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Plains Folk

Country Correspondents

Sunday morning, the Madson’s, along with Melodie and McKenzee Madson, joined Paul and Carrie for breakfast in Devils Lake. Following breakfast, Carrie and Paul went to Dave and Linda’s home, where Paul did some work on the air conditioner and got it going just in time for the warmer days ahead. Larry, Levi and Beau were at the Ludden Cemetery this weekend mowing. Jon Hansen came by and did the trimming. Would you like to help keep this looking as good as it does now? Contact any one of the Cemetery Board with your offer. Barb Eversvik and Jan Loe were at New Rockford-Sheyenne School on Monday morning to help the art department get their kiln up and running. Jan and Barb enjoyed lunch at the cafe before heading home. Beverly Bjornson enjoyed a chat over pie and coffee on Thursday at Margie Anderson’s home.

 

There you have the news from Oberon, Guelph, Sheyenne, and Pleasant Prairie, respectively. Brought to you by the country correspondents of those rural communities.

 

Country correspondents were a big part of the newspaper scene of past generations on the prairies. Often when I talk here about historical doings at the grassroots--the box socials, literary meetings, card parties, and picnics in the grove that vitalized life when things were more local--my sources are the writings of country correspondents. Such homely writers, however, are now an endangered species.

 

From the time of settlement forward, there ensued a complex process of sorting out among the communities on the land. Newspapers were key players in this process. Just as businesses appealed for custom across the countryside, newspapers sought readers. The newspapers resided in country towns of some standing in the emerging society. To solidify a reader base in the surrounding countryside, they engaged country correspondents.

 

The country correspondent agreed to report the doings of people in his or her little post-office, schoolhouse, or country-church community for the town newspaper, in return for--not much, if you are of a commercial frame of mind. Seldom did money change hands in the exchange of news. The correspondent likely received the newspaper free, and perhaps a Christmas gift, from the editor.

 

The intangible rewards were much greater. The country correspondent acquired a certain status, by virtue of being in the newspaper every week--as well as by deciding who else would be. He, or, more likely, she, gained satisfaction from conferring the blessing of print on the community and its members. Most of all, I think, there was a declaration of identity implicit in the enterprise. The country correspondent declared, week after week, hey, you drive through here and may not see it, but we are a community out here, we have a name, and we care about one another.

 

I read a number of country town weeklies, and it is clear that country correspondents today are only a stubborn remnant of their once-mighty guild. Some of this has to do with the consolidation of media ownership, more of it with the decline in rural population, and also the passing of an older, literate generation.  We should do more than note the passing of the country correspondents; we should consider their place in our history and, perhaps, our present. I would love to know about, and meet, some long-term country correspondents, and would welcome word about such. We would have things to talk about, I’m sure. I am easy to find and contact.

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