Today, September 1, 2021, the Townsend Family is sadly publishing the final edition of the Belle Plaine Herald, after nearly 140 years of covering the news in Belle Plaine and the surrounding area.
“This is the one article I hoped we would never have to print,” stated publisher and editor E. Daniel Townsend, who’s been employed at the newspaper and print company as long as he can remember.
Townsend and his siblings all worked at the newspaper growing up, as did his father and his siblings before him. Townsend has sat at the helm as publisher/editor of the Herald for the past five years after taking over for his father, C. Edward Townsend, who retired at age 85.
“I really thought we would be celebrating our 140th anniversary with a commemorative issue,” said Townsend. “Unfortunately, like so many other independent community newspapers, the financial burden is too tough to continue as a small business which has forced us to make this difficult decision.”
The Herald is likely Belle Plaine’s oldest continuing business as well as the oldest independent newspaper in Minnesota that has remained in the same family for four generations. It was on January 5, 1882, that Joseph Edward Townsend expanded his commercial printing business and published the first issue of the Belle Plaine Herald, typeset by hand for many years, one letter at a time. J.E.’s son Daniel Charles Townsend was the second editor and publisher, followed by C. Edward Townsend.
“When I took over the paper from my father, I envisioned it continuing on to my kids, which would have been the fifth generation,” said Townsend. “There was a time when family-run, community newspapers were a profitable business driven by continuous local advertising sales and a strong subscription base, but with the advent of the internet, both have eroded.”
Townsend also pointed to increasing printing and mailing costs and competing with an expanding number of digital adverting and social media platforms. “The impact of the pandemic exacerbated all of those challenges, added Townsend. “It was the nail in the coffin.”
“At this point, I feel I’ve explored every option in keeping the paper going under my watch, and closing is the only one that makes sense,” said Townsend.
Townsend stressed that it is his goal to find a new owner with the ability to keep the paper going so that the city of Belle Plaine is not left without a local newspaper.
“I will do everything I can to help with the transition once a new publisher is found,” said Townsend.
The Henderson Independent, which Townsend also owns, will transfer ownership to the current editor of the paper, Rachel Miller.
“I would like to thank the residents and businesses of Belle Plaine and the surrounding area for all of their support and engagement over the years,” said Townsend. “More importantly, I want to thank my dedicated and hard-working employees, both past and present, who have been essential in getting this newspaper out week after week. It’s been an honor to serve this community, to tell their stories, and to preserve Belle Plaine’s local history.”