By John Strand
Our Opinion: Thank you, Reader readers, for 29 fulfilling years
Chugging along, The Little Newspaper That Could commences its 30th volume and year with this issue. Simply getting here speaks volumes. Just imagine the words, the bylines, the opinion pieces, the heart that has been part of the High Plains Reader’s nearly three-decade storied journey.
At the risk of sounding like a relic – spanning a couple generations can do that – HPR has always tried to be relevant. And in these dramatically changing times, especially for print media, and after all we and this newspaper have been through, it’s truly a milestone to be optimistically looking forward to our 30th year birthday.
The story which precedes most all of us goes back to a day at Whitey’s in East Grand Forks in September 1994 where a small cadre of college journalists hatched the idea of creating their own newspaper. They came up with the name High Plains Reader and toasted it.
Just over two years later, ownership changed for the twice-monthly paper printed in Grafton and distributed predominantly in Grand Forks and East Grand Forks.
Then shortly after that ownership change, the historic Flood of 1997 dislocated HPR entirely from Grand Forks and the only way forward it seemed was to make Fargo-Moorhead our new home base.
It was not long before the covers were in four-color process and we were really stepping up to the big leagues. Then we took the leap and began to publish the paper weekly.
For context, up until that general time, no competing newspaper had succeeded to simply exist for more than two or three years, in several decades. Yet HPR persisted.
Through the years, lots of nicknames were tossed at us and our newspaper. We were something of an easy target, of liberal persuasion in a conservative region. We made friends, never gave up and became the heart and center of the progressive community, where our favorite people dropped in to visit, touch base and get to know one another.
Over time, we cannot even begin to count the bylines carried in pages of our paper. We always had some anchor, standout writers who became pillars of our content: Chris Jacobs, Greg Carlson, Ed Raymond, for example. And we had a stellar list of writers who were editors of HPR or contributors.
And we had hundreds of hundreds of customers who advertised with us and that’s truly who paid the bills to get this paper to thousands upon thousands of readers weekly, decade after decade.
The Flood of ‘97 was a defining moment. For many years we did our best to be the arts and entertainment newspaper for both the Grand Forks and the Fargo regions, but eventually our focus needed to be on the community in which we were based. It was a necessary decision yet painful to cut the cords with our roots in Grand Forks.
Now, these many years later, we often hear from people who tell us of the role the High Plains Reader played in their personal lives. It’s gratifying to hear recognition that our heartfelt effort was in fact appreciated and made a difference.
When HPR was a relative newcomer to downtown Fargo, we were a constant voice for a better downtown, for more vibrancy, for more arts and culture. Some of you may recall how lonely it was downtown. HPR was hip before our downtown again got hip.
Our journey was never about the money. Had that been the case, there would not have been a High Plains Reader. Rather, it was about heart and community. Our army of people got paid with an immense sense of gratification because they were part of something bigger than any one of us. It was a movement, a groundswell rippling out week after week, reaching new readers and new generations, carrying glimmers of hope and affirmation.
These days the print media, small and large, is in danger of extinction. But mind you, we did in fact – well, many of us did — survive an era when the country’s president called the media the enemy of the people. Remember that?
Plus we’ve seen the shift from local media to nameless, faceless digital conglomerate media like Facebook and X and trust us, every dollar invested in those media means fewer dollars for local media, the ones who write the stories that you cut out and tape to your fridge.
There are way too many names and moments to try to recall 29-plus years of them in 800 words, but please know it’s been a remarkable journey and we are not nearly done by any stretch of the imagination.
HPR survived hell and high water, floods and fire, good times and bad, and a 100-year pandemic. Though now a monthly independent North Dakota-based print and online media, our audience still numbers in the tens of thousands.
So, happy 29th birthday to The Little Newspaper That Could and join us in aiming proudly toward our 30th anniversary a year from now. Meantime, we thank our advertisers, our contributors, our predecessors and our extended family.
It’s a humbling honor to be your newspaper. Thank you, sincerely.
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