FARGO — Prairie Public TV will air “Inside Stories,” the documentary based on the oral histories of eight North Dakota journalists at 8 p.m. on Monday.
“In the media environment we’re in right now, it’s really important to tell the story of the press and the real difference they actually make in people’s lives and in their communities,” said documentary producer Teri Finneman.
For the past three years, Finneman conducted oral history interviews with the newspaper journalists in North Dakota. Those oral histories form the basis for the documentary, which was created by students at the University of Missouri.
Mike Jacobs, retired editor and publisher of the Grand Forks Herald, is featured. His staff won a Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of the record-breaking 1997 Red River flood. In the film, Jacobs describes the community’s appetite for news during the flood, “just clamoring to get a copy of the newspaper because they rely on the press to be informed.”
In addition to Jacobs, journalists featured in the film are John Andrist, former publisher of The Journal in Crosby and past president of the National Newspaper Association; Jane Brandt, publisher of the Hebron Herald; Bob Lind, columnist for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead; Marilyn Hagerty, columnist for the Grand Forks Herald; Bill Marcil Sr., former publisher of The Forum and CEO of Forum Communications Co.; Richard Peterson, former publisher of the Benson County Farmers Press in Minnewaukan; and Roger Bailey, former publisher of the Turtle Mountain Star in Rolla and retired executive director of NDNA.
NDNA Executive Director Steve Andrist calls the documentary a milestone because of the importance of community newspapers and the people who bring them to readers.
“Newspaper people tell other people’s stories, but nobody ever tells their stories,” he says.
The documentary begins in 1864, when the state’s first publication was released, leading up to the proliferation of small community papers and detailing the many changes in the industry due to technology and the ways people consume daily news.
“It’s an industry that has changed more than any industry,” Andrist said. “My dad (John Andrist, retired publisher) is one of the subjects, and he likes to say that for the first 25 years he was in the newspaper business, the technology never changed and the next 25 years it changed every five years. Now it’s every year.”
The press pioneers of North Dakota, as they are described in the film, remain hopeful about the value of newspapers in communities across the state and country despite dwindling circulation numbers.
“I don’t think I’m going to live to see it, but I expect down the road the print newspaper will be history, and everybody will be getting the news on the TV tube on your computer, whether it’s the one you hold in your hand or whatever,” says longtime Forum columnist Bob Lind at the closing of the film.
The documentary premiered last June at the Fargo Theatre.
The public television showing is sponsored by the North Dakota Newspaper Association, the NDNA Education Foundation and Prairie Public Broadcasting.