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Betting on newsprint, man buys small paper in Brooten, Minn.

BROOTEN, Minn. -- In November, Randy Olson stopped in at the Bonanza Valley Voice in Brooten to see if he could do some freelance reporting for the weekly newspaper.

Randy Olson
Randy Olson is the new owner/publisher/editor/photographer/business manager and every other position possible at the Brooten Valley Voice. The 36-year old said owning the weekly newspaper allows him to live and work in his hometown community with his wife and four kids. (TRIBUNE/Carolyn Lange)

BROOTEN, Minn. - In November, Randy Olson stopped in at the Bonanza Valley Voice in Brooten to see if he could do some freelance reporting for the weekly newspaper.

A few weeks later, he walked into the same building as the new owner of his hometown, community paper.

He’s also the publisher, editor, photographer, reporter, sales representative and every other position possible.

At 36 - and with a wife and four kids - Olson said he’s found the perfect business and the perfect job in a community he’s “passionate” about.

His goal every week, he said, is to put out a “perfect” newspaper.

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With a couple minor errors under his belt that he said won’t happen again, Olson is working on his fifth edition, which goes to print Wednesday morning.

The Bonanza Valley Voice is a relatively young newspaper. It started about 45 years ago and the previous owner, Howard Johnson, owned it for 44 years.

It was Johnson who suggested that Olson buy the business instead of just writing for it.

“I was taken aback,” said Olson, recalling that November visit.

After consulting with his wife, Jessica, who is co-owner of the newspaper and also has a job as an ultrasound technician in Glenwood, Olson agreed to buy “the whole thing, lock-stock-and barrel.”

Olson isn’t new to journalism. He has worked at newspapers in west central Minnesota since 2003.

But even he admits the idea of quitting his full-time reporting job at the Sauk Centre Herald and owning and running an old-fashioned print newspaper in an era of digital information made him pause before making the leap.

So far, said Olson, he couldn’t be happier.

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After the whirlwind romance of purchasing the paper, Olson began logging 16-hour days to put out the paper. He writes community news stories, reports on the Brooten-Belgrade-Elrosa School District’s Jaguar sports teams, shoots photos, sells ads and makes the 50-mile round trip to Lowry each week to pick up the papers “hot off the press.” He delivers them to the Brooten post office and stuffs them in bags for the appropriate route.

“It’s a lot of work,” Olson said, adding that his years of working on his family’s nearby dairy farm by Norway Lake taught him that you “work until the work is done.”

Part of the challenge is to find the formula for maintaining the heritage of the newspaper while moving it forward for the future. That may eventually include a digital presence, but Olson said he does not plan on “giving away” the Bonanza Valley Voice news on a free website.

Olson has loaded each eight- to 10-page newspaper with local stories and photos of school activities, local government action and business openings. He promises future editions will continue to get “bigger and better.”

Olson said he’s experiencing a bit of a honeymoon with positive responses from readers to the changes he’s made in the paper.

He also added 50 new subscriptions in the first three weeks, to bring the total to about 765 paid subscribers.

Printing and postage are his biggest expenses. He also pays a freelance reporter to provide additional community news coverage.

Much to his surprise, the paper generated enough revenue that he could write himself a small paycheck this month.

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But Olson said one of the best parts of owning his hometown newspaper is that he gets to stay in town, close to his family, which includes two school-aged stepsons and two preschool-aged daughters.

Olson’s home and the newspaper office are all within a couple blocks of the elementary school Olson attended as a young boy.

Olson said he is looking forward to being able to leave the office, walk to school and then walk his children home.

“It doesn’t get any better than that,” Olson said.

Carolyn Lange is a features writer at the West Central Tribune. She can be reached at clange@wctrib.com or 320-894-9750
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