I found myself surrounded by a half-dozen talented journalists in varying levels of sobriety in a hotel room in Medora, N.D., in May 2019.
We had gathered for a newspaper convention and the hour had grown late.
One young reporter was attempting to pet a buffalo in a painting on the wall while three others were practicing their dance moves.
I imagine I had a couple drinks, but I was neither dancing nor petting paintings, because I’m not fun, so I found myself talking about newspaper things.
Stories. Photos. Headline fonts. Paying more money to run sports sections in color. You know, typical things people talk about at parties. (This is why no one invites me to parties.)
And that’s when a colleague stopped herself, looked me squarely in the eyes, and told me: “You care. You genuinely care. Don’t you?”
Yes, I did. And yes, I do.
I care about this newspaper and the role we play in the community.
I care about putting out a good paper that readers in Traill County can take pride in.
I’m haunted by typos, by the time we ran a photo cutline with the words “cutline will go here,” by the issue when we forgot to run a jump to a front-page story and stayed up until 2 a.m. stuffing 8-by-11 sheets of paper with the rest of the story into 1,200 newspapers.
This column isn’t about how much effort everyone here puts into the paper, however.
It’s about the upcoming election between the Traill County Tribune and the Banner in the race to become Traill County’s official newspaper.
The Banner hasn’t been the county paper for probably 42 years, so a majority of my life and long before I owned a newspaper in Hillsboro.
What is an official county paper? It’s the paper in which the county is required to publish its minutes from board meetings and its official job advertisements and notices, for starters.
There are a few added benefits, of course. In most counties, the county paper is its largest.
So if a banking chain based in Bismarck, N.D., wants to run an ad in dozens of newspapers in the state – but not every newspaper – the company may run the ad only in county papers.
I’ve never been the owner of a county paper. But I’d wager the financial benefits of being Traill County’s paper means $17,000 to $18,000 a year to November’s winner.
The Banner has never been in a better position the past 40 years to unseat the Tribune.
We started covering MayPort-CG sports three years ago, the MPCG School Board a year and a half ago and have been sprinkling in stories from Mayville and Portland when time allows.
Those efforts, in combination with our laser focus on the communities of Hillsboro, Buxton and Reynolds, allowed us to win the June primary 55 percent to 45 percent. But the primary results won’t mean much if we don’t receive the same support at the polls next month.
What would an additional $17,000 to $18,000 in the Banner’s coffers mean?
For the past 10 years, I’ve made more than a handful of questionable financial decisions to make our paper the best it can be every week.
I’ve hired a professional photographer in Minneapolis to take portraits of Hillsboro High School grad Kinsey Essler for a story on her induction into North Dakota State’s Athletic Hall of Fame.
When Hillsboro alum and standout fullback Andrew Grothmann played in his final game for NDSU in the FCS title game, we sent Banner photographer Cory Erickson on a bus to Texas. Unfortunately, he came back.
I will guarantee you we rack up more miles on our cars than any weekly newspaper in North Dakota covering Hillsboro-Central Valley and MayPort-CG athletics. There are good weeklies in the state, excellent papers, that don’t cover their teams on the road.
In 10 years, we’ve missed two Burros football games and have been on the sidelines for every Patriots game the past three years.
We’ve circled Region 2 hundreds of times and traveled to Linton, Warwick, Oakes, Bismarck, Lisbon, LaMoure and once, on a wintry Tuesday night, to Walhalla, which I’m pretty sure is in Canada.
So being county paper won’t change what we do. But it would give us more resources to do what we do.
We could hire more stringers. We could update our computers.
We could pay for better, newer photo equipment, even though ours kicks butt.
We could keep doing what we’re doing, which is serving Traill County to the best of our ability.
So if you haven’t filled out your ballot yet, consider voting for the Banner.
We care. We really do. And if voters pick us as county paper next month, maybe I’ll have a couple drinks to celebrate.
Although I promise I won’t get so tipsy that I start petting buffalo paintings on the wall.