When pressed, there aren't many things I could tell you that are pluses about growing older, but after a moment's reflection I did come up with two. The first is grandchildren and the second is a sense of history. I won't bore you with details about the first, except to say that I have several and they're all wonderful.
As to the sense of history, the Dispatch will be creating history Monday, making this an appropriate time to write a bit about ourselves.
After more than 120 years as an afternoon daily newspaper the Dispatch begins publishing in the morning Monday. In doing so we join a growing majority of America's newspapers that have already switched to A.M. delivery. It's not a move we take lightly and we didn't make the change simply to follow the crowd.
With the sense of history I spoke of comes the ability to put things in perspective. Having worked at the Dispatch for more than 40 years I've had the opportunity to watch us grow from a small-town daily of less than 7,000 circulation to a paper of more regional scope, with Sunday circulation exceeding 20,000 on summer weekends.
In the early 1950s, when I'd come to the old, downtown Dispatch office after school, I'd often be in time to see the press run at 3:15 p.m. The papers could be delivered to homes by 5 p.m. since they all went to folks in Brainerd. Nearly everyone who lived outside the city of Brainerd received the Dispatch by mail the following day.
Today that press time has moved up to 12:30 p.m. and we still can't get all the papers delivered by 5:30 p.m. Two factors are at work here.
First, we now deliver around the lakes via nearly 40 motor routes, and offer same day delivery in places like Little Falls, Crosby-Ironton and Aitkin. Second, the heavy traffic we all experience during the summer season slows down our drivers, making prompt delivery impossible.
The best solution to this dilemma was a conversion to morning, which will put the Dispatch at your home or delivery tube by 6 a.m. weekdays. Mail customers will now get their paper the same day during the week, a real plus for those readers.
Delivering the Dispatch in the mornings will be a real challenge for all of us, but again, let's put it in perspective. When my grandfather and great-grandfather came to Brainerd in 1931 to operate the Dispatch they ran into the heart of the Depression.
Money was hard to come by and some employees were paid in scrip good for trade at local merchants. Many folks paid for their subscriptions with cordwood, chickens and sacks of potatoes. My grandfather used to tell of the time in the early 30s when he had so many potatoes in the basement of the newspaper that he controlled the market. Local grocers called him to set the price in their stores.
One gentleman paid for his subscription with a gallon of maple syrup in 1935, a practice we continued until his widow passed away in 1986. We figured if the deal was good enough for my grandfather we ought to continue to honor it.
Another difficult evolution came on Easter Monday, 1968, when my father converted the Dispatch from the hot metal printing process to offset printing. It will be hard to forget that first afternoon when he called out "roll the presses," and the first offset edition came off the new press -- printed completely backward. The papers were delivered very late that day.
Then, in 1990, we moved the paper from the cramped, downtown quarters to our current building. We moved and reinstalled the entire pressline, all computers and associated equipment in one weekend, and never missed an edition.
So, from a historical perspective, producing a morning paper will be a challenge, though not the biggest we have faced.
This will be a significant change for our readers, but an even greater one for our employees. Many of them will now work evening or early morning hours to bring you timely delivery of the best paper we can produce. They have done a terrific job covering the hundreds of details involved with going morning. I am immensely proud of them all.
Concurrent with the new delivery time will be a totally new design for the Dispatch; again, a project we've been working on for months. Roy Miller's story in Monday morning's Dispatch will walk you through some of the highlights. Give the new look a chance to sink in for a few days, then call us with your comments. We're anxious to get your feedback.
We value you as readers of the Dispatch and hope you'll stick with us as we face the next 120 years -- this time with a new morning perspective.
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