cover so many joyous, memorable musical moments—on stage, in studios, and on barstools. It has given me the opportunity to talk to so many of my musical heroes, artists who caused me to fall in love with music long before I started writing about it. And it has given me a feeling of deep pride and personal satisfaction each and every time I see my name in print and online. I will miss all of that. And I will miss my talented coworkers who made me a better writer and a better person. Thank you to all of our readers. You made us all try harder to give you something compelling to think about and a reason to read our work.”
—Erik Thompson, Clubs Editor
“As a writer, you could write things for City Pages you couldn’t publish anywhere else—and that meant, for a reader, you could read things at City Pages you couldn’t anywhere else. It wasn’t paradise: City Pages employed its share of assholes over the years, occasionally rewarded the wrong people, and exploited the enthusiasm of the people who loved it. But we did love it, and that love allowed us to retain a consistent identity as an institution even as writers and editors and readers (and owners) came and went. Thanks for being a part of it.”
—Keith Harris, Music Editor
“City Pages was kind of like a tiny, landlocked battleship—stalwart, tough, and powered by the collective belief that our community’s voice was worth hearing. We fought to hold our own, as a crew, and knew which way we were pointed until the last. Every day we woke up, tried really hard not to suck, and then did it again the next day, too. Was it all a fever dream? It’s up to you, now.”
—Sarah Brumble, Food Editor
Duluth News Tribune
Location: Duluth, MN
Action: Reduced to a two-day-a-week print schedule, eliminating the Duluth News Tribune’s independent carrier force and some employees in the circulation department
Excerpt from a column by Rick Lubbers, executive editor of the Duluth News Tribune:
“Print advertising and subscriptions have been declining for years, all while digital readership continues to grow. Unfortunately, the pandemic has accelerated the advertising decline, greatly challenging the economics of the printed paper.
“In early April, we reduced the size of the physical paper in order to continue delivering news to our community during the COVID-19 pandemic. We had hoped that difficult decision would be the only one to make. Sadly, it wasn’t.
“Due to the pandemic’s long-lasting, negative effects on our local economy, on Wednesday, July 8, the News Tribune will move to a two-day print delivery schedule of Wednesdays and Saturdays. The Saturday paper will be very similar in content to our current Sunday edition. At that time, we will also change from carrier delivery to mail delivery of the printed paper, which for many will mean a different delivery time those two days. . .
“While some things are changing, please know that we will continue reporting on the news seven days a week. We will cover your favorite local sports teams, share your celebratory milestones and sorrow-filled memorials, and offer everything from investigative reporting and explanatory stories to local features and opinion pieces.”
Eden Prairie News
Location: Eden Prairie, MN
Action: Shuttered completely
Excerpt from a farewell column by Eden Teller, multimedia reporter at the Duluth News Tribune:
“It’s the community that makes it worth it. Everywhere I went, the people of Eden Prairie welcomed me just as my colleagues did. Though I was a stranger − not even a Minnesotan − you greeted me with smiles, with answers to my questions, with invitations into your home for a cup of tea or a cookie.
“Though Eden Prairie has 63,000 residents, what I heard from my colleagues and from the leaders I met in my first week of work is true: it does feel like a small town. As I became a regular face at summer concerts at Staring Lake, or Senior Center breakfasts, or a PeopleFest! festivity, your faces grew familiar to me, too. . .
“When I learned that Eden Prairie News would be closing, it was a double gut punch. It’s scary to be laid off right now, and I know I’m not alone. I loved my work writing about Eden Prairie, and I’m sad to see it end.
“But the larger loss is for the city itself. Eden Prairie is a standout among its neighbors in the southwest suburbs, and in the state. Its businesses draw people from all over the world to its doorstep. Its historic homes and remaining farmland connects us back to its roots as a pioneer’s homestead. . .
“This is the end for Eden Prairie News, but it doesn’t have to be the end for local journalism. This city merits more than the occasional article in a statewide publication. As old newspapers close their doors, I hope that others − more agile, more resilient to changing funding models − will step in to provide the coverage that Eden Prairie deserves.”
Location: Fargo–Moorhead, MN
Action: Cut Monday and Friday from print schedule
Excerpt from a letter to subscribers by Bill Marcil Jr., publisher of The Forum and CEO of Forum Communications Company:
“The COVID-19 pandemic is one of the largest news stories many of us have seen or will ever see in our lifetime. Its impacts have been devastating in many ways — particularly in the loss of life but also in the loss of livelihoods.
“This is the type of story that lights a fire under journalists — a group that’s driven by a mission to inform the public in such critical ways. And we’ve been humbled seeing that our coverage has reminded so many of the importance of this craft, as our websites have seen significant increases in traffic from concerned citizens needing to stay informed.
