Stunning news out of Hutchinson and Litchfield

An economic earthquake has shifted the landscape of print newspapers in Minnesota

From the desk of the Bonanza Valley Voice publisher, Brooten, Minnesota, on Saturday, April 6, 2024:

Monday addendum: our newspaper family is sickened by the news of the pending closure of newspapers in Hutchinson and Litchfield. The work done by the local staff in both communities was excellent by our standards. Unfortunately, the management of absentee ownership essentially strangled what could be done each week in their printed newspapers. Our hearts go out to their towns' newspaper staff and their families. We pray for a good outcome to come of this. Our newspaper in Brooten is a small business that has had our share of health challenges in 2023 and into 2024. We know poor health can take out a small business just as fast as economic forces. However, what is happening in Litchfield and Hutchinson goes beyond the guise of "market forces."

On Thursday, April 4, stunning news was announced from the communities of Litchfield and Hutchinson. More specifically, the news really originated out of the vulture capital fund known as Alden Global Capital, which purchased numerous Minnesota newspapers in 2020. Alden Global Capital owns MediaNews Group, which is a Denver-based media company that owns a long list of Southwest Metro-area newspapers in Minnesota and also Crow River Media.

On Thursday, the announcement was made that newspapers in Litchfield and Hutchinson will cease operations in the final week of this month, April 2024.

Crow River Media operates the Litchfield Independent Review, the Hutchinson Leader and Crow River Press. The headquarters of Crow River Press is on the western edge of Hutchinson. The newspapers for Litchfield and Hutchinson as well as their weekly Shopper tab are printed at that facility.

Litchfield's newspaper has operated continuously since 1876, and Hutchinson's newspaper has operated in the same fashion since 1880.

Other media companies are currently considering and/or pursuing purchase of newspapers in Litchfield and Hutchinson. The Bonanza Valley Voice supports any and all efforts to continue print media in both communities. We have been in communication about this issue with Litchfield Mayor Ron Dingmann, who was raised and educated in Belgrade and graduated in 1971.

In Hutchinson, former mayoral candidate Morgan Baum is helping organize a virtual conversation with concerned citizens in their community to discuss a path forward for local media. This will begin with a Zoom meeting set for Monday, April 8 at 5 p.m.

At this point, the Bonanza Valley Voice is aware of the Nelson Media Company out of Iowa that is at least interested in the idea of continuing a printed newspaper in Hutchinson.

Previously, the Bonanza Valley Voice newspaper published a story about the consolidation in the media industry in the February 13, 2020 issue when MediaNews Group bought a string of Minnesota newspapers. It was unnerving to say the least to hear that news, as it meant that just one newspaper (the Paynesville Press) stood between The Voice and the coverage area of newspapers whose profits ended up with a Denver company and its hedge fund in Manhattan.

Since 2020, The Voice has seen firsthand how the printed news has suffered from chronic shrinkage in the communities of Litchfield and Hutchinson. In our opinion, the management from both Denver and New York has all but destroyed those newspapers to the point that it seems deliberate. Across the past four years, the Hutchinson Leader has consistently printed fewer and fewer pages each week. It has gotten to the point that they no longer publish a traditional high school sports section. Instead of providing balanced coverage across all Hutchinson Tigers athletic programs, they have gotten to the point that something as simple as game box scores are no longer published on a consistent basis. The sports section of The Leader is now traditionally just one page of the newspaper and sometimes just half of a page.

This shrinkage in local news published has not coincided with a noticeable decline in display advertising. In fact, when looking through the Hutchinson Leader, it has become more and more like a shopper tab that includes a light amount of local news. The end result is fewer and fewer readers each week. Our newspaper has suffered similar "shrinkage" at times, but fortunately, through basic "shoe leather" and terrific local support, it has not become a theme for our publication.

For the Hutchinson Leader, circulation figures released in January 2021 (not long after the takeover by Alden Global Capital) was 3,536. In the March 2024 MNA directory, circulation in Hutchinson fell to 3,191.

In December 2018, the circulation of the Litchfield newspaper was 2,520. In the latest Minnesota Newspaper Association directory (March 2024), their stated circulation figure was just 1,815.

In comparison, the circulation each week for The Voice hovers around 1,660. Since 2020, circulation at The Voice has held steady in the 1,650 to 1,700 range while the goal has been stability instead of growth.

The notion that the communities of Hutchinson and Litchfield cannot support a printed newspaper is absurd from our point of view. For the Bonanza Valley Voice, gross revenues have increased every year since 2020 operating in a town with a population of 750. Towns of 6,600 and 15,000 people have more than enough resources to support a weekly printed newspaper.

A brief column on the 2020 consolidation was posted to the Bonanza Valley Voice sports blog on February 6, 2020. You can read that by clicking here:

Numerous other Minnesota newspapers set to close this month

Southwest News Media, also owned by MediaNews Group, made a similar announcement for its newspapers that operate in the southwest corner of the Metro Area. These newspapers, set to close by April 28, include the Shakopee Valley News, Prior Lake American, Savage Pacer, Jordan Independent, Chaska Herald and the Chanhassen Villager. In the announcement, the affects of the pandemic were cited as a key reason for these closures. Other changes include the shifting habits of how the public consumes media, especially in the digital age. On these topics, the Bonanza Valley Voice will publish additional comments in future issues.

Across 2021, 2022 and 2023, runaway energy costs in the United States contributed to the financial problems small businesses, including newspapers, have endured. From this newspaper's point of view, it is extremely unfortunate to see other media companies neglect this point when speaking to the challenges newspapers face in 2024. A newspaper should provide the full picture to the public and not merely a point of view or narrative that is favorable to the ruling class of the country. When a newspaper (or any media company) simply parrots a narrative given by government officials, they lose a huge level of credibility. A media organization without credibility or trust from the public is a hollow, empty shell.

Simply put, it's long past the point where a newspaper can use "COVID" as an excuse for the financial distress of small businesses. That ship sailed in 2022 as life returned to normal, especially in rural Minnesota.

The Bonanza Valley Voice has withstood the challenges of operating a print newspaper in the digital age by placing a high value on local news in our pages. In 2022 and 2023, a major challenge for this newspaper has been the uncertainty of what the government is doing to small businesses. What has transpired in both Washington D.C. and St. Paul across at least the past two years has not provided stability to small businesses or faith in the future of operating a small business in Minnesota or America.

While it has been a challenge to stay with strictly local news across the past year, the newspaper's goal in the Bonanza Valley area is to find local news and share it with subscribers. On that note, the newspaper's family is grateful for the ability to overcome a string of health challenges. While some of these challenges are still ongoing, the support of the local community has been central to the ability to continue printing what is usually a 12- to 14-page newspaper every week in Brooten. The strong faith community in the Bonanza Valley area has also been central to the success of this newspaper. We also know and understand that friends and family near and far have continued praying for the health and well being of the publisher's family. For this we are grateful beyond anything words can properly convey.


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