20 Years of Reader Retrospective

by Robert Boone

The (mostly) unabridged history of the Reader Weekly, Part One. As this is a little windy, feel free to skip ahead to the good bits. 

The Early Years

 It all began with a funeral. Robert Boone was at a funeral for a relative (a young lady killed in a drunk driving accident) on the 4th of July in 1997 when it occurred to him that life is fleeting and that if you are going to have any more big adventures, the time is now.
Boone had always sought out alternative newsweeklies when traveling, and regretted that Duluth did not have one. Additionally, it seemed to him that the Duluth News Tribune (DNT) seldom had penetrating questions for any of the saints: St. Mary’s, St. Luke’s, St. Scholastica, and, oddly, Duluth mayor Gary Doty.

He had also noticed that the DNT had been unable to keep up with the Minneapolis Star Tribune regarding breaking sports-related scandals at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD).
He suspected that the DNT intentionally didn’t pursue some of these stories. (He later discovered, after talking to the Star Tribune’s Larry Oakes, that his suspicions were groundless regarding the UMD sports scandals. The Star Tribune had found those stories first because a UMD wrestler had a relative who was an intern at the Star Tribune.)

Later, The Reader would discover several other examples of stories that the DNT did not want to cover.
Boone left the funeral resolved to start a local alternative newsweekly. He enjoyed the arts and hoped to provide a platform for different voices and viewpoints beyond the mainstream. Twenty days and $1,000 later, the first Northland Reader hit the streets. The Reader began as an every-other-Thursday publication and changed its name to Reader Weekly when it moved to a weekly schedule in January 2001. The first paper was 36 pages, with a print run of 8,000 copies, distributed throughout Duluth and Superior. 

After making inquires, Boone arranged for Terry Hart of Superior to handle the initial layout and design.
Before the first issue hit the streets, there was already a crisis. Through the grapevine, Tony Rogers had heard of the new venture and offered to be the editor. He had experience and planned to write a cover story for Issue 1 while giving his notice at his current job. Three days before deadline, Rogers disappeared, leaving no indication if the promised story was still coming. Deadline day came and Boone and Hart realized they had no cover, nor did they have a feature story. Some of the text and cartoons became much larger very quickly.

The first issue was immediately rather popular, and things went a little more smoothly for the next couple of issues. Talented local writers and cartoonists began replacing some of the earlier syndicated content. Richard Thomas became a regular contributor, submitting a cartoon.
By Issue Four, Paul Lundgren walked into the office, announcing that he wanted to be the Reader’s editor. Lundgren persuaded Boone of his merit by announcing that he had recently been fired as editor of the Budgeteer. Lundgren suggested a regular column, “Thoughts thunk while thinking,” which quickly morphed into the sometimes insane and often inspired genius of “The Next Level.” Lundgren offered to help as a volunteer until his unemployment ran out.  When the time came, Boone’s desire to hire Lundgren as The Reader’s first employee was blocked when ad revenues would not allow for such largesse. Learning of this stumbling block, activist Eric Ringsred volunteered a donation of $1,000 to help hire Lundgren.

(The Reader started for $1,000 at the same time Murphy McGinnis paid HT Klatsky $60,000 to redesign the Budgeteer.)

Pissing People Off #1: Big Mac Attack

What we did: Back in the day, The Reader had a regular feature called McNews Nuggets; typically with bite sized news or sarcastic commentary. 
What happened: After two months in business Boone received a call from McDonald’s corporate headquarters in Illinois. McDonald’s trademark attorney wished to discuss some concerns. Apparently McDonald’s was worried that the readers of our paper might not be able to discern between our newspaper and their chicken nuggets. Boone was confident that our readers were smarter than that, “Does McDonald’s often run into people that can’t tell the difference”?  Boone inquired.   McDonald’s threatened to sue. Boone replied that F. Lee Bailey was going to defend The Reader and printed all their crap and our crap responses.  McDonald’s rattled their sabres, Boone threatened to write an expose on all of McDonald’s shortcomings.  In a true case of David and Goliath, McDonald’s eventually simply declared victory and ran away. We continued using the title for another year or two, meandering away from using the moniker when a new shiny object was placed in front of us. 