“But despite the increases in digital traffic, and despite our government recognizing newspapers as one of the many essential businesses that must continue operations during the pandemic, we are suffering losses alongside the rest of the nation as a result of COVID-19. . .
“We have lost a lot, but we have not lost everything. And we have not lost hope. The reality is, one in five newspapers shuttered its doors in the last 15 years — and that’s without a pandemic. The news industry has been hit hard before, and this might be our hardest battle yet. But it’s one we get to fight, and so many newspapers can’t say that. . .
“We have been a family business for over 100 years. Four generations before me have all shared difficult moments in their history. This is our moment. Being smart with our business and making the right decisions today will determine our future.”
Hastings Star Gazette and The Bulletin of Woodbury and Cottage Grove
Location: Hastings, Dakota County, MN and Woodbury–Cottage Grove, MN respectively
Founded: 1857 and 1987 respectively
Action: Shuttered completely by parent company RiverTown Multimedia
Quotes from Neal Ronquist, publisher of RiverTown Multimedia, via RiverTown.net’s story:
“The decision to cease publication is not one we welcome. We understand this is a loss for Hastings. . . The disruption to the advertising revenue of the Hastings Star Gazette and The Bulletin has resulted in these two publications no longer remaining financially viable. Advertising revenue accounts for approximately 70% of the revenue our paid newspapers generate. . . We appreciate the loyal subscribers and the business partnerships we have had throughout the many years.”
KS95, KTMY (myTalk 107.1), and SKOR North
Location: Minneapolis–St. Paul, MN
Founded: 1965, 1968, and 1965 respectively
Action: Significant layoffs by parent company Hubbard Broadcasting
Excerpt from a note to listeners by Phil Mackey, content director and host at SKOR North:
“We learned today that there will be major changes made to SKOR North as we know it. We lost a lot of GREAT teammates. The decision was out of my/our control. COVID-19 had a major impact on our financial runway.
“For our guys who lost jobs today, I will go to bat for every one of them. If you are a sports media entity in a position to hire – whenever that may be – Matthew Coller, Ramie Makhlouf, Derek Wetmore, Seth Auger, Jon Harrison and Ross Brendel are STARS. I love you guys.
“These last 60 days have been REALLY hard on sports media. Especially a new brand like SKOR North, which launched just over a year ago. And a recovery isn’t as simple as flipping a switch. It’s unbelievably frustrating. And great people — here and elsewhere — are now in search of work because of it. . .
“We have poured our hearts & lives into SKOR North. I couldn’t be more proud of our staff for carrying out our daily mission: Entertain Minnesota sports fans wherever they consume content. It has been an absolute privilege to collaborate with this team every day.”
From a tweet by Matthew Coller, reporter at SKOR North who was among the staffers laid off:
“Well… since loyal listeners will notice I’m not on the air, gotta let everyone know that Coronavirus’s impact hit us today at @SKORNorth and I no longer have a gig. However, I’ll be starting my own site/podcast/youtube soon to keep up the coverage. Thanks to all who listened.”
Lake County News Chronicle
Location: Duluth, MN
Action: Shuttered completely by parent company Forum Communications Company
Quote from Neal Ronquist, publisher of Rivertown Multimedia (part of Form Communications Company), via Duluth News Tribune’s story:
“It really is a financial decision. We would love to be able to continue to cover that community to the extent that we’ve been covering it in the past, but financially it just doesn’t make any sense any longer. . . The community’s going to lose some of the coverage that it’s been used to. I wish that wasn’t the case. But when you don’t have the financial support to be able to pay for the consumables that you need, pay for the labor resources that you need to employ — there isn’t much of another choice.”
Lakeshore Weekly News
Location: Lake Minnetonka area, MN
Action: Shuttered completely
Excerpt from a farewell column by Melissa Turtinen, community editor of Lakeshore Weekly News:
“I’ve been struggling to come up with a way to communicate how devastated I am that after 25 years, Lakeshore Weekly News will cease to exist.
“It’s a sad day for journalism, and for the Lake Minnetonka area. . .
“I want to thank everyone who trusted us to share their experiences so we could write about them. Without you, our sources, we wouldn’t have been able to do our jobs.
“Thank you to everyone who reached out with a story idea, gave us feedback on the work we did, sent us photos, wrote columns, penned letters to the editor, and submitted guesses to where the heck is it. The paper would not have been the same without your contributions. . .
“It’s been an honor to work for my hometown paper and share this community’s stories. Every day, I wished we had the staff and time to tell more of them. But I’m proud of the work we did with the resources we had.”
