Editor's Soapbox

Sometimes a small, simple act leads to an extraordinary outcome. This past year, Pine City schools and the Pine City Pioneer took an opportunity to work together in a new way. We donated 30 issues of the newspaper each week for students to read, and Pine City High School juniors used them in their American History class to find out more about their hometown and the people in it. Then, at the end of the school year, those thoughtful students sent us letters talking about what they found good and useful in the newspaper.

This is a collaboration we hope will become a tradition. But here’s the thing: I can’t stop thinking about what the students said in these letters, because they go back to some of the essential things we ask ourselves every week as we try to make a great community newspaper.

A lot of your stories really open my eyes to this community. From the people that choose to waste their lives and do no good, to the people who do nothing but good, it is always fun to read. - Trever Depoppe

Thank you, Trever, and you make an excellent point. It’s our core responsibility to give people the facts about  the issues and challenges facing Pine City, and it is often bad news that ends up dominating our front page. But we’re really happy you’ve found that we bring a focus to the good things too, whether that is featuring the unsung volunteers of our community in our “Singing the Praises” section, bringing attention to the efforts of area businesses and nonprofit groups and sharing the stories of exceptional individuals who are overcoming obstacles and accomplishing great things. And we always try to put a little something special in the Pioneer each week so that our readers look forward to picking it up.

The information that you provide is wonderful due to its variety - Joshua Rike

We really appreciate that, Joshua. We want to give our readers all sorts of stories beyond business, crime and government, especially with all the amazing communities  in our town working to build up programs for young people in athletics and the arts. Every few weeks we hear about something in this area we never knew existed – a new effort to help others, or a person with an intriguing hobby or remarkable life experience. One of the best parts of this work is discovering those and sharing them with you.  

I love getting the opportunity to learn about our community. - Daisy Koffler

You know what, Daisy? We love it too.  We go to government meetings, talk with community leaders and regularly check in with law enforcement as part of our information gathering. But our favorite stories, and some of the most powerful, have come from readers who reach out to us to let us know what is going on.  So we urge everyone to give us a call at 320-629-6771 or email me at editor@pinecitymn.com. We can’t follow up on all the tips we receive, but we promise that we appreciate each and every one of them.

You have helped me be more involved in the community.  - Megan DuChene

It is great to hear that, Megan! Getting involved in your community is something that will pay huge dividends to you as a person, whether that be volunteering with your school, church, club or charity – or even running for political office. Every week in the Pioneer we try to point out ways to get involved and give back on our calendar page, our church page and more. In our annual Information Guide we list the dozens of nonprofit organizations that help knit our community together.

There’s a spirit of volunteerism in our town that is pretty special, and whether your love is painting, ponies, poetry or pickleball, there’s a way for you to join in and become part of something phenomenal.

I am thankful that I can be informed about what goes on in my community.  - Hailey Rothbauer

Thanks, Hailey. I don’t want to take what you were talking about out of context, but I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately: in order to be informed you need a trusted source of information. That’s what we hope the Pioneer is for Pine City.  

There’s an awful lot of talk right now about fake news, and there is a lot of rotten stuff out there – everything from sloppy reporting to carefully developed misinformation meant to deceive the public. But if someone doesn’t like a story, that doesn’t make it fake news. Facts are facts, and we try, very hard, to give you verifiable facts that come to us from a trusted source.

And another thing: a good newspaper can be good for your wallet too.  A recent study called “Financing Dies in Darkness? The Impact of Newspaper Closures on Public Finance,” by Paul Gao, an associate professor of finance at the University of Notre Dame, shows that taxpayers in cities without a newspaper tend to pay a lot more in government expenses. Why? Because no one is paying attention. As Gao puts it on the Notre Dame news website, “When local newspapers aren’t there to hold governments accountable, we see costs increase due to a lack of scrutiny over local deals.”

I am grateful to have the opportunity to read and learn more about the community I’ve grown up in. - Megan Cunnien

Megan, we’re really glad you said that. I didn’t grow up in Pine City, but since coming here I’ve been finding out more and more about the rich history of the area with the help of several dedicated local historians. And one of our main tools is – you guessed it – the back catalog of the Pioneer.

A newspaper doesn’t just share the news of the day, it records that news for history – and this newspaper has been setting down the events of this community since 1885. It is a lot of fun to go through a few old issues and look at the challenges they were facing back then in black and white.

Every week you can find the happenings from past decades in our “Years Ago” column. And years from now, history-lovers are going to be poring over the pages of the 2019 Pioneer trying to imagine what Pine City was like before self-driving flying cars and our colonies on Mars.

It helps us connect with our community.  - Dustin Bergstrom

You know, Dustin, I’ve been thinking for a long time that one of the main reasons why people read the newspaper is to have that feeling of connection with their community. You can get that feeling by connecting with others online through social media, but it’s not the same. Frankly, social media and much of the internet is set up to create a little bubble for you. It guides you in a circle to things you already agree with and are already interested in.

And, with politics, this isn’t healthy.

If you keep hearing ideas that reinforce your viewpoint you are more likely to forget that the other side probably has some pretty good points too – and it’s a lot easier to think that those you don’t agree with politically are actually your enemies, and to accept falsehoods as true as long as the falsehoods align with what you want to believe.

With the newspaper, we still hold to the idea that news reporting ought to be objective, and that we should let the facts speak for themselves in our news stories.

Also, be assured that when there’s an opinion column or letter in this newspaper, it’s going to be listed as such.

We try to make sure, as the saying goes, that each writer is welcome to their own opinion, but not their own facts. We’ve been chastised by letter writers on both sides of the aisle because we made them remove statements of fact that they could not back up, but our policy is there for a reason – people need to take responsibility for the words they say.

There will be divisive stories in the Pioneer. That’s the nature of news. But there’s going to be a lot that we all can celebrate. Most importantly, we hope that telling the stories of our community helps to bring us together to talk things over, to give us that sense of connection in a meaningful way.

It is wonderful to be able to read things about our town that we wouldn’t know about. It’s crazy to think about the things that happen in this small town. Thank you for your contribution to Pine City.  - Scarlet Pantlin

No, thank you, Scarlet – and thank you to the teachers who led this project and all the students who participated. This is why we’re passionate about what we do – the idea that we can make a positive difference for our readers and for Pine City.

As much as I’m supposed to be a hard-nosed, objective reporter of the facts, it’s tough for me to read something like this without getting a lump in my throat. Here’s the next generation of our town and our country, and they’re learning a little bit about the value of community from our newspaper. If you believe, as I do, that a vibrant, responsible free press is one of the cornerstones of our republic and a key to our future, then something like this gives you a lot of hope.

Mike Gainor is the editor of the Pine City Pioneer. Contact him at editor@pinecitymn.com or 320-322-5241.

Read more student letters at https://bit.ly/2L9QHer

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