Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Whiteout, and not the kind you think August 16, 2017




MY MIND WAS ALREADY reaching for the phone, punching the number for the circulation department of the Faribault Daily News when I paused.

With a sports headline printed above the nameplate and an ad stretched across the bottom of an otherwise blank front page, I realized—kaboom—that the white space couldn’t be accidental. There was a reason the paper I grabbed from my front steps on Tuesday morning was devoid of front page news.



I flipped to page two. There I found my answer. The absence of news was intentional. According to an article published there, more than 200 Minnesota newspapers are participating in a “Whiteout” to remind readers of the importance of newspapers in their local communities during Minnesota Newspaper Week.

Brilliant, simply brilliant. What an incredible visual way to make a point.

Quotes supporting freedom of the press ran in a sidebar:

“Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press and that cannot be limited without being lost.”—Thomas Jefferson

“Freedom of the press is not just important to democracy, it is democracy.”—Walter Cronkite

“Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press…”  First Amendment to the Constitution

As a former newspaper reporter, I especially value freedom of the press. I hope the average person realizes just how important a free press is to our democracy. When a government controls the media, we lose our freedom.

I can’t recall a time in the U.S. when the media have been more ruthlessly attacked by people in power than now.




When I think back to my years as a community journalist, though, I recall efforts by some locals to curtail my reporting in several small Minnesota towns. A high school music teacher once attempted to intimidate me after I wrote about controversial discussions at a public school board meeting. Likewise, a realtor verbally attacked me when I wrote about city council proceedings that involved him. A school superintendent in one community treated me with disdain after I covered a student walk-out. Thankfully my editors backed me up and I continued to do my job.

Being a journalist isn’t easy, especially in today’s world. I expect the pay, the long and odd hours and stress are just as awful as when I worked in the profession decades ago. And the criticism is fierce. People complain all the time about the media. Sometimes those complaints are justified. But mostly not.

I say, “Stop blaming the messenger.” Journalists do not make the news. They are only reporting it. And we should all value that they have the freedom to do so.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


21 Responses to “Whiteout, and not the kind you think”

  1. Almost Iowa Says:

    My step-daughter works for The Owatonna People’s Press and apparently a lot of people didn’t pause when reaching for the phone.

    Newspapers are always going to get blow back from the community and the long hours, low-pay and lack of job security will always be a problem for reporters – but too many newspapers make a hard job harder by not limiting opinion to the editorial page.

    Institutions work best when they reflect the community they serve and all too often media outlets fail their readers by believing it is their job to mold opinion rather than reflect it.

    At least in my view that betrays a lack of faith in people and democracy.

    • Yes, opinion should be reserved for the editorial page. That said, I suppose I should eat my words given I am supporting the blank front page, which is surely an opinion. In the context of why it was done, I am fine with this one-day exception.

      Is your stepdaughter a reporter? I worked briefly for the OPP 35 years ago.

      • Almost Iowa Says:

        Sure, the blank page was an opinion and in that sense an editorial but it was clear about what it was. What is most objectionable is an editorial masked as news. Sadly, this is becoming more and more common.

        [Begin Rant]

        I used to be devoted to NPR/MPR and worked all the fundraisers for them, now I cannot even bear to turn them on. It is not because of their POV which is decidedly liberal, but it is more in the way they choose to parse or shall we say spin the news.

        I remember the day, I turned off MPR for good. I found myself driving back to Almost Iowa from the Cities and ranting in my truck, “NO, you ^&%$, I was at that news conference and I clearly heard what they told you.”

        And the way they spun that news – obscured the truth and left the listener with an entirely different impression.

        I will not go into the incident – because PR is best left to those paid to do it – but all too often, news is riddled with advocacy.

        [End Rant]

        🙂 🙂

        No, my step-daughter works in the office of the OPP.

  2. This is wonderful! A terrific was to “speak” up! ❤

    • Yes, it is.

      According to an article in the paper this morning, more than 100 people stopped by the newspaper office or called, wondering why the front page was blank. Apparently they did not check page 2 first. But such a reaction shows people care.

  3. Don Says:

    The newspaper is part of my morning ritual (non of that electronic junk for me) that and coffee. I may not always like nor agree with what I read but like you stated “Stop blaming the messenger Journalists do not make the news” is such a true statement. That being said it must also be hard for a reporter to objectively report all news items particularly news that pushes the hot buttons of many people. Words are such powerful tools for good and bad………………………..

  4. Don Says:

    Old school is solid in my book!

  5. Valerie Says:

    We had our paper stopped because we were out of town so I wonder if our community newspaper had a white out? it’s a clever idea to make a point.

  6. Jackie Says:

    We got the same deal here in Rochester. My mom was angry about it and wanted my dad to take it back and get his money back, ha ha

  7. Gunny Says:

    Audrey, I LOVE newspapers (being old school). However, too many papers have taken up the mantra that their job is “not to report the news, but rather change public opinion” (quoted by owner of the San Diego Union Tribune). Newspaper’s job is to report the news and issues that readers may have an interest in. Some of these issues are not well received by the public when some shady or underhanded deal gets shuffled under the shadows of public scrutiny. Balance, too few papers are open minded enough to have Pro/Con discussions on issues that face us.
    As you have worked as a reporter, you might appreciate the stance of the person being interviewed. I have been interviewed by reporters who were very hostile to the position I had. Los Angeles Times was known in my circle of friends as the “LA Pravda”. For that reason, I get most of my information from newsgroups I subscribe to. I canceled my subscription to the local paper who ran non stop opinions contrary to my own with no publication of differing opinions. I will support reporters who do not come after me with an axe to grind and I support papers that give at least some ink to the opposition.

    Almost Iowa states it in other words, but I think he and I are of the same mind when it comes to papers or TV News. .

  8. Susan Ready Says:

    Yes that front page took me by surprise (clever marketing) but after reading their rationale sure made sense. Living in a small town we have several local papers we are dependent on for local news coverage of events and happenings, ads etc. As part of the Northwoods Arts Council we depend on them for covering and advertising our events. As for opinions like anything else I can read them but then formulate my own beliefs. I like to know what’s going on in my local community.

  9. Missy's Crafty Mess Says:

    That’s an interesting way to grab someone’s attention.

  10. gayfeather Says:

    Timely of you, Audrey, to invite us back to this discussion at a time when we see unfold around us made visible in new ways the connections between people, the places and ways we gather information about what’s going on in our local communities. Interesting to review the continued erosion of the role if not the voice of local newspapers in disseminating local news.

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