Lundgren attracted a cadre of smart, hip writers, among them Jon Eckblad, Barrett Chase, and John Ramos. Although not immediately profitable, the paper was very popular, and distribution was expanded to Cloquet and Two Harbors.

Biggest Goofs: Where’s the issue? 
Around Issue 10, a day and a half before deadline, Lundgren looked on The Reader’s sole Macintosh computer (The Reader also had an IBM clone for word processing) for the issue which he had been working on for the last week, and realized that the issue was completely missing. Lundgren and Boone worked some 40 hours straight to recreate the issue, only to realize that they had missed the last FedEx deadline for shipping the many zip disks to the printer. Exhausted, Boone jumped in his car and drove the disks to the printer in Mankato. Boone slept in his car for an hour while the paper was being printed, then followed the printer’s truck back to Duluth to begin distribution. The cause of the 56-hour ordeal was never discovered, but given that Lundgren was very proficient on computers and Boone was nearly 100 percent less so, the culprit seemed obvious. 

Pissing People Off #2: Top Stories - Silence is Deadly: Intentional transmission of HIV  

by Paul Lundgren Dec. 11, 1997

 In June 1997, a young gay man named Jon Niemi met another gay man, John Boda, at The Main Club, a gay bar, in Superior. The two of them had sex later that night and soon began living together.  When Niemi attempted to break off the relationship, Boda revealed that he was HIV-positive and had likely passed on the infection. Niemi’s fears were soon confirmed. Boda was indeed HIV-positive and had passed on the virus to Niemi. 

Boda fled town and Niemi filed a complaint with the Superior Police Department, accusing him of intentionally spreading a communicable disease.  When asked about the complaint, district attorney Dan Blank refused to comment.  The story highlighted the uncharted territory of the law regarding the issue of HIV transmission.

According to Niemi, Boda was his first-ever same-sex sexual partner and he, Niemi, was not an intravenous drug user.  It is horrible bad luck to become infected with HIV from one’s first sexual encounter, but, as they say, it only takes one time.
The Reader took flak from the GLBT community following the story about Niemi’s infection.  Ellie Schoenfeld, then the regional coordinator for Duluth representing Minnesota AIDS Project (MAP), wrote a letter to the editor citing Niemi’s fault in the issue for not having safer sex.  She also called us to task for revealing the identity of Boda as being infected with HIV, stating that such disclosures violate confidentiality and jeopardize an HIV-positive person’s ability to be shielded from housing and employment discrimination.  Our view remained that the confidentiality of a man who used a false name and knowingly transferred a deadly virus was considerably less of a concern than reporting a local instance where a potentially criminal action threatened not only Niemi, but others as well.

Reader publisher Robert Boone went so far as to attend a GLBT community meeting called to address their concerns with the Reader’s story. Boone was taken to task for “outing” gay people and endangering their confidentiality.  Boone reiterated his ongoing support of the gay community and countered that he considered the issue not one of “outing” anyone but as an issue of what was tantamount to attempted murder. 

Issue 14: Outgrowing the capabilities of our first printer, we switched to a plant that had full color capability. (Early issues of the Reader were black and white with a few pages of red or blue ink.) We brag about full color.

Pissing People Off #3: April Fools 1998

What we did:  Our very popular spoof of the National Enquirer with a similar-looking Northland Enquirer, (chock full of fake local news) was an immediate hit. 
What happened: The Reader caught flack when the real National Enquirer immediately threatened us with another lawsuit.  How could we possibly offend such a tabloid? Upon learning it was a spoof, they relented, asking us to “pick on someone else next year” We ignored them.
Also: Local Baywatch actress Gena Lee Nolin was unimpressed with our Gena Lee Nolin line of “Goodwill Glamour Swimwear” fake ad.

