Forum continues to be a family owned newspaper

Contributed photo
Carly Johnson and Robert Williams are two of the full-time employees at the Frazee-Vergas Forum. 

By Robert Williams


In the newspaper business, publishers, journalists and everyone else who makes the paper a worthwhile endeavor must be prepared for constant change and operate through transitions, whether it be at the operations level or in the day-to-day tasks that make up weekly coverage.

Here at the Forum, fundamental change occurred when the editor position changed hands and we lost our cartoonist and graphic designer Chris Hahn, who had been at the Forum for about a year, to a coaching position at Concordia College.

Chris enjoyed working here but the pull to get back to coaching was enough for him to make the move, something that took the rest of us in the office a while to get used to. Chris had a way of keeping the vibe in the office light and was a connecting force between all of us. It’s tough to see good employees go, but it’s also rewarding knowing they are happy where they went.

We had to shuffle duties around to make up for Chris’ absence and in that change we managed to streamline our process. Anytime that can happen it is beneficial to writers, graphics personnel and most importantly readers.

Another newspaper axiom, especially in recent years, is do more with less. It’s a simple fact that the digital world and its major players like Facebook and others have had a detrimental effect on the bottom line of those of us in the print world. 

Gannett, the largest newspaper chain in the country with more than 250 papers, unloaded a round of layoffs last week, seven days after announcing second quarter results, including a loss of $54 million. Some of those layoffs affected people we know personally, as close as several employees at the St. Cloud Times.

At small papers like ours, there really is not a lot of room for layoffs. Regular visitors to our office, of which we have quite a few, have likely noticed that most of the time it’s Carly Johnson and I in the building. 

Carly is the shiny voice you hear when you call and are lucky enough to not get me on the phone. Answering the calls and helping customers who come in the door allows me to toil away at the keyboard undisturbed or be out and about on interviews. There’s no way I can do this job without her.

We were also fortunate to have the services of our intern reporter and recent FHS graduate Katy Wilkowski. During the summer festival season, we need another person on the keyboard and behind cameras to cover everything. 

For a new writer, Katy did an excellent job of being all over the place and was a willing contributor to keeping our focus on people. She is transitioning to college this week and we wish her the best of luck and sincerely hope she returns next summer.

Part of the allure in taking the editor position here at the Forum was to get away from the larger, corporate side of the media business where layoffs or buyouts are more common. 

The Frazee-Vergas Forum is owned by Henning Publications and their publishers Chad and Dani Koenen. They purchased the newspaper from Delair and Gale Kaas in 2018 and are a small family-owned newspaper. In fact, it’s not uncommon to see their entire family at athletic events and community activities throughout the year as they cover the activity for the newspaper. 

Chad has also covered the Frazee High School athletic teams over the past several years and once again took over the layout/design of the newspaper when Chris left earlier this summer. 

In addition to the Frazee-Vergas Forum, they have owned the Citizen’s Advocate in Henning since 2010 and started the New York Mills Dispatch from the ground up when that community’s newspaper was closed and merged with a neighboring community. They are focused on keeping each newspaper as local as possible with news that happens in our own backyards, as oppose to stories that have little to no effect on our immediate area. 

It has also been a pleasure to work where we stress the importance of our print page. We are mandated to have a web presence and and social media sites certainly provide subscribers secondary outlets for our work but getting back to putting news in the hands of our readers is something I really enjoy about working here.

I came here with far more recent experience on the sports side of the business. Becoming editor of the paper has allowed me to transition back to my writing roots and my main priority is concentrating the focus of our work on people. 

In this business, especially in small towns, it is the people who matter most. Now 20 editions in and four months here, I enjoy looking back on the front pages of the papers I’ve made that consist of recognizable faces of people who are contributing to the betterment of both Vergas and Frazee. I sincerely hope that effort is noticeable to our subscribers.

Other front page features have been about people who are taking a step forward into retirement after a lifetime of contributing to both communities. The funny thing about people like that is I will often run into them elsewhere finding ways to contribute.

We have made front page space to highlight new business owners, high school graduates, syrup makers, town festival chairpersons and everyone else who makes our area a great place to live, including a few just passing through that will leave their mark during a visit.

Highlighting the positive contributions of the people in the Frazee-Vergas area is a responsibility and a service we try hard to provide, along with a lengthy list of other services that can be tough to find in small towns, from faxing documents or making copies to advertising and nearly any print job that an individual or business could need.

One constant desire of any editor I have worked for, from metro entertainment magazines to newspapers, is the want to hear from readers. It’s easy to make a snarky comment on social media. It’s a little more difficult to craft a well-written letter to the editor, but that’s a challenge I put to our subscriber base. 

It would be great if while we’re busy trying to keep the local voice of a small town newspaper alive we were able to include your voice on our editorial page. I encourage readers to take advantage of still having a place to vent about the world we live in or praise someone who deserves it. That’s a big part of what makes newspapers great and you can have a direct impact on that.