The loss of small-town newspapers leaves many Minnesota communities without in-depth coverage of critical issues. Why is this important to communities, what impact does it have and how is it connected to the very American democracy we cherish?

  West Central Initiative (WCI) explores this topic in its next Era to Act Virtual Speaker Series on Wednesday, Aug. 11, from 12-1:30 p.m. This free online event “An Imminent Threat to Democracy: The Loss of Community Newspapers” features three panelists: Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Art Cullen, local publisher and business owner Reed Anfinson and Lisa Hills, the Executive Director of the Minnesota Newspaper Association.

  They will be joined by moderators Dave Hage, award-winning Star Tribune journalist and WCI President Anna Wasescha. 

  “Join us to learn more about the struggles these newspapers face, the pivotal role they play in our democracy, and what we can do to support local journalism,” Wasescha said.

  WCI Development Director Rebecca Petersen says newspapers help connect community alumni. 

“Not only do small town newspapers keep community members up-to-date on important activities in their hometowns and beyond, but they keep people connected to their past.  Many residents who leave small towns still subscribe to their local newspapers, either through the mail or on-line,” she said.  

Petersen said some donors have been known to read about a project in their hometown “and have showered generous gifts onto community projects while living halfway across the country.”

  “If small towns are to remain relevant and up to speed on current affairs,” Petersen said. “We must support local newspapers to guarantee thriving communities.”

  Support for Era2Act is provided in part by the Bush Foundation. Register for An Imminent Threat to Democracy: The Loss of Community Newspapers and learn more about the five-part series, including past and future sessions, at  

Art Cullen 

Art Cullen is editor and publisher of The Storm Lake Times in Northwest Iowa, founded by his brother John in 1990. He is a native of Storm Lake, was graduated from the University of St. Thomas with a journalism degree, and worked as a reporter and editor at weekly and daily newspapers in Algona, Ames, and Mason City, Iowa.

  Cullen returned home to Storm Lake to help John launch the newspaper, published twice a week. In 2017, Art won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing on agriculture and the environment. His opinion essays are regularly published in The Washington Post and The Guardian US.

Reed Anfinson 

Reed Anfinson is the publisher and owner of the Swift County Monitor-News in Benson, Minn., The Stevens County Times in Morris, Minn. and the Grant County Herald in Elbow Lake, Minn. He is a partner in Quinco Press, Inc., a central printing plant in Lowry, Minn., that prints 36 publications. 

Anfinson has held leadership roles for a number of years with the National Newspaper Association, the National Newspaper Association Foundation, the Minnesota Newspaper Association, the Minnesota News Council and the Center for Rural Policy. In addition, he is active in economic development activities in Benson, Minn.

  In October 2019, he was presented with the James O. Amos Award, given for a career of distinguished service and leadership to the community press and community.

Lisa Hills 

Lisa Hills is Executive Director of the Minnesota Newspaper Association, the trade association for Minnesota’s 300 weekly and daily newspapers, and its training arm the Minnesota News Media Institute. Hills has been with the association since 1989 serving as its advertising director until 2006 when she was named Executive Director.