Pissing People Off #4: Mayor Doty
What we did: Apparently our mere existence was enough to send him into a tizzy. He would refuse to eat in restaurants that carried our paper, walking out of the Brewhouse after berating them for carrying us.  Doty also attempted to organize a boycott of The Reader through the Chamber of Commerce; but the Chamber wouldn’t play along. We felt pretty special until he invited the Blues Fest to leave town; and then the haters that were opposed to an outlet mall at Bayfront, and then the people who drink beer, and then…

What happened: We miraculously talked Ted Rall, a Pulitzer Prize finalist cartoonist into doing our first anniversary cover, and proceeded to throw cartoon rocks at “Herr Mayor” on the cover. 

Top Stories: Cynthia and the Soft Center: 
by Robert Boone Oct. 15, 1998

 Remember when the Soft Center (now Tech Village) was a really innovative idea?  Yeah? Remember when our city’s leaders strongly believed that Duluth could construct a huge building and fill it to the brim with dot-coms and other technology start-ups?
 When Eric Ringsred called planning manager Jill Fisher to the stand during a public hearing during his attempt to stop the development of the Soft Center, all hell broke loose.  The Reader exposed assistant city attorney Cynthia Albright’s order to Fisher to hide so as to dodge a subpoena in Ringsred’s action.  Why?  Albright believed that the suit by Ringsred was delaying the city’s ability to build the Soft Center and would cost the city more money.  Caught in our crosshairs, Albright passed the buck to then-assistant city attorney Bryan Brown, saying it was his idea to have Fisher avoid the subpoena.  The Duluth News Tribune refused to report on the issue. At this point (at least, in the movies), we’d say, “Hilarity ensued.”  But amazingly, when asked whether she thought her actions were ethical, Albright told The Reader, “I don’t have to answer that.” Whatever.  We were relentless!  Soft Centergate continued through three more issues of The Reader with revelations of morel shenanigans from then mayor Doty and the city attorney. Our story garnered TV coverage and, well, you know how that whole Soft Center thing worked out, right?  Right.

Pissing People Off #5 Biggest Goofs: The April Fools Day Massacre. 
What we did: In March of 1999, The Reader began planning its second April Fools Day parody issue.  Someone suggested imitating the Rolling Stone cover of a nude Janet Jackson (with a man’s hands covering her breasts). Our parody featured Carlson Book’s Bob Carlson, nude, with a woman’s hands covering his man-boobs. Carlson was initially enthusiastic and a photo shoot went off well. 

 It soon occurred to Carlson that given his previous legal issues regarding young women, perhaps this was an unwise image to reinforce. As deadline approached, Boone told Lundgren that the cover would have to be changed. Lundgren refused.  The two worked in stormy silence for hours, and finished the issue well past deadline.  Boone again drove to the printing plant, (this time in Eau Claire), intent on delivering the disks in time to print on schedule. Once there, he had the printer’s graphics guru design a new Northland Enquirer cover. 

What happened: After printing, Boone returned to Duluth with the papers. When Lundgren saw the replacement cover, he quit on the spot. As Lundgren had been overworked and underpaid for months, this was likely simply the straw that broke the camel’s back. Freelance writer John Ramos immediately quit (for the first time) in sympathy. Slim Goodbuzz debuted and disappeared from The Reader all in the same issue. Jon Eckblad moved out of town. Cartoonist Chris Monroe soon left as well. Within days, The Reader had lost most of its talented young hipster contributors.  

Pissing People Off #6: Biggest Goofs: 
April Fools again

What we did: The Reader caught flack for a parody Lundgren wrote that described a young man killing eight students in Cloquet because he had a zit on his nose. The Columbine incident occurred a couple of weeks later, leading to questions of our propriety.
What happened: Reportedly, the Cloquet School Board met to castigate us. We felt terrible, but ignored them anyway.
Noticing The Reader’s ad seeking a new editor, longtime Reader cartoonist Richard Thomas applied for the job.  Thomas had previously edited a community newspaper in Cleveland, and had a passion for low-income advocacy. Thomas also brought writing, graphics, and photography skills to the position.

