‘We are proud to serve the community’
July 2, 2012
North Dakota publisher’s heart is in her town
By Teri Saylor
Special to Publishers’ Auxiliary
Patty Wood Bartle was swamped. Heading into the biggest event the town of Edgeley, ND, had seen in at least a quarter century, she managed to spend an hour on the phone describing life as a citizen and local newspaper publisher of The Edgeley Mail in this tiny North Dakota town.
Over four days, from June 14 through 16, Edgeley would celebrate its 125th anniversary with a range of parades and pageantry that likely could rival Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee.
Just one day before the anniversary kicked off, Bartle recited a litany of activities that included a volunteer fire department chicken cook-off and rodeo.
“The firemen are cooking 750 chicken halves,” she said.
A local meat processing plant was staging a big cookout. More than 70 vendors were expected to line Main Street with booths for an outdoor bazaar. There would be banquets, street dances, a play showcasing Edgeley’s history and a special cantata.
“This is a political year, so we expect to have politicians on hand, too,” Bartle said.
There would be two parades with 500 entries, from classic cars, to motorcycles, to tractors. There would be kids’ games, and free swimming at the brand new public pool that had opened the day after Memorial Day.
The town’s most senior citizens, a 94-year old woman and 95-year old man, who had seen most of Edgeley’s 125-year history unfold with their own eyes, would be featured on the Methodist Church parade float.
Edgeley, which boasts a population of about 600, would be bursting at the seams—literally.
“Local businesses have lined up a shuttle service to shuttle people in from satellite parking areas,” Bartle said.
And as publisher, editor, reporter, photographer and advertising director for the community weekly, Bartle would be on hand to promote and cover all of it.
A huge job for a one-woman operation sounds exhausting, but Bartle is energized.
“The Edgeley Mail is also celebrating its 125th anniversary, and we are proud to serve this community,” she said.
According to the Edgeley Centennial Book, published when the town turned 100, an English gentleman named Richard Sykes purchased 45,000 acres of Northern Pacific Railway land in the lower half of North Dakota for $1 an acre.
He established five North Dakota towns, including Edgeley, which he named after Edgeley Park, his birthplace in England.
Edgeley is located in the south central Coteaus and Prairie Region of North Dakota. Large areas of wetlands make it an ideal spot for canoeing, fishing, and hunting. A birder’s paradise, the North Dakota Birders’ checklist contains 365 species of fowl in that area.
Edgeley is home to service oriented businesses, including a grocery, a pharmacy, an insurance company, eating establishments, banks and a grain elevator.
And The Pool.
As if a 125th birthday was cause enough to celebrate, a long awaited, brand new, heated public pool, complete with a giant circular slide, opened on May 29.
“It was only around 50 degrees that day, but a dozen kids and a few adults came out for the grand opening,” Bartle said.
Bartle is too busy to spend summers swimming, but she looks forward to taking water aerobics classes there when she has time.
She hails from Iowa, growing up near Iowa City, and ended up in Edgeley through marriage.
“I married a man from the community, and he returned to manage the family farm,” she said.
Her husband, a design engineer, doesn’t actively work the land himself, but rents it out to farmers who grow corn and soybeans.
Bartle was in high school when the journalism bug bit.
“I was yearbook photographer four years, yearbook editor two years and the editorial editor of my high school newspaper,” she said. A psychology major in college at the University of Iowa, she took some journalism courses and dreamed of being involved in the news industry.
In Edgeley, her dream came true when The Daily Mail publisher at the time hired her for freelance reporting and photography during the town’s centennial celebration, and she kept at it after that. When the publisher approached retirement, she considered leasing the newspaper and running it.
“But my kids were small, and I wasn’t ready to invest the amount of time it would take,” she said.
In 1995, when her children were older, she made a leap of faith and leased the newspaper for a year, then bought it in 1996.
“Leasing it first gave me a chance to make it work and to see if this was something I wanted to do long term,” she said.
Sixteen years later, Bartle is going strong.
She publishes a 12-page, tabloid-size newspaper each week, e-mailing the pages to Forum Communications Printing in Fargo, ND. The Jamestown Sun, a daily newspaper that Forum Communications owns, located 35 miles from Edgeley, picks up The Mail on its Wednesday run, and prepares it for mailing. Edgeley’s office manager transports the papers from Jamestown back to Edgeley and drops them off at the post office. Circulation is 750.
Bartle loves her job because it allows her to keep her finger on the pulse of her community. But it’s not easy.
Her biggest challenge is time management.
“I can’t clone myself and be everywhere,” she said. “But I have been able to find ways to get the information I need and put stories together.”
She recruits help from people in her community and uses available technology. The city council records its meetings and provides her access to the recordings. School board officials are willing to recap meetings she doesn’t have time to attend.
“There’s still a time crunch,” she said. “You still have to sit and listen to the tapes. It’s not as good as being there in person, but it helps.”
