Northfield News mishandles the Garden Show

The front page of today’s Northfield News had this article by managing editor Devlyn Brooks: Spring means home and garden time: Garden show this weekend; seasonal stories inside. Here’s an excerpt:

Switzer says what’s possible because of the accessories being created has to be seen to be believed, and he’s ready to help local homeowners Saturday at the annual Northfield Home & Garden Show to be held at Northfield Middle School. Each year Switzer’s Nursery tries to build a pretty remarkable outdoor structure in the gym to demonstrate to show-goers what’s possible in their own yards using things as garden solar decorations and much more. Switzer hinted this year they may be going with an Asian theme; but show-goers will have to drop by to see.

IMG_0684_300w.jpgI know that the annual Northfield Home & Garden Show is this weekend but this front page news article reads like a promo not only for the Garden Show and the newspaper’s special insert but for Switzer’s Nursery, too. (I’m not criticizing you, Glenn ol’ buddy!)

And the photo appears to be a stock photo of a pergola — no photographer byline. (Click image to enlarge.) Stock photos don’t belong on the front page. (Is that St. Paul’s Schmidt Brewry in the background?)

I think the promo of the Garden Show should be a bit of text under the upper left sidebar graphic (pink). The article itself would be fine if it was placed inside the Spring Home and Garden section… where it would be, oddly enough, the only one of its kind. Why?

The content of that section — 14 stories — does not contain a single Northfield-related article, even though they all have the word NORTHFIELD inserted at the beginning. I understand the need for ‘canned’ stories (or whatever they’re called in the publishing business) in a section like that but I don’t like the attempt to deceive.

Full disclosure: Knecht’s Nurseries and Landscaping and Grove Landscaping are clients of mine. I’m not even going to link to them.


  1. Jerry Bilek said:

    I’d love to read the 14 stories if I could find them. I subscribe to the online version of the Northfield News, not the print version. I could find just one story(the cover story) about the Home and Garden show. Their website is about as lame as can be. They should have a clear link to the home and garden insert online.

    It does not suprise me that the articles in the special insert would not be locally written. Look at the Real Estate section. Those articles are always canned. They let Leif Knecht write about gardening and landscaping, why not let local real estate agents write the real estate pieces. They could rotate through numerous agents in town. I never read the canned stuff, because it is so generic and lacks local relevance. Leif’s articles are relevant and informative.

    Last week, the News ran a photo of my daughter with a short article. I could not find the article or photo anywhere on their website. I searched and searched. I had to buy multiple copies to send to family members instead of forwarding the story via email.

    One last point. I sent an email to Sam Gett last week about submitting a letter and asking for clarification about a confusing poll question. My email was considered spam. This is the same email address I have been using to communicate with News staff since last May. When they want my advertising business the email gets through fine. When I want to express an opinion, it’s spam. The reply to my email came after the paper went to press and the letter was no longer relevant. How convenient.

    I’ve about given up on their website. Does anyone find it useful?

    March 28, 2007
  2. Nick Benson said:

    Jerry, as a displaced Northfielder, the only Northfield related sites that I ever look at are locallygrown and I don’t know why anyone would bother with the paper anymore, especially when they can’t be bothered to fill a whole edition with local news. The only niche it’s filling is the local sports scene, which has started to do alright with (they had video highlights last year for football). If can get better sports coverage, the paper is really in trouble.

    March 29, 2007
  3. Anne Bretts said:

    The issues with the Northfield News are part of the reason I’m a freelancer. It’s really painful to watch what is happening in print news.
    “Canned” copy is just one way newspapers are trying to keep costs low enough to survive. As locally owned businesses are replaced by locally owned franchises and local branches of national brands, advertising shifts from smaller papers to larger national venues (television, radio, print and increasingly, online). Ads in the paper are replaced by inserts, which produce far less revenue.
    The remaining local businesses don’t have the budgets needed to do regular print advertising and still take advantage of all the new publications, web sites, events and other ways of reaching customers. As advertising goes down, publishers cut costs. You can’t cut paper, ink or gas costs, so you cut people. It’s a miserable downward spiral for everyone involved.
    That means local news staffs are left stretched thinner and thinner. Knight Ridder collapsed under the strain of trying to produce high returns, and the Pioneer Press is fading. The Star Tribune continues to cut veteran reporters. I watched the same kinds of cuts when I was a reporter and union president at the Duluth News-Tribune.
    I know how hard the reporters and editors work at the News. But they will never be able to work hard enough to stop time and reverse this trend. And doing a successful online edition takes a big investment of time and resources, which short-staffed papers don’t have.
    In fact, it’s a lot like the situation of downtown merchants, as costs go up and the customer base doesn’t. They need to sell online but it’s hard to find time to build sites and handle the traffic…
    Online is the future, but few are making big bucks on it yet. When community blogs like started, people thought there would be waves of volunteers willing to provide news…that’s about as likely as finding waves of volunteers to replace the professionals who run schools or clinics or parks.
    Believe me, anyone who has had to cover City Council meetings in any city for a living will tell you that being paid is the only way they’d be there.
    Real journalism is hard work, rewarding but hard. You can see in community blogs like how tough it is to develop a rich mix of news on a volunteer basis. And with personal blogging so easy, people are putting the info on their own sites, not volunteering to help other sites.
    For example, some would say that Ross should be promoting NDDC by writing for the News and for other media sites instead of competing with them for readers (and maybe advertisers?) We all seem to live in glass houses these days.
    I am lucky enough to be able to pick my clients, write what I want and run my own life. I’m poor but happy. I write for some print clients, but I read and live online. It’s 1 a.m. and I’ve already read today’s Star Tribune and New York Times — and the TV Guide blog reviews of last night’s shows. And no dead trees.
    The ability to be there, in real time, as things are happening is just amazing.
    Now if we could just find a way to make money at this, right, Griff?