Biggest Goofs: Listing the drop-off locations. 
Back in the bad old days, we thought it would be a great idea to list all the locations where devoted readers could pick up a copy of the paper.  Surely this would be a useful service, no?  Little did we realize just how useful the listings would be…to religious zealots.  Our listings became their map for removing copies of The Reader from newsstands.  They also used said listings as their directory in calling up advertisers and distributors of the paper to discourage them from doing business with us.  

Biggest Goofs:  May 1998: The White Highway.

While returning from Eau Claire with two pallets of papers in a heavily loaded truck, Boone encountered a driver erratically changing lanes into his path. Forced to change lanes suddenly, Boone felt the load shift, and as he headed for the shoulder, watched in the mirror as the two pallets (taller than the truck) slowly fell over. Thousands of papers littered the highway near the junction of Highway 2 & 53 in Wisconsin. As Boone scrambled to pull the papers off the freeway, passing semi trucks separated each paper into many individual sheets. (This was the pre-staple era) Within minutes, the freeway was blanketed with white newspapers for a 200-yard stretch. Soon a Wisconsin State Patrol trooper pulled up to inquire if Boone was littering. Boone pointed out that he was picking up the papers as best he could, at which point the trooper retaliated by ordering Boone to drive his truck further and further into the ditch, content only when the truck got stuck, then drove away. Boone picked up papers for eight hours, occasionally assisted by passing motorists and an off-duty Douglas County sheriff’s deputy, who used his own truck to pull Boone out of the ditch. Boone and friends returned for the next two days to collect errant Readers.

Top Stories: Douglas County Jailhouse Blues 
By Richard Thomas June 10, 1999

 What’s tens of millions of dollars to the citizens of Superior?  Apparently not much, according to Jim Conner, then chairman of the Project Management Committee when our story about spiraling costs and ill-conceived planning to build a new law enforcement center fuelled public debate.
 “It’s impractical to do anything with your hands tied,” said Conner of the city’s actions in fudging the rules on allowing the public to comment and vote on city building projects over $1 million.  Frustrated over the daunting prospect of the people of Superior voting down the proposed building plan, Conner went on to say, “The people don’t understand what the needs are.”  The previous Superior city/county building was only thirty years old but in dire need of repairs. Inexplicably, the city had utilized a building design more appropriate for Florida than for Wisconsin’s punishing winters. 

The Reader was the first media to report that the building couldn’t possibly be completed for the hoped for $28 million.  In the end, the new government center ran far over budget. 
 

Top Stories: Fun at Spirit Mountain 
by Richard Thomas Aug. 19, 1999

  At issue was the debate over whether or not to develop part of Spirit Mountain into a golf course.  Then-director of Spirit Mountain Rick Certano lamented the confrontation. 
 In 1997, the Duluth city council, voted 5-4 to approve the plan which would have included a new golf course.  Unfortunately for them, the action was halted by the requirement of an Environmental Assessment Worksheet (EAS) before the work could begin.  With Spirit Mountain being a consistent money-loser year after year, the Council hoped that controversial developer Kent Oliver might turn around the finances of Spirit Mountain with a golf course.  Also a point of contention was the fact that the golf course would be built on public land, yet it would be out of the use of the public unless people were able to pay $60 for a round of golf. The Reader also discovered that Spirit Mountain’s advertising consultant Howard Klatsky, was also working on Oliver’s behalf on the public’s dime. A minor conflict of interest.

Biggest Goofs: Boone Snaps.  
Sept. 25, 1999.

Reader publisher Boone was at a children’s party when a group of friends decided to take a walk through the woods. While walking across a wet, muddy slope, Boone’s leg slipped into a “gopher” hole and snapped in two while he was still standing. His leg shattered, Boone was on crutches for six months and in a cast for nine months. With his shoulder also injured and no one else to sell ads, Boone had a very limited effectiveness for many months. With no health or disability insurance for Boone, and given the new weekly Ripsaw’s momentum and popularity after January 2000, it was a grim time for The Reader. Bankruptcy and the demise of The Reader seemed imminent. Thomas worked hard, suffering through late pay and little help. Struggling to pay the printer, Boone had his electricity turned off at home for two months. Living in the country, this meant that Boone had to haul water home on crutches and bathe in town.