Thanks to digital photography, people in the community are able to submit photos.
The community and the newspaper thrive on school news.
“We are a small community. School events are huge for the newspaper,” she said. “I get invited to half of the high school graduation receptions.”
This year, the local high school graduated 21 students.
Elementary school children’s holiday drawings become local business sponsors’ holiday greeting ads.
High school graduation photos, which run in the paper, include short articles about each graduate.
“Many newspapers run photos of their graduates, but I think it is important for people to know about the kids, so I do profiles on each one,” she said. “It runs as a double truck.”
The town’s Reading Month observance gives Bartle nearly four weeks of stories to delight local readers.
Although book reviews, penned by fifth and eighth graders delight readers, one of Bartles’ most popular annual features is her youth newspaper readership program.
“The kick off to Reading Month is a big day. The teachers perform a skit, and I get up in front of the kids and challenge them to read a newspaper every day,” she said.
At the end of the month, she draws the name of a young newspaper reader out of a hat, and features him or her in the newspaper.
“I interview that child, take a picture and run a feature story in the newspaper,” she said. “The kids are thrilled, and the parents are, too.”
The town is not without its challenges.
The population is on the decline.
“Not too many of the high school graduates come back here,” Bartle said. “The ones who do stay tend to be those who go to a trade school. Some do come back to teach or work in the service industry.”
Jobs are abundant in the northwest corner of the state where the oil fields offer opportunities so plentiful there is not enough housing to support the number of workers flocking there.
“It‘s even tough to get a hotel room in (the state capitol) Bismarck,” Bartle said. “The effect of the oil boom has not hit Edgeley yet, but it’s moving here.”
Bartle would like to hire a staff reporter-photographer, but so far she has not had any luck.
“I ran ads for seven weeks, looking for someone,” she said. “Two people called, but I did not receive any applications.”
Luring local businesses to advertise requires creativity.
“In 1984, Edgeley had two grocery stores. Today there is just one,” she said. “We used to have several cafes, and now there’s just one. Why do they need to advertise? Everyone knows their hours and their menu never changes.”
Bartle is a past president of the North Dakota Newspaper Association and worked at the helm of the association in 2005-2006. She went through the leadership chairs for years, and focused on technology and training to help the state’s newspapers, especially the weeklies, move into the digital world. Today, most of the newspapers have some kind of Web presence.
“But most of them use their websites as teasers to convince people to buy the printed newspaper,” she said.
She runs two websites, a personal site through which she sells photographs, and a newspaper site, which she struggles to keep current.
Through it all, the hard work and the uncertainty of print’s future, Bartle stays motivated by love for her community and desire to serve it.
“We have won a number of awards over the years, but the one I am proudest of is an award from our National Guard unit, a Bronze Minuteman Award we received in 2002,” Bartle said.
After the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, Edgeley’s 32-member unit deployed within the state to provide security for the Air National Guard, and Bartle made sure they always felt close to home
“When our unit deployed, I chose to send each guard member a paper free of charge for the entire year they were deployed,” she said.
Bartle has lived in large cities, and enjoys what they have to offer, but her heart is in Edgeley.
“I love the comfort and safety of a small town, where you know everybody,” she said. “I can’t imagine living anywhere else.”
- Newspaper Name: The Edgeley Mail.
- Publisher: Patty Wood Bartle (also editor, advertising manager).
- How long have you owned The Edgeley Mail? I began operating the paper in August 1995, and purchased the paper in 1996.
- What was the driving force behind buying the newspaper? The newspaper provided an opportunity to be involved in my community, the flexibility to step out of the office to participate in my children’s school activities and the opportunity to put my creative talents to work. Ownership seemed the wiser long-term business decision over leasing.
- Your newspaper’s circulation? Subscribers 600. Circulation 1,200.
- Frequency of publication? Weekly.
- How is the newspaper distributed? Mailed and newsstands.
- List some top goals for the next six months or year? The many awards and recognition The Edgeley Mail has received. Of all those awards the North Dakota National Guard award for outstanding support to soldiers and their families. The Edgeley Mail received a 17-inch Minute Man Award. This award was given in 2005 following the deployment of 141st Co. to Hector Airfield in Fargo, ND.
- What are you most proud of? A close second on things I am proud of—in 17 years as the editor/publisher only one issue was late and that was because of an illness.
- What is your newspaper’s most distinguishing characteristic? 125 years as a weekly.
- What keeps you going to work day after day? Deadlines.
- What is your newspaper’s biggest challenge? Keeping the business financially solvent. Second biggest challenge is finding qualified employees in a small town. On equal ground is the challenge of covering controversial or unpopular news about friends and neighbors.
- How do you view your newspaper’s role in the communities it covers? The Edgeley Mail has an obligation to present unbiased coverage while expected to be somewhat of a community cheerleader.
- Phone: 701-493-2261
- E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org