The Morris newspaper was 18 pages again on Saturday. It was 18 pages the previous Saturday when with fanfare the paper announced its new "combined" effort with Hancock. The paper put its new name at the top of page 1 with a reference to Stevens County. So it's now a Stevens County project in an official manner.
Everyone who remembers my years at the paper will remember that we actually covered the whole wide area pretty well. I'd sacrifice my Memorial Day weekend to, among other things, cover the Chokio-Alberta graduation. You could set your clock by that C-A graduation: 2 p.m. on Sunday every year! I'd grab a chair in the front row. Blake Knudson sat right next to me one year even though he liked yelling at me over the phone sometimes. There's an old saying that you can learn a lot about someone in matters relating to money. I would suggest you gain similar insights when it comes to newspaper coverage. I remember Lyle Hettver saying "thank God for small schools" with a real sincere reverence in his voice.
I covered lots of C-A activities, even the spring arts festival at the Alberta school. The Alberta school was odd for watching basketball: bleachers on just one side of the gym. There was a feeling of congestion for "big" games and of course the Homecoming coronation. The gym had a tile floor which I gathered coaches were not fond of. I remember Paul Daly looking forward to an occasional game at Herman which had a wooden floor.
Daly had an agreeable personality for working with, provided he was home when I called him and not ice fishing! I remember wondering what the h--- is the attraction of ice fishing?
I'll never forget the atmosphere at C-A football games. Neal Hofland had a stature like Bear Bryant there. Even though the Spartans' offense could be predictable, they just ran over people. I remember going to the Old Lumber Yard at an ungodly early-morning hour to board the bus for the Metrodome, for football.
I remember the cheerleader character named "Betty Boom-Boom" who had to cast aside "her" costume because of complaints that the act was disrespectful, even if well-intentioned. Coach Hofland described "her" as "buxom!"
So today's Morris newspaper is billing itself as a combined Morris-Hancock paper even though it hasn't shown us anything special yet. The two issues under the new name have been 18 pages, which was at the low end of the scale when Morris was by itself. Let's face it, Morris is still by itself, for all practical purposes. There is no change.
There might be an effort to shoehorn in some Hancock material, a little more than before. But it's cosmetic unless the staff can pump up advertising enough to really add content. I have to be skeptical for now. All of the trends with newspapers are down. This is no time to try to bounce back from a slump. A slump just gets people to shrug and to disregard the paper.
One thing is clearly not cosmetic: the cancellation of the Hancock Record newspaper. We might have guessed what was coming when Katie Erdman resigned. She wrote a cryptic column that indicated she was discouraged, and she's normally a very upbeat person.
The paper tries to put a smiley face on everything by saying the Morris and Hancock papers are combined. By raw empirical standards, this is not true. It's a ruse. Of course we can easily be more blunt: it's a lie, a bald-faced lie. It isn't necessary for those ink-stained wretches to insult our intelligence so much. The Hancock paper has been ended. The Morris paper survives at a small size, as really just a cover for trying to distribute all those ad circulars (many notoriously from Alexandria).
There are more and more low-consumption families among us, largely due to demographics. Most people feel no need to get a pile of advertising flyers. We get flyers for Alexandria grocery stores. The Morris paper has discontinued its free-circulation shopper, the Ad-Viser. So Paul Martin of Willie's has decided to go direct mail. I think it's kind of nice. I am now much more likely to examine the Willie's circular, so I can find out if they have a free breakfast upcoming! (Why do they make us stand for that?)
I was probably more involved covering Hancock events than C-A. I remember that for the Hancock Homecoming coronation, I felt so conspicuous because I had to get out on the middle of the gym floor. At Morris I'd just kneel in the aisle.
I had special feelings about the Hancock graduation. I had already submitted my resignation when I covered my last Hancock graduation. For the last time, I had to be prepared for Ken Grunig's band to scare me with the percussion opening to Pomp and Circumstance. People feared I might have a heart attack. The Hancock graduation seemed so wholesome, like what America is all about. They'd show young and old pictures of all the graduates on a screen. I remember the theme song played in the background. I had trouble getting outside at the end for when the grads tossed their hats in the air. Katie did better than me at that.
At my last Hancock High graduation, Katie sat beside me and said "would you like to call me and talk about it?" I appreciated the gesture but I just figured "what's done is done." I wonder if she'd like to talk to me now.
I followed the same routine every year covering the Hancock Fourth of July. I remember that year after year I'd chat with Chris Ver Steeg who'd be sitting on the same church steps. Maybe if I go to heaven, I can re-live some of these things.
In the meantime, let's all give a middle finger salute to the company that owns the Morris or Morris/Hancock paper or whatever you want to call it.
Addendum: That predictable but effective Chokio-Alberta football offense featured the "toss-sweep!"
- Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - firstname.lastname@example.org