At this pivotal moment (April 2000) Big Tobacco came calling. Having just been kicked off billboards in the state, they targeted Minneapolis City Pages and The Reader for the majority of their Minnesota marketing. Five tobacco companies offered contracts that would have doubled the revenue of The Reader. Boone, however, doesn’t accept tobacco advertising. The conundrum: If Big Tobacco then gave the money to the Ripsaw, The Reader would be doomed. Upon turning them down, The Reader caught a “lucky break”; the Ripsaw was so new that they were not yet in any newspaper associations and Big Tobacco never knew they existed.

Later in 2000, things stabilized somewhat due to a number of factors. The Reader benefited from some hard-hitting stories, as well as significantly superior distribution and broader support from the business community than the upstart Ripsaw.
 Nationally, only the top ten markets in America can successfully support two alternative newsweeklies. For several years, Duluth was the smallest town in America by over ten million people attempting to support two alternatives.  
 

Biggest Goofs: Y2K Reader Issue 2.0

 Remember all that paranoid crap about computers going batshit and the world as we know it ending as the clock rolled over into 2000??  Hmm. 
 Anticipating the anticlimactic ending of the Y2K scare, we at The Reader devoted considerable energy in creating a series of spoof news stories poking fun at the hysteria, including such memorable headlines as “Gates offers to buy United States” and “Miller Hill Mall announces new post-apocalypse hours.”  You know, really funny stuff.  The issue was completed and sent it off to the printer…

 And then, Y2K happened.  When the papers, arrived, we discovered that a computer glitch at the printer had screwed up the page sequence and had even omitted some pages! We ran around town retrieving the misprinted copies.  So, our first issue of the new millennium had to be printed twice, resulting in what we at the office cleverly refer to as Issue 2.0.

Top Stories: Fire Season comes to BWCA 
by Dorothy Charging Hawk
Jan. 20, 2000

The Reader has often been at the forefront of reporting on environmental matters.  This story focused on preparing for what could be a catastrophic fire in the Boundary Waters blow-down area. Our coverage of the impending danger warned homeowners and recreation enthusiasts who frequent the Boundary Waters about the consequences of plume fires triggered by the dead brush left by raging storms.

Oddly, the same day as The Reader story broke, the DNT came out with a similar story. A week after publication, a government official whom Charginghawk had interviewed called The Reader to alert us to the fact that the DNT had called a few hours after Charginghawk, and asked the exact same questions in the exact same order as she had during her interview. I Spy? We were honored, sort of.

Top Stories: Watchdog, cheerleader, business partner, sweetheart: Hard questions for the Duluth News Tribune 
by Robert Boone  March 16, 2000

“The story that drove the News Tribune publisher out of town,” Former Duluth News Tribune (DNT) president and publisher Mary Jacobus was exposed as compromising her integrity in a conflict of interest with her community and business dealings. She was on the Chamber’s executive board.  She was the vice chair of the Economic Development Authority.  Jacobus’ husband, Dean, worked with TEAM Duluth to recruit tenants for the Soft Center (now Tech Village) essentially a leasing agent, and to promote development.  Any negative reporting about the Soft Center’s development would, of course, negatively impact Dean Jacobus’ ability to successfully lease space in the Tech Village.  The Reader was able to document seven newsworthy stories regarding Tech Village (including A&L’s illegally demolishing historic buildings in violation of court orders) that the DNT had not covered; and was able to prove that the DNT knew about four of them. 

 Complicating matters, Jacobus served on the editorial board of the DNT.  Jacobus wrote prolific editorials in the DNT supporting the Soft Center and its development.  Activists opposed to the development, such as Eric Ringsred, were excoriated in DNT editorials. When asked whether Jacobus actively participated in editorial decisions and discussions, then-editorial editor Pia Lopez deferred the question to Jacobus herself. When The Reader asked Jacobus if she should disclose said associations with the entities she was supporting in her capacity as a newspaper publisher, she brushed the question off, weakly answering that she was not part of the news department and that her views were her own.  The Society of Professional Journalists and Knight Ridder disagreed. 

