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The end of an era

A 77-year relationship ends today in Grand Forks as the Knight Ridder newspaper company ceases to exist and Forum Communications takes command of the Grand Forks Herald.

A 77-year relationship ends today in Grand Forks as the Knight Ridder newspaper company ceases to exist and Forum Communications takes command of the Grand Forks Herald.

On Dec. 2, 1929, more than 50 years after the first edition of the Herald printed, the Ridder family bought the newspaper from its employees. It was one of the first acquisitions for the Ridders, who started out in the newspaper industry with a German-language paper in New York.

Even before the purchase, the Ridders had strong ties to the Midwest. Some of the family members lived in St. Paul, where Ridder Publications owned the St. Paul Pioneer Press. The company also had purchased the Aberdeen American News in South Dakota a year before arriving in Grand Forks.

After the sale of the Grand Forks Herald, M.M. Oppegard became editor and publisher and held the post for 40 years. Under Oppegard's leadership, the paper underwent many changes.

In 1931, the paper moved to a new building and started operations with the largest printing press in the state. In the late 1960s, publication of what later would become Agweek began; it was called the Farm & Home section. In 1969, Oppegard retired. Publishing duties went to Ralph Roth, who only served for three years, and Jack Hagerty became editor.


Marilyn Hagerty, who writes a column for the Herald, said Oppergard was a fine writer and leader.

"He was a very brilliant man," said Hagerty, who came to the Herald in 1957 with her husband, Jack. Hagerty's relationship with the Ridders started in 1948 when she graduated from college in South Dakota and began working at the paper in Aberdeen.

The merger

In 1974, Ridder Publications joined forces with Knight Newspapers, with the pair's combined properties making Knight Ridder the second-largest newspaper company in the nation. In 1981, after more than 100 years of being an evening publication, the Herald switched to morning production. Three years later, current editor and publisher, Mike Jacobs, became the first North Dakotan to lead the paper.

The last edition of the paper before the Flood of 1997 ran on April 19, 1997. Two of the Herald's downtown buildings were among 11 destroyed by fire.

In 1998, the paper became Knight Ridder's 14th property to earn the Gold Medal for Meritorious Public Service, a Pulitzer Prize. Later that year, a new downtown building was opened. In 2004, the Grand Forks Herald turned 125.

Another chapter

In March, Knight Ridder announced its plans to sell all 32 of its properties to McClatchy Newspapers, which in turn said it would sell 12 Knight Ridder papers, including the Grand Forks Herald and the Duluth News Tribune in Minnesota. Both papers will join Fargo-based Forum Communications after the Knight Ridder-to-McClatchy sale closes today.


Mike Jacobs, the Herald's publisher and editor, said the move to Bill Marcil's Forum Communications closes an era in the paper's history.

"Knight Ridder was very good to Grand Forks," Jacobs said. "It gave Grand Forks a great newspaper."

Ownership by a large corporation had its pros and cons, according to Jacobs. While it "made things possible" and allowed Grand Forks to "play on a national stage", it also made the paper "subject to market forces," he said.

Both Jacobs and Hagerty said Knight Ridder did a lot of good to the Grand Forks community after the Flood of 1997.

"Knight Ridder helped so much after the flood," Hagerty said. "It helped to make the Herald a better paper." Monday at a meeting in San Jose, Calif., shareholders approved the company sale to McClatchy Newspapers. More than 80 percent of shareholders had to approve the sale.

Knight Ridder's almost 32 years of existence comes to a close at 4 p.m. today.

The Herald, like many of the former Knight Ridder properties, will acknowledge the passing with a day of remembrance. The day will include distribution of a commemorative booklet and the showing of a movie on the company's history.

"I feel a certain sadness," Jacobs said about Knight Ridder's last day. He later added: "I'm a Knight Ridder loyalist."

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