Minnesota Public Radio
Location: Minneapolis–St. Paul, MN
- Laid off 28 staffers (combined with parent company American Public Media)
- Fourteen staffers accepted voluntary buyouts (combined with parent company American Public Media), including at least six longtime journalists at MPR News
- Fourteen staffers took voluntary furloughs (combined with parent company American Public Media)
Excerpt from a letter to members and listeners by Jon McTaggart, CEO of American Public Media:
“For more than half-a-century, Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) has been enriching minds, nourishing spirits, expanding perspectives, and assisting our audiences in strengthening communities. Today, when so many communities are fractured, frustrated and anxious, our public services are needed, now, more than ever. And our commitment to serving you has never been stronger.
“As a result of the widespread economic turmoil and uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, MPR and American Public Media (APM) are facing a large and unexpected financial challenge. . .
“Our public service mission compels us to inform, inspire and serve our audiences. That is our enduring promise, and it motivates every decision we make. We’ve carefully weighed all our options to ensure that the programming, staffing and operational changes we’re making are sustainable, and will help to make our most important services even stronger and more relevant.
“As a result, we’ve made the difficult decision to reduce our staff by 28 people. In addition to our previous actions including cutting executive pay by 20% to 35%, and implementing voluntary separations and furloughs, we are cancelling FY21 merit pay increases for all employees, combining some departments and teams, selectively reducing work hours and making changes to internal operating systems to reduce costs. . .
“We are proud to be your trusted source for fact-based and reliable news, compelling stories of human connection and inspiring music that lifts your spirits when you need it most. Thank you for listening, and for your vital support.”
Quote from stewards of the SAG-AFRTA union, which represents members of MPR News, via MPR News’s story:
“We are devastated by the loss of these colleagues. The company has signaled that more job cuts may be needed. Union leaders have repeatedly offered to work in good faith with management to avoid eliminating positions during this time when journalism is of the utmost importance.”
From a tweet thread by Laura McCallum, interim director of MPR News:
“Some news: I have decided to leave @MPRnews at the end of the month, mindful of the challenging financial picture ahead, and through the company’s voluntary separation program. After nearly 27 years in various roles, it’s time for a change!
“I started as morning newscaster in our Collegeville bureau, covered the Capitol during Gov. Ventura’s term and the first @TimPawlenty term, was an editor for years, and had the privilege of leading this newsroom during the biggest story of my lifetime, this #pandemic.
“and while I will miss the amazing people in this newsroom – my work family for decades! – I know they will continue to do great work. I’m leaving the newsroom in good hands!”
Location: Minneapolis, MN
- Laid off reporting team
- Will cease publication at the end of the year and will rely on freelancers to write during its final weeks
Excerpt from a note to readers by Janis Hall and Terry Gahan, founders of Southwest Journal:
“It is with heavy hearts that we announce that, like many other community businesses, the Southwest Journal has been impacted by the pandemic. Our advertising sales are down this year and this latest decline follows a years-long loss in newspaper revenue. An additional factor in our decision to stop publishing is that we are ready to retire.
“For these reasons, the Dec. 17 issue will be our final publication.
“We have proudly served our community for over 30 years, building a 32,000-circulation newspaper from our Linden Hills kitchen in 1990, with the help of numerous Twin Cities journalists, artists, photographers, editors, administrative assistants and salespeople. The paper has always been free and home delivered, thanks to our advertisers, who have supported our model of community journalism for over three decades. . .
“We are extremely grateful to the dedicated readers who answered our call for donations and sent money over the past six months. Your letters lifted our spirits more than we can tell you. We also received a Paycheck Protection Program loan that got us through several months of expenses, but is running out. . .
“After this issue, we will no longer employ full-time reporters. This is the first time in our history that we will use only freelancers to report the news of Southwest Minneapolis. It’s a difficult decision and one we must make. We will continue with our full-time editor, Zac Farber, our longtime creative director, Valerie Moe, our stalwart distribution manager, Marlo Johnson, and our salesperson, Owen Davis. We are grateful to have such dedicated employees through this difficult transition.”
Location: Minneapolis, MN
- Had four days of furloughs in both quarter two and quarter three for newsroom and non-newsroom employees
- Employees and management took pay cuts
- Consolidated some sections
Quote from Michael J. Klingensmith, publisher of the Star Tribune, via MinnPost’s story:
“I know we’re going to lose 40 percent of our ad revenue for April, May and June. There’s just no avoiding it. But I don’t know what to expect about the third quarter. There are still a wide range of outcomes possible.”