 An executive of the DNT mailed copies of The Reader’s story to the Knight Ridder board of directors.  Embarrassed and disappointed, Knight Ridder promptly sent an attorney to Duluth to meet with Jacobus about our investigation.  She emerged from the meeting teary-eyed and placed a call to her husband, explaining that her position had become untenable.  Shortly thereafter, Jacobus was transferred out of Duluth.

Top  Stories: Sladegate: The Sequel 
by Dorothy Charging Hawk and 
Robert Boone Nov. 9, 2000

  The Aquarium in trouble?  Controversy over its management?  One of Duluth’s biggest boondoggles, the Aquarium, and the stories behind its questionable management and abysmal financial woes consistently made their way into The Reader over several years.
 In November 2000, however, the big controversy was over the forced “resignation” of education director Andrew Slade.  Turns out, if you are affiliated with the Aquarium yet you write an editorial in the Duluth News Tribune which suggests that coal plants might add mercury to the environment, which might jeopardize Minnesota Power’s profit potential, AND, oh, just maybe, the CEO of Minnesota Power happens to be on the Board of Directors of the Great Lake Aquarium…well, you might end up losing your job.  Just a guess, of course.

 City Councilor Russ Stewart got mad. Two of the aquarium’s directors resigned in protest. The resigning board members, Janet Green and Thomas C. Johnson, as well as others on the board, expressed concern over whether anyone’s future comments would be cause for their forced resignations.  Stewart called into question the legality of the actions.  He asked for copies of the board’s discipline policies and asked whether or not the Aquarium had lost corporate sponsors.  He received no response from the board’s executive director after his requests.

Andrew Slade’s role was to educate the community and the state about the importance of preserving and restoring the large freshwater lakes of the world.  Although Slade was a regular contributor to the DNT, they refused to cover the controversy until The Reader began a “Duluth News Tribune Watch”… “Day 37 the DNT hasn’t noticed that their own writer was fired from the Aquarium”.

Sladegate continued to be covered in the pages of the Reader over three more issues.  In Issue 88, we reprinted Allete’s corporate vice president for environmental resources David P. Jeronimus’ letter to Andrew Slade wherein Slade’s educational and environmental credentials were ridiculed.  As a result of the flap, executive director David Lonsdale left his position and took over as education director, and Ann Glumac, the board’s chair, took over as the executive director.  The debate over the proposed power line raged on, and so did the public’s disillusionment with the Great Lakes Aquarium. Eventually, the Dow Jones News Wire wrote a piece downgrading Minnesota Power because of the beating they were taking from the local alternative newsweekly. 

 Top Stories: St. Luke’s in Transition 
by Robert Boone and Richard 
Thomas December 21, 2000

In 2000, Duluth was poised to lose its last secular hospital. After years of financial difficulties, St. Luke’s had entered fast-track negotiations for an operating partnership agreement with United Ministry Healthcare, a Catholic institution.
Noting very little initial opposition in the community, The Reader investigated practices regarding reproductive health services at other hospitals around the country which had entered into management agreements with Catholic-affiliated organizations. Invariably, these hospitals lost their autonomy and their ability to provide certain reproductive services such as birth control, abortion, and morning-after pills.

The Reader documented restrictions the Catholic Church places on affiliated hospitals and noted recent changes in St. Luke’s practices that seemed to be more in keeping with Catholic practices.  
 In an interview with the Reader, St. Luke’s CEO John Strange admitted that they had not done their due diligence, and after our story broke the St. Luke’s board of directors adapted a more independent position and soon broke off negotiations with United Ministry Healthcare. St. Luke’s soon after returned to financial health and remains a strong independent secular hospital.

Last week’s issue covered the history  of the Northland Reader (1997-2000)
The Reader was forced, by competitive pressure from the Ripsaw, to convert from an every other week to a weekly schedule beginning with our January 4th 2001 issue. We changed the name to Reader Weekly, hoping to make it very clear we were now publishing weekly. This has not been completely effective as people still ask with unnerving regularity, “How often does the Reader Weekly come out?” An additional incentive to change the name came from the Chicago Reader. The venerable alternative newsweekly had been threatening to sue us, claiming that the title Northland Reader infringed on their trademarks.

