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After just three years as paper, Atwater's Sunfish Gazette falls victim to economy, ceases publication

ATWATER -- Three years after taking a bold step to start its own community newspaper, the town of Atwater saw its last newspaper edition published this week.

"Sad. Very sad," is how Atwater City Clerk Goldie Smith described the demise of Atwater's Sunfish Gazette.

Where else can you read articles about the "olden days in Atwater" in the "Reminiscing with Virginia" columns or read that a Kandiyohi soldier returned home from Iraq in time for his child's first birthday, she asked. "It's always fun to have your hometown in the paper."

The newspaper was established as a nonprofit corporation and published its first edition in November 2005.

Volunteer board members did much of the work at first, including selling ads and helping Editor Sandy Grussing design and paste up the paper until the early morning hours.

Later, layout was done with a computer and a rep was hired to sell ads and do accounting.

With a shoestring budget funded by donations, volunteer subscriptions from readers, ad revenue from local business and support from the city -- which purchased the computer equipment -- 1,200 papers were published every two weeks.

Papers were delivered for free in Atwater and Kandiyohi.

In May, the publication ceased free delivery -- except to the 500 residents who contributed the minimum $30 a year donation -- and instead offered free counter copies. In the end, the lack of donations, unpaid advertising bills and rising operational costs forced the board of directors to end the paper. The decision was made after a 3½-hour meeting Aug. 28, Smith said. She sits on the board of directors. She said the board briefly toyed with holding a fundraiser to generate revenue but decided it wouldn't help.

It took $72,000 to run the newspaper annually, but revenues were covering about half that.

"Not enough money was coming in," Smith said. "We thought more people would be making donations. It may have been procrastination on a lot of people's part."

The tough economy could be another reason.

"Even the collection plate at church is feeling the pinch," Smith said. "With gas prices, people don't have the money to throw a little extra towards a little newspaper."

Despite the closure, Smith said the board is proud of what it had accomplished. "We made it run for three years," she said. "We had the right idea, but we just needed to tweak the formula to make that cash flow work."

Carolyn Lange

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

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