Hennen Column: North Dakotans Are Starved For News
I have been spending more time than usual these days in the Capitol City of Bismarck, North Dakota preparing for the launch of an all-new news interview program, called “The Legislature Today.” Hosted by veteran newsman Dale Wetzel it debuts this Monday evening at 7pm on KFYR 550AM, from 8 to 10pm on AM1100 “The Flag” in Fargo and AM1090 “The Flag” in Tioga.
This radio, cable and webcast endeavor coupled with the announcement that our partnership has acquired The Great Plains Examiner and the launch of Great Plains News service has taken the North Dakota news business by storm. I’m honestly flabbergasted by the amount of chatter these efforts have generated in media, political and business circles. I have assembled a few reasons to explain it:
– Good local news coverage is treasured by consumers yet news organizations here have devoted less and less resources to the job. Despite the undeniable impact of North Dakota legislators in their bi-annual 80 days of work guiding our state government, the reporters roaming the halls to cover their work is at an all-time low. At one time more than a dozen were in the Capitol press corps. Today there are only 3 or 4 reporters with 1 or 2 who provide occasional coverage. It’s simply a sign of the times in big media. Our plan is to offer print, broadcast and web news outlets the ability to utilize our products, which helps them control costs and still serve the news starved North Dakota consumer.
– Dale Wetzel is the Walter Cronkite of North Dakota. He’s not fond of the comparison, but most icons are humble enough to deflect attention. The point is there is a very small corps of veteran reporters that have covered news in North Dakota,and Wetzel , a 26 year employee of the Associated Press, is the respected dean of the group. The upcoming legislative session will be his 14th, and there is simply no replacement for the institutional knowledge that comes from his tenure.
– Other media outlets have given our recent announcements significant coverage. Mike Jacobs of the Grand Forks Herald opined about us saying “Big change is under way in the news business ” and calling us an elephant in North Dakota’s press room. He and others insinuated that the conservative credentials of myself and business partner, Gary Emineth, the former Republican party state chairman, would influence what stories we cover. Wetzel addressed that misguided opinion saying:
“This is a venture that’s going to focus on news and issues. It is not some Republican propaganda project. If it were, I wouldn’t be part of it,” he said. “For one thing, nobody would listen to a show like that. It wouldn’t be good business.“
The bottom line is that news matters here now more than ever. North Dakota is an island of prosperity and one of the few places in America that isn’t broken. We’re anxious to partner with other news organizations to better serve consumers with more in-depth news that impacts every corner of our booming state. We invite everyone to judge us by the product we produce.