Locally-owned newspaper launches in Cloquet

The new Pine Knot is located in the space formerly occupied by the Pine Journal, owned by Forum Communications. Forum has consolidated many of its community newspaper offices in Duluth.

A new locally owned weekly newspaper has launched to serve the Cloquet and northern Carlton County area. The Pine Knot News published its first edition on Friday, Oct. 26, as an alternative to the weekly Pine Journal owned by Fargo-based Forum Communications.

The publication will be owned and operated by several community members with a history of journalism experience in the area, including local business owner and attorney Pete Radosevich, Moose Lake Star-Gazette owner Tim Franklin and the Pine Journal’s former editor Jana Peterson.

Peterson was having coffee with a couple of friends around the time the Pine Journal announced it was closing its office in Cloquet this past January. 

“I thought, 'Wouldn’t it be nice if you just had a small town newspaper where you just worried about the community and getting your job done,’” she said. 

Around the same time, Pete Radosevich sent Peterson a text message, saying now would be a good time to start a community newspaper.

“We started talking about it a little bit, and we decided that Cloquet really needed a community-based newspaper focused on community news with quality journalism,” he said.

Radosevich called Peterson a “top-notch journalist” who received a first place award for investigative reporting from the Society of Professional Journalists this year. She will serve as the newspaper’s editor while Radosevich will serve as publisher.

The two said the weekly will provide coverage of school boards, city council and county board meetings. However, they note it would also feature sports, human interest stories and local columns from the area. Radosevich and Peterson feel there has been a void in local coverage of the community since the Pine Journal closed its office in January.

“When they took that away from the community, it was a huge loss,” said Peterson.

Radosevich said they plan to support the newspaper through advertising revenues and subscriptions, although he acknowledged the challenges facing the print industry.

“Starting a newspaper in this day and age with modern electronics and communication is crazy,” he said. “It’s like people who started a bank in the middle of the depression.”

The launch of new publications in small communities is uncommon, according to John Hatcher, associate professor of journalism at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. He said it’s more likely to see acquisitions of existing newspapers with an established identity, advertising and circulation base. However, Hatcher said print newspapers tend to be more successful in small, rural communities with loyal readers and local business support. 

“I think the one thing that’s really important for community newspapers is to have a physical presence in the community,” he said. “That really means a lot to people. You can’t cover Main Street if you don’t have an office on Main Street. I think that’s really in the Pine Knot’s favor.”

A 2017 report from the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University found local newspapers in small communities are more resilient to changing technology due in part to their ability to provide exclusive content and proximity to their audience. Yet, Hatcher said the market is growing tougher in general for small community newspapers with more small businesses fading away, noting newspapers have witnessed declines in classifieds ads and other revenues. Newspapers across the country witnessed a 10 percent decline in advertising revenues last year, according to the 2018 State of the News Media report by the Pew Research Center.

Still, Radosevich is confident people will support the Pine Knot News whose name pays homage to the Pine Knot weekly newspaper that served the area in the late 19th century.

“If people are picking up their local newspaper to find local journalism, the advertisers will follow,” he said.

Aside from the economics, Hatcher said the addition of another weekly newspaper will likely increase competition and the quality of journalism offered to the community.

“By and large for us, the consumers, that’s good news,” he said.

The first two issues of Pine Knot News were distributed to roughly 10,000 households in northern Carlton County, according to Peterson. She hopes the paper will attract at least 1,000 subscribers in the first year. The question remains as to whether the community can support two weekly publications. When asked to comment, the Pine Journal’s publisher Neal Ronquist and executive editor Rick Lubbers provided the following statement.

“The Pine Journal’s local reporters and sales representatives are as excited as ever to continue bringing our readers the best in local news, sports and features coverage,” said the statement. “Holding true to the long-held ethics and standards of their craft, they’re personally invested in publishing the best local journalism every week.”

Yet, Radosevich doesn’t think the Cloquet area community can support both weekly newspapers.

“I don’t think it’s long for this world – the Pine Journal, which is a shame,” he said. “But, I didn’t kill the Pine Journal. They strangled themselves. What I did is resurrect the Pine Knot and bring a community newspaper back to Cloquet.”

Pine Knot News will operate out of the same office in Cloquet the Pine Journal vacated earlier this year.