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DeSmet Economic Development Board to Launch Newspaper with Volunteers

After losing two newspapers to market forces that don’t value local journalism, Kingsbury County is trying to establish a new weekly newspaper running on volunteer writers and good wishes.

“At first there was a feeling of loss, of something missing that we had to some degree taken for granted,” said Tim Aughenbaugh, a De Smet business owner who is on the board of the local development corporation. “The more we began to think about it, we realized what an important role a newspaper plays in a community.”

…Aughenbaugh concluded that the only way to make the equation work was to eliminate or drastically reduce employee costs. That meant relying almost exclusively on unpaid volunteers from the community to write articles, take photos, design the website and the paper, and get the printed copies distributed around the county [Bart Pfankuch, “S.D. Communities Rally to Launch Weekly Newspaper with Volunteer Labor,” South Dakota News Watch, 2020.05.11].

We want value, but we don’t want to pay people to produce that value. There’s the South Dakota economic development mindset at work.

Showing more stereotypical economic development corporation thinking, Aughenbaugh is bringing in a design firm to get the new Kingsbury Journal started:

Aughenbaugh said the group has enlisted the help of a design firm that will not only help create the finished product but also provide training to volunteers, including in the basic principles of community journalism.

Aughenbaugh said at this early stage, he is not too worried about maintaining objectivity or running into problems regarding conflicts of interest or libel, though those topics will be addressed in volunteer training [Pfankuch, 2020.05.11].

Economic development corporations producing news generally aren’t worried about objectivity. A newspaper managed by an economic developer will likely offer nothing but glowing coverage of giant hog CAFOs run by their kin.

Every community should have a news outlet. Every community that can manage it should have multiple news outlets so residents can hear and analyze multiple viewpoints. And every community should have at least one news outlet that isn’t controlled by business or political interests.

13 Comments

  1. John 2020-05-12 11:49

    Best of luck to Kingsbury County. Perhaps they are able to organize their effort under either a non-profit or co-op. (“Non-profit” does not mean no profits.) Many local newspapers have. Perhaps they are able to work with SDSU Journalism to trade work for credits, or some form of work-study. Yet it would be cruel expecting students to work for free absent some form of compensation. Hat tip to Mr. Aughenbaugh and his group for their community leadership.

  2. Chris S. 2020-05-12 12:13

    We want value, but we don’t want to pay people to produce that value. There’s the South Dakota economic development mindset at work.

    You summed it up in a nutshell, Cory. The pandemic is pulling back the curtain on it a bit, where we see people wanting the fruits of other people’s labor for a pittance (or for free, if possible). Go work in a crowded meatpacking plant! We don’t care if you get sick and die! We want cheap bacon!

    People not willing to pay others for work was always the case in the humanities. Are you a writer? Or an artist? You should be grateful for the “exposure” it will give you to let us use your work for free!

    The mindset is a little more obvious now that people are making a similar argument when it has immediate life or death consequences (for other people, of course). Maybe when they come for the free labor of our exalted STEM übermenschen, people will get wise to the free labor scam.

  3. leslie 2020-05-12 17:29

    Ive been fighting “exposure…work for free”, in every career.

    Save JOURNALISM? Nich Lemann, New York Review (2.27.20) explores this…. More to follow.

  4. Debbo 2020-05-12 21:38

    I can understand what DeSmet is doing. Small towns often do similar things. I’ve seen small towns run community owned grocery stores, gas stations, cafes and bars and, of course, community centers. Usually there is one paid employee while the rest are volunteers. A newspaper seems like a natural for this.

    It will report on all the Bulldog sports and other school activities. Chances are there will be local social columns, church reports, scouts, amateur summer teams and leagues.

    The things ripest for partiality are probably city council, school board and other government meetings. I think DeSmet is the seat for Kingsbury County so commission meetings will be there.

    Well, I wish them luck.

  5. grudznick 2020-05-12 21:45

    This is a swell idea, and if the Economic Board of DeSmet controls the media we know the libbie-bias and lies of that Sioux Falls newspaper won’t be part of it. In fact, if this new journalistic endeavor wanted to print a guest editorial or a brace of them from grudznick, I would oblige. I bet they will want to.

  6. Donald Pay 2020-05-12 22:20

    I really hate it when some business whiz thinks they can market slavery, which is what this project is when you strip it of all the marketing spin. This happens to creative people all the time. Journalists don’t get paid much to begin with, but putting a zero on it sort of makes you understand some people don’t really value the first cut at history. It makes me think this is more a vanity project.

    I can tell you, having worked on a start-up weekly, it’s not easy or cheap to do good journalism. It takes a lot of time, unless you don’t care about the product. I worked 80 hours a week, got paid for 40, though what I got paid would have been worth about a half time teacher position. Sure, you can get people to write stuff because everyone likes to think a byline is enough pay, but the quality is not going to be there and you better be careful about fact checking. Some of the writing you get from “volunteers” is just a bit better than the comic book level. You have to have an editor.

    I suppose if you want a bunch of smiley face stories, and high school sports, yeah, go for it. Don’t expect good journalism, though.

  7. Debbo 2020-05-12 22:26

    “I suppose if you want a bunch of smiley face stories, and high school sports, yeah, go for it. Don’t expect good journalism, though.”

    Don, I wouldn’t be surprised if that is exactly what they want.

  8. Donald Pay 2020-05-13 08:52

    I have no problem with high school sports, by the way. I know they are very important to some students and to many communities, but coverage in local papers goes overboard. The reason: it sells papers. Why does is sell papers? Sports stories involve conflict, and people who identify with one or another side in a conflict. Same with, for example, a controversy over a CAFO, a city council race, or an anti-drug campaign. There are different sides or perspectives, and people like to read about it. People also like to read about crime, accidents and the like. It sells papers.

    If you are going to do a project like this, I’d suggest partnering with the school district. Get journalism students involved in a community journalism project.

  9. John 2020-05-13 12:45

    Sioux Falls . . . libbie bias . . . ROTFLMAO
    What a sheltered, willfully blind life grudz lives.

  10. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2020-05-14 06:01

    Excellent idea, Donald. Go for educational synergy. Involve students in journalism as community service and civics education. Get them writing about things that matter in their immediate lives.

    I am amazed at how much my local paper’s staff can still find to write about sports even sports aren’t happening.

  11. Donald Pay 2020-05-14 08:49

    Yeah, this idea is something I have had for a long-time. I ran a version of it past Peg Sagan, who was publisher of the Rapid City journal when I was on the school board. I wanted the Journal to pick up the tab for our school newspapers and journalism program. I was always looking for ways to save money and save programs. The student journalists/photographers would have gotten to shadow real journalists as part of the deal. The Journal would have gotten content (probably a separate insert), edited by students. She was interested in the concept, but it didn’t fit financially for the paper. I think there was a liability issue, as well.

  12. Debbo 2020-05-14 13:38

    The Strib’s Sunday sports section went from 16 pages to 6. Ouch! The Op Ed section was moved into the first section and it went from 4 pages to 3. The Travel section disappeared entirely. Business shrank by 2 pages. The Local/Minnesota and Variety sections are the only ones that didn’t change.

  13. Bobanna 2020-05-19 18:32

    As someone who has worked for both of these publications since 2011, and became unemployed when they closed, I am curious to see how the development boards in the two towns do with this endeavor. I submitted a couple things for the first issue, but if I want to continue to work in journalism and still pay my bills, I’m going to have to look outside my current community.

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