- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 20, 2005

ATWATER, Minn. (AP) —This small town now has its own newspaper, a nonprofit 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 since put out two issues every other week. It is mailed free to the 1,100 residents of the 56209 ZIP code, bringing them the latest on a proposed sewer line, a local Future Farmers of America award winner and the Atwater Falcons football squad.

The town’s last paper, the Atwater Herald, folded in the mid-1990s. The nearest daily, Willmar’s West Central Tribune, is about 15 miles west on Highway 12 in west-central Minnesota, but it covers only the big stuff in this slowly declining farm town.

“It was really hard to get information about the school, about sports,” says Laverne Pickle, a retiree and 50-year resident.

“What we had was posters on bulletin boards and announcements in the church bulletin and notes sent home with kids,” says Connie Feig, a nurse and the chairwoman of the paper’s board of directors. “That’s how you got news around town. People were missing things unless the grapevine brought it to them.”

The project started in the fall of 2004. A group of residents made lists of what was needed, gauged the support of local businesses and talked to industry professionals. None of the volunteers had any newspaper experience.

The group has raised about $13,000, and the office space was donated. Each issue has cost about $1,800 to produce.

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,” Miss Grussing says. “This was the chance of a lifetime.”

Board members and other residents write stories, sell ads, run errands and make coffee. Miss 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.

After two issues of six pages each, the Nov. 9 edition had eight pages. Miss Grussing hopes for the paper to go weekly in January, and plans are afoot for a second paid staffer.

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