    March 29, 2007
  4. Griff Wigley said:

    Jerry, I am glad the News puts articles and letters on their site, as it’s helpful to link to them. Of course, I hate their restrictions on many of those articles being open only to paying subscribers. I’m hoping that Sam revamps their site and/or the content management system they use. I’d like to see them adopt the NYTimes strategy of providing permalinks that never expire.


    Even if had as many original stories, including sports, as the News, I don’t think the News would be impacted much. All those print circulars included with the paper are big money-makers. And a local website will have a tough time delivering the hundreds of other space ads that appear in each issue.


    The forces that are affecting the big metro dailies aren’t necessarily affecting the small town papers, if the sources I cited last week are to believed:

    March 29, 2007
  5. Jerry Bilek said:

    I was told by the Northfield News that linking to their stories was not allowed.

    I have no doubt the News is doing well financially. My brother in-law is a small town newspaper editor. His paper is similar to the News. twice weekly, small town just outside of a major metro area, growing, distint downtown with growth on the edges. Very similar demographic. They have a much better website than NN. He told me he knew some people would abandon the print version for online, but population growth has increased circulation. He said the website breaks even while the printed paper and suppliments make money. He saw the two elements as complimentary. you can do some things online that you can’t in print.

    I find the NN website to be a joke. Why can’t I find stories? Why no pictures with the stories? It’s not as if the website is free. We pay for a subscription to the online version only. Yes, a website can be expensive to develop, but once it is set up how difficult is it to upload the stories with photos? Why is the layout so bad? Why do some links have no stories? I’m giving them 6 months then it’s time to move on.

    March 29, 2007
  6. Anne Bretts said:

    Jerry and Griff,
    You do make some good points. Small papers have a future because there’s nothing like seeing your kid’s picture on the front page of the paper on the rack at the grocery store or having that wedding announcement to clip out. There’s a certain shared community conversation about the finite printed version, almost like the shared experience of watching the Beatles on Ed Sullivan versus downloading their music on demand.
    There are some small papers that have great websites. Most don’t have everything online, and most charge for archives (anything older than seven days). I do a lot of research online, so I see the best and worst. And there’s quite a range.

    March 29, 2007
  7. Jerry Bilek said:

    The online subscription of the NN is not that much less than printed. The quality is terrible. No photos, poor design, missing stories, missing sections. Can anyone find the home and garden insert? I can’t. They should ashamed for charging so much for so little.

    Griff, how about invinting Sam into the discussion to explain his plans for improving this.

    March 29, 2007
  8. Anne Bretts said:

    Great idea, Jerry. In fact, it would be good to have a discussion about how all three of our sites fit together in the local online conversation and how we can make all three successful by playing to our strengths. The News does a great job with traditional news, Griff gives his viewpoint and sparks interesting discussions and we focus on broad participation in a wide range of areas. All have purpose and merit. It is going to be exciting to see how all three will evolve over the next couple of years. The alternative is a competition that will serve no one well.

    March 29, 2007
  9. John Thomas said:

    I agree with Anne, a coordinated effort would be VERY good for Northfield as a whole.

    I find it funny though, that most times, the NN is covering only what they find on or Locallygrown.

    It scares me to read the NN. Mr. Gett seems so out of touch in his editorials. He needs to have some Northfield relevance to them.

    I am also disappointed that 90% of the paper seems to be all about Fairbault as well.

    If it wasnt for the police blotter and the “diversions” page, there would be no NN at all.


    March 29, 2007
  10. Jerry Bilek said:

    I wish I could find the diversions page. Remember when it was a section not a page. It’s not online or if it is there is not a clear link. I even searched Diversions and got this message: Nothing matched your search

    Here is the Northfield History section:
    There are currently no articles in the section

    Okay, I’ll stop.

    March 29, 2007
  11. Griff Wigley said:


    I don’t think Sam or Devlyn would join the conversation here, as I don’t think they have any experience with online conversations of any sort. Plus, this one wouldn’t be a good one to cut their teeth on since they’d be on the defensive.

    Anne, I don’t see much hope for collaboration. I’m sure they aim to grow their online presence like your brother-in-law is doing with his paper and anything done by citizens or another organization would be seen as a threat/competition.

