Publisher’s Perspective

Chad Koenen

Have you ever made a joke you thought was hilarious, but completely fell flat? 

That is pretty much a daily occurrence for me at the Koenen household. However, a joke that I told a TSA agent last Thursday morning was followed by an awkward silence that made me wish I could get sneak through the checkpoints to get away from the situation. Unfortunately, my bag was still being checked and had I taken off running to get away from the situation would have likely resulted in my arrest.

This past year I have had the opportunity to serve as the president of the Minnesota Newspaper Association. As a result I had the chance to attend the National Newspaper Association annual conference. The annual conference was held in San Francisco and gave me the chance to fly on a plane for the first time since Dani and I celebrated our honeymoon. 

During our honeymoon 14 years ago I had my responsible new wife by my side to make sure I didn’t do anything stupid that could have resulted in getting arrested or strip searched by a TSA agent. Ironically, perhaps, we had a layover in the same San Francisco airport that I was in last week. 

Even though I had Dani by my side, I ended up wandering off and walked the wrong way through a set of doors in the San Francisco airport. As a result, a number of alarms started going off over the loud speaker and several TSA agents chased after me to see what was going on. Fortunately, I dodged that bullet by explaining I had no idea where I was going and I think they could tell I really had no idea of what was going on (it was a redeye flight and the airport was mostly empty).

On Thursday, as I was emptying my bag in Minneapolis, I asked if I needed to actually pull my laptop and shampoo out of my carry-on bags, or if they could just be left where they were. 

Almost as quickly as I got those words out of my mouth I told the TSA agent that this was the first time I had flown in 14 years and that was with my far more responsible wife who was there to look after me to make sure I didn’t do anything dumb—you know like asking a TSA agent about a rule I probably should have already known. 

“Yes you need to take your computer out of your bag like the sign says,” she replied.

And if that wasn’t enough she added a little jab at the end.

“Also the rules haven’t changed in 20 years.”

And with that was a little mic drop and story for her to tell her friends in the break room later that day. 

As far as the conference it was interesting to visit with newspaper people from across the country. There were journalists from approximately 20 states at the convention and I spent quite a bit of time talking to people from the likes of Oklahoma, Mississippi, California and everywhere in-between. Most of these people either own or work at newspapers that dwarf the size of Henning, New York Mills and the Frazee/Vergas area. When I would explain where we lived, I would have to use a combination of our proximity to Fargo, N.D. and the hump sticking into North and South Dakota. It was also quite entertaining watching some of the people’s faces when I told them our family lives in the country, just outside of a town of 300 people. 

While our newspapers differed in size and location, we are all facing the same challenges in today’s world. Advertising continues to lag behind what it was pre-COVID-19 pandemic, costs associated with printing the newspaper continue to go up and rising inflation is driving up our costs. 

A lack of employees is resulting in added stress, long hours and difficulty in covering all of the activities in our communities and rising postage rates, which according to Postmaster General Louis DeJoy who was one of the speakers at the conference will not slow down anytime soon, is resulting in large increases in mailing your newspaper each week.

Despite all of the challenges, newspapers remain a healthy and vital part of each community. After all, who else is covering city council and school board meetings, attending activities in the community and telling you about some of the great things happening in our town. 

After all, we don’t have a TV station, radio station and Facebook/social media is not exactly the most reliable place to get your information (their fact checking ability leaves something to be desired). I think the phrase I heard several times last week was a healthy community needs a healthy newspaper. 

That also means a healthy newspaper needs the support of the community through advertising, subscriptions and willingness to share your life stories in these pages. We are a locally owned newspaper and not part of a chain, something we pride ourselves on.

This was the first time I have ever had the privilege of attending the national convention, which was held this year during National Newspaper Week. The week is aimed at bringing awareness to the importance of newspapers in our community, as well as the importance of the First Amendment. Some information about about National Newspaper Week was featured in last week’s issue, but I did find it refreshing to hear people from other parts of the country share the same importance of having a vibrant newspaper in their community in order to help further the discussion between people and offer an independent voice in our town.