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The Long Way Home

I recall that my mother looked forward to receiving the newsletter of Richfield Lutheran Church in the mail each week. It listed those who suffered health issues needing the intervention of prayer. Who was married, and who was buried. It contained a schedule of worship services. And it reminded her to sign me up for Daily Vacation Bible School.

The weekly mailing eventually ended while I was still a minor. Mom had to attend church each Sunday to get the printed bulletin with the same information instead.

She loved to get the mail. Mom read every-thing almost to the day she died, from furnace duct cleaning mailers to political flyers. You’d see her poring over it all and pondering what they had to say.

Most people aren’t like Mom.

The cost of printing and postage to mail newsletters has hurt many groups over recent decades, just like it ended the newsletters from RLC. But that hasn’t stopped organizations, from businesses and government to non-prof-its, from trying to communicate with their constituents, and usually not succeeding.

I thought about all this after getting regular press releases by email from the Cook County government, which is good if you’re an ink-stained wretch like me. Being in the newspaper biz, we wretched ones are skeptical that the press releases we get are the whole story.

And we’re pretty sure the County Connections pieces, called “News Posts,” published in the county’s legal newspaper and on social media, aren’t entirely forthcoming either. They are written by department heads who want to inform the public of what’s going on in their sphere of influence. Naturally, they are designed more to influence (deflect?) than in-form.

None of that is wrong, per se. After all, communication is the goal, and even one-sided communication is better than none. Who wants to communicate the negative stuff? But how many people read them?

Ink-stained wretches are supposed to write about the goings on with the local government. Take the pronouncements of the servants of the taxpayers and check, even double-check them, to get some semblance of what’s going on and print it (paper or online) to be read by an interested public.

We internalize the phrase, “Even if Mom says she loves you, check with a couple of other sources just to be sure.”

The problem today is that ink-stained wretches, those getting paid to report and write, are a dwindling population, similar to the moose population here in Cook County. The wretches aren’t falling to Chronic Wasting Disease but to the financial losses from a decline in ad revenue and a dwindling population of readers. The number of public bodies and meetings that need to be reported on far exceeds the number of reporters available to find the news.

That same dwindling population of readers reflects the supply of newsletter readers as well. Most people don’t have or want to take the time to do what Mom did.

From the local PTA to the local clinic, boardroom discussions often center on how to get their message to people who need to read it most. Newsletters and emails are often the first choice. Most end up in recycling or the burn pile, unread—a sad fact. They’re as effective as those signs that say, “Pick up after your dog.”

But if you are doing a newsletter, email, or snail mail, make it worth reading. Communicate what’s happening, but tell the story of who you are and, most importantly, why you are doing what you do.

Steve Fernlund
Steve Fernlund
Typically these “about me” pages include a list of academic achievements (I have none) and positions held (I have had many, but who really cares about those?) So, in the words of the late Admiral James Stockwell, “Who am I? Why am I here?” I’m well into my seventh decade on this blue planet we call home. I’m a pretty successful husband, father, and grandfather, at least in my humble opinion. My progeny may disagree. We have four children and five grandchildren. I spent most of my professional life in the freight business. At the tender age of 40, early retirement beckoned and we moved to Grand Marais. A year after we got here, we bought and operated the Cook County News Herald, a weekly newspaper in Grand Marais. A sharp learning curve for a dumb freight broker to become a newspaper editor and publisher. By 1999 the News Herald was an acquisition target for a rapidly consolidating media market. We sold our businesses and “retired” again, buying a winter retreat in Nevada. In the fall of 2016, we returned to Grand Marais and bought a house from old friends of ours on the ridge overlooking Lake Superior. They were able to move closer to family and their Mexico winter home. And we came home to what we say is our last house. I’m a strong believer in the value of local newspapers--both online and those you can wrap a fish in. I write a weekly column and a couple of feature stories for the Northshore Journal. I’m most interested in writing about the everyday lives of local people and reporting on issues of importance to them.
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