Cole Short

Cole Short

The call came in unexpectedly while I was standing next to a filing cabinet in the Banner’s old mouse- and bee-infested building that no longer graces the skyline in downtown Hillsboro.

The caller on the other end, a very friendly sounding lady, asked if the North Dakota Newspaper Association could borrow an article I had written on a hedgehog breeder who lived outside town.

The story would be shared with the rest of the state’s daily and weekly papers along with my byline and a couple accompanying photos taken by Banner photographer Cory Erickson.

“No,” I replied flatly. “Not interested.”

I probably stunned the poor woman.

There was a brief pause and the conversation ended shortly after.

The call came in six years ago when I cared about the Hillsboro Banner and pretty much no other newspaper in the state.

I didn’t lobby the Legislature for expanded sunshine laws, spend my time promoting the newspaper industry or work with other colleagues to improve their publications.

If it happened outside Traill County, it probably didn’t register on my radar.

I’d like to think I’ve grown as a newspaper publisher in the past six years.

After at least one rejection, I agreed to join the North Dakota Newspaper Association’s board of directors for a two-year term in 2017. Then re-upped for another term in 2019.

I had planned on ending my service to the board in 2022, but I succumbed to peer pressure and a really good appletini and agreed to become the board’s second vice president last Friday at a meeting in Deadwood, S.D.

Yes, basically I’m royalty.

I’ll assume the role of first vice president in May and, barring a recall, become NDNA’s president the following year.

No one is more surprised by these developments than me, especially since I recoil in horror when given the opportunity to speak in public.

I’m not so long in the tooth that I’ve started thinking about my legacy or the state of my profession.

The Banner’s subscription numbers and the support we receive in Traill County are solid, so I’m not panicking about the livelihood of news publications like ours across the state.

But I’ve been struck by the influence we seem to be having on our peers.

The owner of an Eddy County paper told me that their staff looks to us for front-page layout ideas.

The publisher of four papers in the southwestern corner of the state asked for copies of our sports pages and special sections to understand how we package our stories and photos for our readers.

And the incoming president of the South Dakota Newspaper Association pulled me aside in Deadwood a week ago because he wanted to buy the e-edition of our paper and needed a little help navigating the process.

I’ve never considered our work at the Banner to be trend setting, although sometimes we get a little crazy and do things outside the proverbial box.

But it’s been genuinely humbling to talk to other journalists I respect in Bismarck, New Rockford, Garrison and Elgin and have them lobby for me to stay on the board and fall in line to become NDNA’s president in a couple years.

If the journalism industry in North Dakota collapses in a 2023, I reserve the right to shift all blame to those responsible for picking me as their president.

The NDNA board has big plans to continue promoting the work we do serving readers across the state.

And I look forward to announcing in a month or two how the Banner and other North Dakota weeklies will begin publishing stories with statewide appeal from two talented journalists starting next summer.

I’ve grown as a publisher and editor the past few years and don’t have a lot of regrets.

Although if there are any other newspaper owners or editors out there desperately seeking a 6-year-old story on a hedgehog breeder, I would be more than happy to hook you up.

Unlike those small, spiny mammals from that story, I’m not nearly as prickly as I used to be.