    March 29, 2007
  12. Anne Bretts said:

    Devlyn manages 300 e-mails a day, (I know, we’ve talked about our workloads) and I’ve found him to be very responsive. And Sam was brought in partly because his background is in online work. It’s easy to knock people, but I prefer to keep an open mind for now.
    The Diversions section isn’t a section because there wasn’t enough advertising to support it, period. That’s the way it works. If you have enough ads for 16 pages you do 16 pages, if you have enough for 4, you do 4. And it goes in multiples of 4, so you lose a lot of stories when you shrink a section. When I ran a business publication, we had to make that hard choice every month. And we were among the first small publications to do a website. Let me tell you, turning a 2x a week print site into a 24/7 web news site is really a challenge.
    If the paper were owned by a much bigger chain, it would be much further along — and have a much more generic feel. Just look at the big suburban chains. The small papers carry the names of the small towns and have very clean websites, but they are as diverse as the Caribou Coffee shops in their downtowns.
    Life is about trade-offs.
    (Griff, the brother-in-law is Jerry’s, my only connection to print is a distantly ex-partner.)

    March 29, 2007
  13. Jerry Bilek said:

    Devlyn was responsive to me when I emailed him about linking a story. Sam was as well as soon as my email was fished out of the spam filter.

    I understand the reality about advertising, most big city papers have cut book coverage because of lack of advertising. My larger complaint is why is the diversions section not on their website?

    A generic website is not that awful. Locally grown is a template with it’s own character added. My website is a template. I add the content. If I provided a list of other stores using the same web design company you would see the overlap.

    The NN is not adding content to it’s site. That’s fine if that is your strategy, but why sell it? I feel like I bought snake oil. I thought I was getting an online subscription to the newspaper. I realize not every story will be online. Entire sections are missing. the photos are missing. For what they provide, it should be free or the price should be greatly reduced.

    March 29, 2007
  14. Anne Bretts said:

    Yes, very good points. I agree.

    March 29, 2007
  15. John Thomas said:

    I hated the fact, that to look for the movie listings, I had to go online.

    Even in Wednesday’s paper, todays listings were not present.

    And the list of activities for children was minimal.


    March 30, 2007
  16. Glenn! Switzer said:

    Good eyes Griff, yes that is a brewery in the background of the photo!! Now known as the Landmark, up until recently it crafted Pigs Eye Beer and Grainbelt Premium. Schell’s Brewery in New Ulm purchased the rights to craft those fine products. The photo is not a stock image. I snapped the image last fall in the back yard of one of my clients in the Crocus Hill neighborhood of St. Paul. It is a stunning view of the river valley. The project is one of my signature designs and installed by Switzer’s. The hand crafted pergola in the photo was built at our nursery. I custom design all site fixtures (arbours, pergolas, screens and fences) the nursery produces and installs. For the last 3 or 4 years, the Northfield News has interviewed me on the latest green industry trends at the beginning of the season. Each year Devlyn also takes the time to stop by all the booths at the Home & Garden Show. Stop down and see all the venders at the show – most are local businesses – and get excited for spring. And Griff, I know you’re moving into “one of those condos” so you won’t have any yard work to do. I’ll save a corner in my yard for you and let the weeds grow – so when ever you feel the need to get a little “dirt” under your fingernails, come on over…

    March 30, 2007
  17. Griff Wigley said:

    Thanks for the clarification on the photo, Glenn. It is a great photo, I agree.

    But the fact that it was your photo of your work for a client and that they ran it on the front page (without attribution) is even more problematic than running a stock photo, don’t you think?

    As you know, I’m all for local media being a booster for local business, the economic lifeblood of the community.

    But I object when the the boosterism creeps into a news story that’s supposed to be objective, whether it’s the front page of the News or the news on KYMN.

    As for yard work, alas, we’re having to do some because the house hasn’t sold yet. But I actually like seeing Robbie out there toiling away. 😉

    April 2, 2007
  18. Juley said:

    I just fell upon your site. Funny thing, I find your website about as confusing as you all find the Norhtfield News. I guess we are lucky to have choices. That’s the great thing about Northfield.

    April 3, 2007
  19. Tracy Davis said:

    Juley, your confusion is warranted, but then, we’re not trying to be journalists. 🙂

    April 3, 2007
  20. Jerry Bilek said:

    I, too, found reading a blog somewhat confusing at first. It does not take long to become comfortable with the layout.

    The big difference is this site is free. The Northfield News charges a subscription. There is a great deal of news missing from their website. Some links are empty, no stories. A site that bad should be honest about the lack of content or free.

    April 3, 2007
  21. Jerry Bilek said:

    I’ve lobbed my share of tomatoes at the Northfield News this week. I’ll take some back now. I stopped by the New this morning to switch my online subscription to print. I was told I had to do it online, which ticked me off since there is not a method that I could find on their website. Sam Gett sent me an email and offered to switch it. He also acknowledged the shortcomings of their website and said they have work to do. I hope his injection of new blood will bring the NN website up to date with the rest of the newspaper business.

    April 4, 2007
  22. Griff Wigley said:

    Thanks for that, Jerry. I do hope they see that this criticism is not mean-spirited.

    April 5, 2007

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