"It's a labor of love. It has to be. You can't get into this business and not love what you're doing because nobody in their right mind is going to put this kind of work into something that they don't love . . . [w]e had no one to go to and say, 'Well how did you do this?' They are the first ones to do it. I haven't been able to find any remotely familiar model anyplace. These people literally created this model from the get go."
Sandy Grussing, editor, Atwater Sunfish Gazettein Oct. 26, 2006, MGP interview
Photo Linked From: http://www.chieftain.com/archive/2005/nov/30/natNONPROFITNEWSPAPER.jpg
After 10 years without a town newspaper, a group of citizens in Atwater, Minnesota decided to take matters into their own hands. An informal series of meetings in 2004 grew into a steering committee in 2005 that set its sights on creating a non-profit organization that would own and run a town newspaper.
Led by local banker Bob Meyerson and board chair Connie Feig, they raised enough money from local businesses and residents to hire an editor, Sandy Grussing, in September of 2005. Three weeks later, they published the first issue of the Atwater Sunfish Gazette. And in October, 2006 -- in an unusual development for a newspaper -- they received their 501(c)3 non-profit status from the IRS -- just as they were celebrating their one-year anniversary with their first issue to use color.
The paper's founding board had to prove to the IRS there was an educational component to their enterprise in order to get the 501(c)3 designation. This is an important story for the news business, finding a newspaper to have charitable intent. Their lawyer had to rewrite the application three times, Connie Feig, board chair, told the Media Giraffe Project.
"For a newspaper this is really, really unusual. We had to prove that we were educational in a certain way in order to meet the guidelines," Fieg said. "So you'll notice in the Gazette we have a high-school senior who is writing an article and taking a picture under [Editor Sandy [Grussing's] tutelage. We want to get into the school too and offer opportunities for educators to teach about journalism and allow the students to come over and get something published if they choose. And we're in the process of trying to put that together."
Feig said a local attorney helped the paper's board explain their education mission succinctly in words the IRS finally accepted.
" . . . [T]he commitment to build community through educating the community about local things -- plus bringing in young people to learn about the writing process -- and the combination of those two things seemed to be, once we got it structured into a good, readible couple of paragraphs for them, I think it was the third submission they seemed fine." Media Giraffe Project corresondent Griff Wigley visited and interviewed The Gazette's founders and volunteers in October, 2006 and posted photos, observations and video cips at his blog.
"At a time when the newspaper industry is struggling for relevance in a digital age, a group of Atwater residents went in a different direction -- launching a nonprofit newspaper staffed mostly with volunteers.
"The Atwater Sunfish Gazette -- the name was picked in a contest -- published its first six-page edition on Oct. 12, and has put out two biweekly issues since. It's mailed free to the 1,100 residents of the 56209 zip code, bringing them the latest on a proposed sewer line, a local FFA Organization award winner and the Atwater Falcons football squad.
The only paid employee is editor Sandy Grussing, hired in September, who had edited weekly newspapers in nearby Renville and Olivia.
"I had always wanted to start my own newspaper, but I wasn't financially equipped," Grussing said. "This was the chance of a lifetime." Board members and other residents write stories, sell ads, run errands and make coffee. Feig writes a health column. Margaret Weigelt, the local librarian, takes pictures. Other volunteers help proofread, paste up pages and design ads. The result of their labors goes to a printer 40 miles away in Hutchinson.