BYRON — The embattled newspaper landscape is losing two more local voices with today’s announcement that the Byron Review and the Star Herald are ceasing publication.
Co-owner Larry Dobson announced the end of the award-winning weekly newspapers on the front page of this week’s Byron Review.
“(The newspapers have)… not been profitable for many years. We have kept it going mostly out of love for journalism and the belief that having a newspaper is important to the sense of identity people have with their community, that it helps build community spirit and promotes cooperation,” wrote Dobson.
He and his wife, Melanie, created Community News Corp. in 2003 to buy the Byron Review, Hayfield Herald, Dodge Center Star Record and The Advertiser from Tony and Jackie Pierskalla.
The 50-year-old Byron Review was founded in 1968 by William B. Pritchard.
The Dobsons were forced to shut down The Advertiser in 2008 at the height of the recession. In 2009, they combined the Hayfield Herald and Star Record into one newspaper, the Star Herald.
On the editorial page of today’s Byron Review, Melanie Dobson wrote about how they and their team dedicated themselves to the newspapers, despite a lack of experience.
“We may not have been the most professional paper, but we have tried to get things right. I feel our papers have had a lot of heart — heart, humor and joy,” she wrote. “Larry and I have looked at the newspapers as a mission and a service. We weren’t out to make money.”
The Dobsons’ daughter, Emily Stefens, wrote a popular column called “It’s My Life — Living with Severe Traumatic Brain Injury.” Her column won a first-place columnist award from the Minnesota Newspaper Association this year.
Her column was about her life after she was in a car crash without a seat belt in 1999.
“Writing my column helps me see that my life is still good,” she wrote. “I still have a lot to offer.”
Unfortunately, the Dobsons are not alone in struggling to keep a newspaper profitable. Most newspapers, including the Post Bulletin, have been forced to trim employees and pages.
About 20 percent of all newspapers in the United States — about 1,800 — have gone out of business or merged since 2004.
Minnesota, which has lost 17 percent of its newspapers since 2003, actually has fared better than most states.
A recent study of “news deserts” by the University of North Carolina’s School of Media and Journalism found more than 3 million Americans in 171 counties in the U.S. have no newspaper at all. However, Minnesota’s 87 counties all have at least one newspaper and that remains true with the closure of the Byron Review and The Star Herald.
“It’s not very frequently that we see newspapers completely closed,” said Lisa Hills, the executive director of the Minnesota Newspaper Association.
She was sad to hear that the Dobsons, who won awards from the MNA earlier this year, were now among those.
Hill said many newspaper officials are telling her that the closures of national and local retail business are causing a steady stream of advertising losses.
While advertising has taken a beating in recent years, Hill said other state associations that help judge contest submissions say that Minnesota’s newspapers are producing high-quality work.