Little newspaper on the prairie: Kingsbury County community members save local news

KELOLAND.com Original

DE SMET, S.D. (KELO)– On April 1, 2020 De Smet community members were delivered their weekly copy of The De Smet News, which the front page headline reading “This Is It!”

The story went on to say that this was the final edition of both The De Smet News and the Lake Preston Times. This closure came after the changes in the newspaper industry created a declining profit and after the pandemic took away a lot of advertising business.

With a group of volunteers and community members from both towns, the Kingsbury Journal was born, just seven short weeks after the closure of the original papers. The Kingsbury Journal was a way to bring both communities together and keep local news alive.

“We were all in shock here in De Smet and Lake Preston when the paper came out on April 1st last year with the headline “This Is It!” and we thought it was an April Fool’s joke that Dale Blegen was pulling on us,” Rita Anderson, Director of De Smet Development Corporation said.

The paper holds a strong history in the community and is where Carrie Ingalls was trained as a printer.

Blegen had been the editor for over 43 years and there had only been three owners in the paper’s over 140 years that the paper had been in existence, Anderson said.

After the closure was announced, the community had to decide what to do, Anderson said. The development corporation stepped into action and at first they thought it would just be them helping someone else take over the paper, but it ended up that the organization had to decide to do the paper themselves, or else it would not be able to happen.

The newspaper not only keeps people informed, but it provides a sense of community and support, Sharry Knock, a De Smet resident said.

“There just isn’t another way to get all that information out about the great things that our city is doing, our county is doing, not only the great things but the struggles and let people know so they can support you,” Knock said.

Knock said when she found out the paper was closing, she was not only worried about how they would inform the community about different things, but also how local businesses would advertise.

The development corporations of both De Smet and Lake Preston came together to produce the “Kingsbury Journal,” with issues distributed every Wednesday.

Finding resources and people in the community was a challenge. However, the paper now has four employees, as well volunteers who submit articles and columns. The paper’s circulation is around 2,000.

“As we looked into starting the paper and what we should do to get it revived, all of us were just thinking that ‘this was just something we took for granted every week and it just appeared at the local news stand every week’ and we did not realize all that went into it,” Anderson said.

Another issue the group faced was that if they did not have a newspaper printed every one to two weeks, they would lose their postal rate. The postal department gave them seven weeks to get a new paper, which is a deadline they were able to make.

The first issue of the Kingsbury Journal was released on May 20, 2020, with the same headline as the last issue of the two papers: “This Is It!”

“The newspaper is just the heartbeat of the community,” Anderson said.

Without it, the community did not have advertising, news on local government, obituaries or other things happening in the area.

One of the largest advantages of putting the paper together as a volunteer group, was that they were able to meet the other residents from the other towns and brought the two communities together, Anderson said.

“There had always been some rivalry there that went clear back to the days of the courthouse,” Anderson said. “So this was a means of us all the sudden working together and really now I see such a tremendous change in the atmosphere and how the communities get along.”

The paper is now financially sound, Anderson said. They not only have the printed paper, but they also have a digital platform, which they thought would have a larger audience, but people really like having the physical printed paper.

“It is a recording of the history that’s so important that we have that, without the newspaper, you loose that also,” Anderson said.

Transitioning to a new position

Mike Siefker, Editor of the Kingsbury Journal, came into this position with very little background experience in the newspaper industry, besides some writing he had done for the previous editor. He is not only the editor, but also a writer and photographer.

Siefker is a retired volunteer firefighter, paramedic and ER nurse from Amarillo, Texas, who moved to De Smet and bought an acreage and has worked at various hospitals across the area.

“But sometimes, you get tired of all the medical stuff and all the long hours and long shifts and this is kind of a little bit relaxing,” Siefker said. “I enjoy writing and I like listening to other people, hearing their stories, and then sharing their stories with other people.”

In the middle of the pandemic, Siefker was still working as a nurse. But, he decided to step down from that and within a week of resigning, the group asked him to be the editor of the paper since he had worked at the newspaper before. He loves his new role in the community and getting the opportunity to share other’s stories.

Siefker gets to cover stories all over the area on various topics of interest for those in the community. He gets tips from locals from all over the county over the phone, through social media and word of mouth.

“If you call and say come check it out, I will try and check it out,” he said.

The paper is not printed on-site, but they write all the stories, take the photos, creates the layout for the pages. Normally the paper is anywhere from 24 to 32 pages with story styles changing weekly.

“That’s one thing about a small town that I enjoy, because your stories can change from week to week to week,” Siefker said.

Siefker said he can’t emphasize enough the importance of the volunteers.

“Being a newspaper reporter, by the time I hear about maybe a house that’s on fire and I get there, most of the actions have probably already been taken care of,” he said.

If the paper was in a larger town, there would be reporters on the scene of story faster, Siefker said. The volunteers help to capture the photos, stories and the emotions from stories.

“With the volunteers writing about the incident from their perspective, I think that makes it more personal and I think that’s more enjoyable when you read the article, more than what a writer could do just showing up and asking a couple questions,” he said.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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