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Atwater paper is 'hard proof' the

    ATWATER -- For the first time in a decade, residents in Atwater were able to pick up their hometown newspaper last week and see a picture of the school's homecoming king and queen on the front page. It may seem like a small thing, but it represents a huge step for this community, which has successfully launched its own newspaper.

    The first edition of the Atwater Sunfish Gazette was published this month with the help of community volunteers and financial donations, including a $2,000 grant from the West Central Minnesota Foundation and $2,500 worth of equipment purchased by the city of Atwater. Organizers have applied for non-profit status from the Internal Revenue Service.

    Community leaders created the Atwater Newspaper Corporation last year. The 12-member board of directors met in November to start discussing the possibility of establishing a newspaper to bring community news to residents' homes. Less than a year later, residents had a free, 6-page newspaper in their hands.

    The newspaper will initially be published every other week, with plans to expand it to a weekly paper, said Sandy Grussing, who was hired in September to help get the newspaper off the ground. She is the only paid staff person.

    The paper is being delivered free to everyone in the 56209 zip code. They currently print and distribute 1,143 copies of the paper. Subscriptions can be mailed anywhere in Minnesota for $36 a year and out of state for $38 a year. The newspapers are sent free -- to anywhere in the world -- to Atwater residents who are serving in the military.

    While the paper is free, there has been fund-raisers to generate revenue and residents are encouraged to make donations. Those donations, ranging from $10 to $500, come in every day, said Grussing. A woman who grew up in Atwater who now lives in Florida sent a check for her yearly subscription, and included a $200 donation to boot.

    Gladys Carlson stopped by the Sunfish Gazette's sunny Atlantic Avenue office last week with her donation and a word of praise. "I like the paper," she said.

    "A community newspaper serves as a rallying point," said Grussing, who previously worked as editor of the Olivia Times and Renville Star Farmer. "It's hard proof that the town is still alive."

    A hometown newspaper provides "local identity," said Connie Feig, chairwoman of the newspaper's board of directors. "It's about us and it's about what we're doing."

    The community even named the newspaper. A naming contest generated 53 entries. The "Walleye Street Journal" was one of the more creative offerings. The "Tad Lake Times," which makes reference to the lake in Atwater, was a top finalist, but the board selected the Sunfish Gazette.

    Besides providing local community news, the Gazette also provides a "cost effective vehicle for advertising" for Atwater area businesses, said Bob Meyerson, a member of the board of directors, who is also providing office space for the Gazette. "The advertising community is squarely behind us," said Grussing.

    Feig said it will take volunteer time and money to get the "fledgling" company off the ground. Volunteers are being asked to take pictures at sporting or community events, answer the phone at the office, submit community news and sell ads to local businesses. But said as the paper grows, Feig said more staff will eventually be hired to do more of the work.

    Feig said Grussing "hit the ground running" when she was hired and has done a great job of getting the first two editions published. Grussing, likewise, praised the board of directors for their "excitement" and commitment to bring the hometown news back home.

    The elderly residents in town and students from the Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City School District have been especially supportive of the newspaper, said Feig. Grussing said one man "got tears in his eyes" when he saw the pictures from the school activities in the Gazette.

    Tribune photo by Carolyn Lange

Sandy Grussing, editor of the Atwater Sunfish Gazette, holds the latest copy of the newspaper. After a decade of not having their own hometown paper, community volunteers donated time and money to get the paper published. Its first edition was printed Oct. 12.

Connie Feig says that the paper provides a local identity and highlights exactly what is going on in the Atwater community

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

(320) 894-9750