The new title was not completely popular. Editor Richard Thomas was annoyed that it often led to bemused references to the children’s Weekly Reader publication.
The Reader and the Ripsaw fought on for survival. The Ripsaw’s advantages at the time included a vastly superior design, and a cadre of youthful, fun hipsters. The Reader’s advantages included much better distribution, a more comprehensive calendar and superb columnists like Barb Olsen and Duke Skorich. Both papers were uneven at their attempts in investigative journalism.

The Reader built notable traditions of The Best of the Northland, an April Fools parody issue, entitled the Northland Enquirer; and Homegrown Christmas guides. The Reader avoids raking in big bucks during the hugely profitable Christmas season because we only feature locally unique products; thereby shrewdly eliminating 98% of the potential market.

Biggest Goofs: Threatening the President 

In 2001, Reader cartoonist Margaret Frastley penned one of her colorful frog cartoons; the theme of which was something about hoping someone would poison George W. Bush. As Frastley’s wit was routinely venomous we thought little more of it until the Secret Service showed up at The Reader office inquiring about threats against the President. They made two trips from Minneapolis before ascertaining that Bush was safe from the killer frog.

Beginning in May 2001 The Reader began holding foreign film festivals, fueled by editor Robert Boone’s passion for film. The final festival in 2004 culminated in a ten day, two theater festival, with forty performances and nineteen top films. Directors and actors attended the opening and closing night receptions.

Top Stories: Bringing down the axe 
By John Ramos. January 11, 2001

John Ramos focused on then city planner Mike Conlan. Ramos chronicled the shady history of Conlan who first served the city as a neighborhood planner back in the 1970s. As a city planner, it appears Conlan may have been a creative thinker. At one time, Conlan suggested moving the Duluth Playhouse to the NorShor and converting the Depot into a children’s library. A disastrous idea that did come to fruition as a spectacular failure was moving Office Depot into the Holiday Center, a space Conlan referred to as, “A black hole,” where nobody wanted to do business. Within months Office Depot went out of business, defaulting on a ten year lease. Wryly, Ramos remarked, “But the sidewalks look great!” Conlan also sought to have the NorShor foreclosed for not paying a $7,000 loan to the city. (This back in the Rick Boo era)  Oddly enough, loans for much greater amounts had either been forgiven (the Aquarium was then in default to the tune of a few million dollars) or the terms of the loan reconstructed. The Reader offered Conlan rebuttal space, wherein Conlan sought to downplay the story by employing ad hominem attacks on Ramos’ credibility and reportage. “You will continue to cast your jaundiced eye upon Duluth and write your half-assed columns. But look on the bright side John. You’re just so darned good at it.”

By the following week, our readers joined the conflagration in our letters section of the paper. Ramos took up the pen in the continuing duel of words, countering
Conlan on contentious points; including his dismissal from the Lighthouse for the Blind, and his firing from the city by then-mayor Fedo. The Reader’s well documented background digging eventually cost Conlan his job, as he later complained to The Reader’s publisher.

Top Stories: Two days in a war zone.
A personal account of the World Trade Center attacks, 
By Katherine Freygang 
September 20 2001.

Katherine Freygang,  sister of then editor Richard Thomas, wrote a moving and eyewitness account of the attack on the World Trade Center. Days after the attack her story appeared in The Reader. Her hour by hour account mixed with the personal details, including friends who worked in the buildings, brought into sharp focus the impact of emotion the story still evokes years later when being read again.

From the story: “Later the McDonalds manager said he had been walking south last night and there were body parts throughout the rubble. I thought of anthropologists who sift so carefully through dirt to keep delicate fossils intact and realized that body parts would need to be tested and treated with similar care so that the victims could be identified…”

In 2002 Boone took note of the many cities around the country that were passing measures opposed to the USA Patriot Act, which weakens several provisions of the Bill of Rights. Boone then founded a Bill of Rights Defense Committee, and used The Reader to organize community support for local government ordinances. Boone put together a community forum at the College of Saint Scholastica. The panel included Boone, public defender Fred Freidman, a librarian and others. Of course the event was ignored by the Duluth News Tribune, but the television stations all covered it and soon city councilor Don Ness introduced a measure that passed through the Duluth City Council. Douglas County soon followed with it’s own anti-Patriot Act resolution.

