Thisweek adapts again to changes in the newspaper business
by Larry Werner
The March 23 print edition was the last issue of Thisweek.
Next Friday, March 30, you’ll be getting a paper called Sun Thisweek.
The change represents more than a new name for your weekly newspaper and its website – which will be rechristened SunThisweek.com from ThisweekLive.com. The change is the newest chapter in the history of Dakota County’s second-oldest news organization, which was started in 1884 as the Dakota County Tribune. And it represents another example of the disruptive evolution going on in the business in which I’ve spent my career.
As we announced a few months back, ECM Publishers, the Coon Rapids company that owns Thisweek and the Tribune, acquired the Minnesota Sun Newspaper Group, which had been owned by a Dallas company called American Community Newspapers. A few weeks ago, we told you that we would be merging Thisweek and the two Sun Current papers that have been distributed to homes in Dakota County.
Next Friday, we will be delivering a Sun Thisweek that will be larger than either Thisweek or the Sun Current has been, with more news and more advertising than either paper offered before. That’s the future. What about the history of Thisweek and the Sun? In a sense, Thisweek owes its existence to the Sun, the former competitor that is now part of the ECM newspaper family.
As I mentioned, Thisweek is a descendent of the Dakota County Tribune, which was started in the county’s frontier days and for a hundred years was the dominant and very successful paper covering government and people in the county. Until the mid-1970s, the Tribune operated under a business model that called for readers to buy subscriptions to the paper with advertisers promoting their products and services to those readers through ads.
In 1975, a Burnsville resident named Mary Ziegenhagen started a “free weekly” called the Burnsville Current. She distributed her paper, which she later expanded to other communities, to virtually all homes free of charge. The only revenue came from advertisers, who could suddenly reach more people than they could reach through the smaller-circulation subscription paper.
Another paper called Life & Times, started by a man named Dick Sherman, also pursued the free-weekly strategy.
The Clay family, of Farmington, decided in 1979 to launch a free newspaper of its own to compete with the Burnsville Current. The Tribune continues to this day as a subscription paper and focuses on business and public-policy news. The Current was purchased in 1983 by a California company and, over the years, added the “Sun” name as metro weeklies were consolidated through mergers with other papers carrying that name.
As the competition for local advertising intensified among papers and the Internet, news organizations dependent upon ad revenue have struggled. Several newspaper companies, including the owners of the Star Tribune, the Pioneer Press and the Sun Current, had to file for bankruptcy. ECM has remained profitable and made the decision in December to acquire the Minnesota Sun papers, which included those serving Dakota County.
I started reading Thisweek and the Sun papers when I moved to Lakeville in 1999. When I lived in Edina, the Edina Sun Current was the paper that kept me informed of what was going on in local government and in the schools my children attended. When I worked at the Star Tribune, Thisweek and the Sun Current were the Dakota County papers we saw as our competitors.
Since I joined ECM as general manager in Dakota County, my staff has competed against the Sun papers for the news and the advertising. I am delighted that we have merged two former competitors into one news and advertising operation dedicated to serving Lakeville, Farmington, Apple Valley, Rosemount, Burnsville and Eagan.
And while we’ve been planning our new paper and website, we’ve also been moving our offices from our longtime home in Burnsville to new offices in Apple Valley. In our business, it seems, there is only one constant. And that constant is change.
Larry Werner is editor and general manager of Thisweek Newspapers and the Dakota County Tribune. He can be reached at email@example.com. Columns reflect the opinion of the author.