This article appeared in the September 21, 2020 edition of the Monitor Daily.

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Saving a local paper, and nurturing civil discourse

Courtesy of Pam Bluhm
Pam Bluhm relaunched The Chatfield News in Minnesota after it shut down this summer. Community interest, and interest from afar, appears to be rewarding her effort, as circulation creeps up.
Clayton Collins
Director of Editorial Innovation

Local news can highlight division, just as much of the national media does. But it’s perfectly positioned to also foster communal thinking.

Small outlets are vanishing, leaving news deserts behind. Innovators hang on. When I read about Pam Bluhm’s story I had to give her a call. 

Ms. Bluhm spent four decades as office manager at a 164-year-old Minnesota paper. This summer, two weeks after it went under, she emptied her bank account, boosted by her COVID-19 stimulus check, and filed the paperwork to restart it. 

“I live upstairs anyway,” she told me after she picked up at the main number. 

Our chat ran to topics as diverse as her business model (she buys some freelance copy, community members and some ex-staffers write for free) to her dislike of beets (except when pickled, but recently also in a jam that adds raspberry). 

The jam was a gift from a stop-by. Ms. Bluhm gets lots of visitors, donations, and other support. The Chatfield News is growing. The last issue produced under her boss went to 759 subscribers. By late last week she had 913.

“I like working until 2 a.m.,” she says. 

Ms. Bluhm’s journalistic philosophy is as disciplined as her work ethic. Take her letters policy. One writer just kept bashing one of the presidential candidates. “I told him ‘I know who you’re voting for. Just write good things about him.’ 

“I want [the tone] to be positive, constructive,” she says. “We’re a local paper, written by the local people, for the local people.”

This article appeared in the September 21, 2020 edition of the Monitor Daily.

Read 09/21 edition
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