Pissing People Off: #7 thru #7,692.  
Paul Ryan

Since humor columnist Paul Ryan began appearing in The Reader in the summer of 2002 he has acquired thousands of rapid fans and countless, nay endless detractors. He has gotten our paper kicked out of dozens distribution locations.  We will let Paul Whyte wax eloquently on Paul Ryan...
It’s around once a month when we get a call concerning Paul Ryan. It’s usually an older individual and the conversation always plays out the same. “Hello? Yes, I’d like to make a complaint about one of your writers,” says the caller. We already know what is next, they aren’t calling about Ralph LaPlant’s column on the woodpecker… They want to complain about Paul Ryan. Ryan and Whyte have a little in common; they both attended UW-Superior, both write for The Reader and they both make their living on their wit and good looks. Do you make your living on your wit and good looks? No? Go ahead then, be jealous.

Back to this conversation. “What seems to be the problem sir?” we say. “Well, you have this columnist Paul Ryan, and it’s utter filth and garbage. How can you publish this?” they say. “He’s a humor columnist, he has a college degree and he writes for us.” we reply. This is the funny part. Invariably they reply, “you think that’s funny?” In the back of my head I’m thinking, “hell yeah we do.” instead:  “Well, about half our readers seem to enjoy him, and about half feel the way you do.” We usually end up telling the malcontent that if they don’t like him to either not read Paul Ryan or simply tear that page out. Often, they threaten to never read The Reader again, which makes a lot of sense.

Our favorite Paul Ryan letter: “Dear Editor

My name is Louie and I find Paul Ryan’s articles offensive, psychotic and bordering on the insane, perhaps even soaked pure evil. Just thought you should know.
As you can see in the attached picture, I am somewhat paper trained and I am not the best shot, but I’ll keep trying.....keep up the mindless banter from Paul Ryan and we’ll keep adding the “icing” on his “cakes.” (No, I don’t actually read his articles as I don’t read so well...the cats at the pound keep me informed....they get your Reader pages for their pee pee pads too, lucky gals! And they have much better aim!)

Respectfully submitted,
Louie Louie
Leader of the Purebred Maltese in Duluth, MN
PS. Woof Woof, bow wow, grrrrrrrrrr, yip !”

Top  Stories: Wellstone crash. 
By Jim Fetzer. Various issues ]\2002-2003.

Following Senator Paul Wellstone’s crash outside of Eveleth on October 25th, 2002, now retired UMD Professor penned a series of stories in The Reader regarding the incident. Fetzer, at the time a regular Reader contributor, is a nationally renowned expert and author of two books on the Kennedy assassination. Fetzer’s speculation was that Wellstone’s death was not an accident, but rather the result of a Republican plot. His views were controversial; and not all of his points were tenable. That being said, he raised at least two excellent questions that have never been answered. How could the Minneapolis FBI arrive at the crash site less than an hour after the crash unless they left Minneapolis BEFORE the crash? AND authorities searched for the black box of Wellstone’s plane for some three days and then announced that the plane had not been carrying a black box. However, the FAA had interviewed the plane’s owner the day after the crash. Given that the owner would obviously have indicated that there was or wasn’t a black box at that time, under what circumstances do authorities keep searching for a black box for two more days, and then announce there was no such thing?

Pissing People Off #8: The $5 Million Dollar Lawsuit

Following Fetzer’s story about the Wellstone crash, Thomas Bieter took umbrage. Bieter believed that the stories impugned the reputations of good Republicans everywhere. As Bieter is a retired St Louis County prosecuting attorney, he did what comes naturally to lawyers: he sued everyone he could think of. He sued The Reader, Boone, editor Richard Thomas, our volunteer web master, