WOOD LAKE (AP) -- Jessica Stolen isn't the first newspaper reporter to have a difference of opinion with her editor over how to run a newspaper. But she is one of the few who will get the chance to run things her own way -- as editor and publisher of her own weekly newspaper.
The Messenger made its debut last week on the shelves of stores in Wood Lake, Hanley Falls, Echo, and Belview with the 22-year-old Stolen as its editor and publisher.
The owner is also the newspaper's reporter, photographer, advertising sales rep, page and graphic designer, and at the end of the day, the person who cleans up the office and turns out the lights.
All of this, and she knows the pay is lousy.
"It's not like a job," said Stolen, a single mother. "It's more like a lifestyle. You have to be willing to live it."
It seems she's been preparing to live it since she wrote her first article for the school newspaper as a third-grader in Redwood Falls. She was bitten by the bug to write, and continued to write for her high school newspaper at Yellow Medicine East in Granite Falls.
After graduating from the administrative assistant program at Minnesota West, Granite Falls, she returned to her first love. She worked as a reporter at the Tri-County News, Cottonwood, but left after 11 months.
When friends suggested that she start her own newspaper, it was like talking about catching the perfect wave to an avid surfer. Stolen said she always wanted the opportunity to operate her own newspaper. It allows her the freedom to be creative, and gives her the final say on a story's content, and where and how to play it in the paper. Yet most of all, she loves to write.
"I think it is just to tell somebody else's story," Stolen said.
There are lots of stories waiting to be told in the small communities of Wood Lake, Hanley Falls, Echo and Belview. Ever since the Wood Lake News closed nearly 1 year ago, there has been no newspaper with the specific mission of telling their stories.
"Once it was gone, then you really found out how much you missed it," said Laurie Gabbert, city clerk of Wood Lake.
Gabbert said volunteers published a newsletter to try and make up the loss for a time but recently quit doing so. She hails the return of a full-fledged newspaper as "great for the community."
So does Curt Warnke, who had published the Wood Lake News for 26 years before retiring from the newspaper business about 10 years ago. These days he operates Curt's Guns and Tackle shop in Wood Lake. Warnke is writing a newspaper column for The Messenger, and even contributed two "scoops" on the local fishing scene for the newspaper's first issue.
Stolen said her decision to create The Messenger came only after she consulted with Warnke. He thought about it for two days before deciding that if rural communities are going to succeed, people like Stolen need to be encouraged.
"She is someone you hardly find any more," Warnke said. "Who in this day and age wants to stick their necks out like that?"
Before she stuck hers out, Stolen distributed 800 questionnaires in the four communities to gauge support for a paper. More than 70 percent were returned. Not one of them contained a negative word, she said.
She also knows the risks. Two owners followed Warnke at the Wood Lake News before closing its doors. She is betting the success of The Messenger on finding the needed, critical mass of readership and advertising by combining Wood Lake, Hanley Falls, Echo and Belview.
She hears words of encouragement for her venture from people in all four communities, and more importantly, knocks on her office door. People dropped by to subscribe to their weekly newspaper before they saw its first issue. A crew of drivers recruited by the publisher's mother delivered complimentary copies of the first issue to all 568 households in the four communities.
Stolen's first press run was for only 1,000 papers. Advertising support will determine how many copies of future editions can be printed.
To make the newspaper succeed, Stolen said she will need the support of advertisers in the four communities, and from those in neighboring communities as well. She's got some help on that end, too. Her grandfather, Stan Stolen, has been beating the bushes in area communities on her behalf.
Stolen hasn't lacked for support at her office in Wood Lake, either. After she committed all of her own savings, the Wood Lake Business Group provided the remaining financing needed to buy the computer, scanner, camera and other gadgetry needed for desktop publishing.
Mike Imes and Bruce Helgeson invited her to set up her office in the Helgeson Agency building on Main Street. Computer savvy friends helped her buy the equipment and get it all working. A local pastor, who once was a computer consultant to the newspaper industry, stands by ready to help.
She's also learning as she goes along. She's designed her own advertisements and pasted together the first pages of the paper on her own.
"It's been fun," she said.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.