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Q&A with Steve Andrist of the North Dakota News Cooperative

Andrist is a third-generation weekly newspaper publisher from Crosby, North Dakota, who served eight years as executive director of the North Dakota Newspaper Association. He now serves as the co-chair of the North Dakota News Cooperative, which will work to produce in-depth stories of statewide interest – the types of stories that can be difficult to produce in busy newsrooms today.

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Steve Andrist
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It didn’t take long for Steve Andrist to get back to work.

Andrist is a third-generation weekly newspaper publisher from Crosby, North Dakota, who served eight years as executive director of the North Dakota Newspaper Association. He retired from that position in December 2020, but now serves as the co-chair of the North Dakota News Cooperative, a product of the Future of Newspapers Committee.

The News Cooperative will work to produce in-depth stories of statewide interest – the types of stories that can be difficult to produce in busy newsrooms today.

Andrist recently discussed these efforts with the Forum Communications Editorial Advisory Board.

Q. What is the North Dakota News Cooperative?

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A: The North Dakota News Cooperative is a nonprofit corporation focused on providing expanded journalism opportunities in North Dakota and advancing the understanding of news literacy.

Q. How does it work?

A: The main function of the organization is to provide original content of statewide significance for use by newspapers and other media outlets in the state. We are just now advertising for a managing editor and hope to hire at least one other full-time journalist. The managing editor will do reporting and manage the reporting program for the organization. Under this scenario, our first story should be distributed by the end of January.

Q. What kind of reporting can readers expect and where can they find it?

A: All reporting will be specific to North Dakota. Much of it will be in-depth and contextualized … expanding the available journalism with new reporting that doesn’t duplicate what is already being produced. Newspapers and other media will have access to the stories for publication in print or digitally as they see fit. We also anticipate making stories available online directly from a News Cooperative website.

Q. According to NDNA, this group will work to improve news literacy. What does that mean?

A: Journalism is reporting that has been vetted, multi-sourced, contextualized and includes various perspectives. In the information age, much information is shared on social media and other digital platforms without regard for where it came from, whether it is true, or whether it has been produced to advance a particular perspective or point of view. News literacy means understanding the difference.

Q. What will you do to improve news literacy?

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A: We are working with education groups in the state to provide programming in North Dakota schools to teach news literacy, and we hope to develop programs for presentation to service clubs and other community organizations. In addition, we plan to develop a podcast that details how many steps were taken and sources contacted in the development of our stories so that people understand the depth of a journalistic enterprise.

Q. How is this effort funded? Will readers need to subscribe to read this journalism?

A: As a nonprofit, start-up funding is coming from grants from trusts and foundations. Over time, we anticipate offering memberships and sponsorships similar to programs offered by other non-profit news providers.

Q. Why should people care about this?

A: Journalism is good for communities, businesses, organizations and states. National studies have revealed that bad things happen in communities that lose their newspaper. Civic engagement declines, fewer people vote and fewer people run for public office. Studies have even shown that in some communities the cost of local government has increased because there is no longer a local watchdog. As a result, there is increased opportunity for official shenanigans, which can drive up the cost of insurance and bonding, and therefore local taxes, too.

Q. What do you see as the greatest threat to journalism in the state of North Dakota?

A: Advertising dollars that traditionally went to entities, like newspapers, that provide journalism have been redirected to digital platforms that do not provide journalism. As a result, the revenues to support journalists have declined, and so has journalism. If the revenue trend continues in that direction there will be a continued decline in journalism. Another threat is the trend toward hedge funds buying up newspaper companies. These hedge funds typically move to quickly reduce expenses, which mostly means cutting journalism jobs.

Q. Tell me about the Future of Newspapers Committee.

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A: Several years ago, the North Dakota Newspaper Association created a Future of Newspapers Committee to conduct projects intended to sustain newspapers into the future. Those projects have included readership campaigns, advertising promotion and more. Two years ago the committee turned its attention to something more dramatic, and the ND News Cooperative is what rose to the top.

Q. How can people get more information or get involved?

A: Some information is available online at http://www.newscoopnd.org/ . The site includes directions on how to donate to support North Dakota journalism. Questions can be asked and more information requested from info@newscoopnd.org.

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