End of an era: Munising News to halt publication after 125 years in newspaper business
MUNISING — Not every business that started in the 19th century made it to the 21st century. The Munising News was one of them.
But its 125-year run appears to be coming to an end.
Willie and Nancy Peterson, who own the weekly newspaper, announced The Munising News, along with the Alger County Shopper, will cease publication.
Willie Peterson had been with the newspaper for 23 years. This followed a 27-year stint at The Mining Journal, which included working in the classified advertising department and serving as advertising manager.
His explanation for the closure of The Munising News? Simple.
“Lack of employees,” Peterson said.
He stressed the problem, — which he said is not just at the Munising newspaper but “everywhere” — can be attributed to unemployment benefits related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We pay them $400 a week to stay home,” Willie Peterson said. “You look at our ‘Help Wanted’ section. It’s full.”
Business itself, he noted, is good.
“We’re doing well, OK? But it takes eight people,” he said. “At the end of March, I have three.”
Unemployment benefits related to the pandemic probably won’t last forever, but Willie Peterson said they will continue until September.
Could the Petersons wait until then?
No, he said, considering unemployment benefits have been extended multiple times.
Before COVID-19, it was easier to find employees, Willie Peterson said. Still, it was a challenge attracting reporters to the paper.
“I’ve been advertising for writers for over a year,” he said. “I need graphics people. I need writers. I need salespeople. It’s the whole gamut.”
Willie Peterson said the paper paid competitive wages.
However, there’s also the ongoing problem of newspapers across the U.S. facing financial and circulation problems due to a myriad of issues, including competition from the internet.
He believes local publications, though, are an exception.
“The community papers are still doing very well because the type of news that we give our subscribers, they can’t get anywhere else,” Willie Peterson said. “(For example) what Johnny or Susie did at the basketball game last night, Grandma cuts it out and sticks it on the fridge.
“You don’t get that anywhere else.”
One of the highlighted stories The Munising News carried came when Jennifer Granholm — then Michigan’s attorney general -visited the area for the UP200 sled dog race, Willie Peterson said.
However, many events that would have happened in 2020 — including the UP200 — were put on hold because of COVID-19.
And Zoom meetings don’t always allow reporters to easily ask questions.
“It makes it very difficult for a reporter to do their job,” Willie Peterson said.
The Munising News’ masthead reads, “The Only Newspaper In The World That Gives A Darn About Alger County Since 1896.”
Other media outlets, of course, cover Alger County happenings, but the newspaper was specifically focused on this area.
The March 20 issue of The Munising News carries several articles by Kay Vertz, who wanted to help the Petersons until they could find a full-time writer.
“The Petersons, along with their dedicated employees, have been working diligently to provide our community with a local newspaper, doing so with minimal staffing for a very long time,” Vertz wrote.
She wrote the pandemic has put an “enormous strain” on many community businesses, including The Munising News.
Vertz acknowledged the Petersons’ decision to close was a difficult one.
“They believe community newspapers are as viable today as they have ever been and feel social media, radio stations, online news and local newspapers all complement one another and don’t have to be mutually exclusive,” Vertz said.
So, what’s next for Willie Peterson after decades in the newspaper business?
“I don’t know,” he said. “Haven’t had time to think about it.”
Peterson said the building, located at 132 E. Superior St., eventually will be sold.
Until then, the last publication date for the Alger County Shopper will be March 29, with The Munising News’ last publication date set for March 31. The office supply portion of the business will be phased out.
Willie Peterson called the loss of The Munising News “huge” for the community.
“We’ve been the newspaper of record for 125 years,” he said. “The transparency in government will suffer. Citizens won’t know when government meetings are. It was nice to be able to pick up the paper and find that. They’re not going to go home at night and call up every township website to see what’s going on.”
The Munising News, Willie Peterson said, has received an outpouring of support.
“They’re really going to miss us,” he said.