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COLUMN: Local newspaper traditions remain with The Focus

With over a month into publishing the East Otter Tail Focus newspaper, I have to say the transition to this new publication dedicated to Perham, New York Mills and surrounding areas has gone very well.

There were definitely some challenges in launching The Focus, and we face more each week, but judging by comments on the street people seem to like what they find in the newspaper early into this combined publication.

Now that we've published six editions of The Focus and we've worked some of the early kinks out, it's a good time to evaluate and improve what we put on the newsstands and send to your homes each week.

Community news-mostly good, sometimes bad

The new name may still be tough for some to get used to, but we're working hard to publish The Focus in a way where community news is top priority. That being said, community news isn't necessarily good news all the time. Tragic accidents, failed levy referendum votes, negative budget news, house fires, unfavorable actions by city councils or school boards will often-times make the front page.

As will community events like Halloween parties, parades, motorcycle rallies, or profiles on people and organizations in the community. We try to present news that impacts the communities we serve.

Times change and the way newspapers cover things are different in some aspects than 20, 30, 50 years ago. We may no longer report on who went where for roast beef dinner on Sunday, but we are still interested in what's going on in our communities.

Business news, announcements sought

The Focus is different in name and look, but what we cover remains much the same. And we still welcome comments and suggestions. One thing we would like to see expand is our business coverage. We'll work on doing more business features, but we would also like to see more news items from businesses submitted. Significant promotions, recognitions, anniversaries, etc. are encouraged.

The more our communities get involved with submitting information, the more comprehensive and complete coverage we can offer.

We believe strongly in The Focus as, "Continuing the hometown newspaper traditions of the Perham Enterprise Bulletin and New York Mills Herald," as is stated at the bottom of the front page.

The Parta family, which owned the Herald and EB for decades until selling to Forum Communications in 2000, is responsible for establishing and publishing the papers with hometown pride.

The Focus is built on great newspaper history and tradition in East Otter Tail County.

Parta family key to East Otter Tail newspaper history

The first publication in New York Mills was called the New York Mills Herald, begun by a man named Webster in 1879-80. There was no English language paper in New York Mills from 1905-1915 until a man named Edward Qualey brought the Herald back to life.

The Parta family got involved in 1932 when Carl A. Parta and Adolph Lundquist purchased the paper and operated it under the name of Northwestern Publishing Company. Parta became sole owner in 1948. In 1953, Russell Parta purchased the company from his father and operated it as a sole owner until incorporating the business into Parta Printers, Inc. in 1976 and owning the firm with his son Michael. Mike became sole owner in August of 1980 when Russell retired.

Perham newspaper history dates to 1874

The first newspaper printed in Perham was July 24, 1874 by Kemper Bros. and Drahmann, and the masthead bore the name X.S. Burk, editor. Burk was one of the original N.P. Railroad engineers who was with the original survey crew. The paper was called the "Perham News."

The "News" did not prosper and was later combined with the Enterprise in 1911. The Perham Enterprise-Bulletin completed its 75th year of operation in 1958.

After the decision came down to merge the Herald and EB, I sat down with Mike and Jan Parta for a newspaper discussion over lunch. I wanted to get perspective and thoughts on the merger, since the Herald and EB had been such big parts of their lives.

It was nice to hear they supported and understood the decision to merge. I value their opinions greatly when it comes to the hometown newspapers, so it was reassuring to hear they understood the merger was a business decision.

Mike grew up working in the print shop, back in the days of hot metal and hand-set type. He had regular chores each week, including melting lead in the basement on Saturdays and pouring ingots for lynotypes. On a typical Saturday, the print shop would melt 2,500 pounds of lead. Mike recalls the newspaper business hadn't really changed too much for 100 years until computers began replacing the lynotypes. These early computers were large, cumbersome and expensive.

In 1978, the Partas bought the Perham newspaper and created the first "combined" paper for the two towns. The Contact was published to expand the classifieds and increase circulation for advertisers in an effort to attract more businesses to the area.

Newspapers combat revenue declines

Through the years of owning the Herald and EB, Mike and Jan were very active in the state and national newspaper associations, and have witnessed first-hand some of the financial difficulties newspapers face in trying to keep up with rising production costs and a drop in advertising revenue.

He offered up an interesting comment at the end of our lunch which pretty much sums up where we are now as far as the newspaper business.

"We can always feel nostalgic about losing the name, but hopefully we're not going to lose the tradition," he said.

And, as we take The Focus into the next 100 years, we don't plan to lose sight of the tradition.