A fresh angle: rural newspapers redefine their role in community

Image courtesy of Minnesota Newspaper Association

The Editors & Publishers Program was founded in 2005 and modeled after the Blandin Community Leadership Program. It is a program of the Minnesota Newspaper Foundation, supported in part through Blandin Foundation grants. More than 65 editor-publisher teams have gone through the program and have emerged with a deeper understanding of how to build social capital in their communities and how to frame community issues to mobilize action. They return prepared to advance the health and vibrancy of their communities. I met up with Mike Gainor, editor of the Pine City Pioneer, to learn about his experiences in the program. Here are a few snippets from our conversation.

AM: What were some of the highlights of the program?

MG: As an editor, it’s sometimes hard to back away and get a glimpse of the whole picture. I learned how to back away and identify what things to look for, like the eight dimensions of a healthy community. Using that framework helped me think through our newspaper’s role in working through community problems using social capital and framing.

AM: Have you made any changes to the Pine City Pioneer as a result of your time in the Editors & Publishers program?

MG: The program spurred some good ideas for projects. Part of my job as an editor is to be engaged. You want to be objective most of the time, but what I learned through the workshops is that you have to pick your battles. There are certain ones that need to be fought. For example, I’ve been interacting with government leaders in a more intentional way. They had added a meeting to their calendar and called it a work session, which the community thought would not have any actionable items on the agenda. However, decisions were being made and the community was not being informed. Because of the Blandin training, I thought, how can I point out that government might not be handling things the way they ought to while still building social capital? First, I went to the officials. Then, I went to the City Council as a whole. They simply changed the name of the meeting and the community was made aware that decisions would happen during this time.

AM: Has your opinion of the newspaper’s role in community leadership changed since attending the Editors & Publishers program?

MG: You know, the newspaper is an amazing tool for framing issues for the community. It’s a huge part of our role. Seeing that more clearly has helped me do my job better. Keeping the eight dimensions of a healthy community in my mind as I draft my story list helps me to create a better newspaper. It’s better for the community. Every editor-publisher team ought to give it a shot. It helps you think of new ways to solve the problems you have and how to move forward as a leader in your community.

For more information, see the Minnesota Newspaper Association’s website.