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Vogt's Notes: Combining newspapers just makes sense

When I became editor of the Pine River Journal last December, one thought became increasingly apparent with each passing week: a combined Lake Country Echo and Pine River Journal newspaper would make so much more sense.

That idea will become reality Thursday, Sept. 26, with the first issue of the pineandlakes Echo Journal newspaper — featuring a combined Lake Country Echo and Pine River Journal weekly newspaper in broadsheet, rather than tab-size, format (the size of most newspapers like The Brainerd Dispatch, Minneapolis Star Tribune, St. Paul Pioneer Press or USA Today).

The idea has been percolating among Echo Publishing management for quite a while for many different reasons, including financial. As editor, my reasoning comes purely from the news angle.

At an average of 12 pages each week, it’s often difficult, if not impossible, to cram into the Journal all the news stories and photos we have. As the person who most often checks three separate email accounts, I see first-hand the duplication of news items we receive for inclusion in both newspapers.

When we shared the idea of combining the newspapers into one publication with our Advisory Board several months ago, we asked each board member to look at both newspapers really closely. Some who subscribed to the Echo had never seen the Journal, and vice versa.

We were happy to hear very few, if any, negative reactions to our idea. In fact, some Echo readers said they didn't realize what the Pine River area offered and they thought they’d be more likely to check out those communities. And some Journal readers said the same about Nisswa, Crosslake and other “Echo” communities.

Another Advisory Board member lives in Pequot Lakes but grew up in Pine River, and she still loves to read Pine River news.

The cities are a mere 10 miles apart; it seems senseless to use the Cass-Crow Wing County line as a news boundary so Echo readers don’t read about what happens north of Jenkins, and Journal readers don’t read about happenings south of Jenkins.

It became increasingly apparent that a combined newspaper is a win-win for both readers and advertisers alike.

That said, it isn’t a decision we’ve taken lightly. The Pine River Journal has a deep history in that community, going back to when it was launched in March 1935. Despite changes in ownership and style over the years, that 78 1/2-year history is nothing to just brush aside.

The Lake Country Echo was founded in February 1972 and has its own 41 1/2-year history in the Pequot Lakes area.

As the saying goes, nothing changes if nothing changes. The newspaper business has expanded far beyond the printed product, and even beyond the online product. Our business is surging forward into the technological world of iPads, iPhones and other mobile devices.

The time has come for that evolution to include a merger of our two area weekly newspapers.

So what does that mean?

Basically, subscribers and others who pick up our newspapers will see more news and advertising from a broader range of communities. We’ve tweaked our design and can’t wait to share our creative style.

I’ll still be editor and Pete Mohs will still be publisher. Kate Perkins and Travis Grimler will still be our staff writers.

We’ll function as has been normal since February 2012 with our production and main offices at the Brainerd Dispatch, our sister newspaper under Morris Communications. Our office in Pequot Lakes will continue to be open from 8 a.m. to noon Monday-Friday, and often into the afternoons, for those customers who still want face-to-face contact without driving to or calling the Brainerd Dispatch.

Most important, we’ll continue to cover and report the news and events of Pequot Lakes, Pine River, Backus, Breezy Point, Crosslake, Emily, Fifty Lakes, Hackensack, Jenkins, Lake Shore, Manhattan Beach, Merrifield and Nisswa. As we’ve always done, our staff will determine the importance of news and publish it accordingly.

We have no plans to abandon any of the communities we’ve traditionally covered.

Current Echo subscribers will see Pine River-Backus High School sports coverage, and Journal subscribers will see Pequot Lakes High School sports coverage, including Athletes of the Week from both schools.

Journal subscribers will get recipe columns. Echo readers will get the popular Last Windrow column by John Wetrosky that runs in the Journal. On the flip side, Journal readers will see Craig Nagel’s Cracker Barrel column as well as political columns by Pete Abler and Don Bye that run in the Echo.

As always, we welcome feedback, whether it’s praise, criticism or questions. You’ll find our contact information on page 5 of the Lake Country Echo and page 4 of the Pine River Journal.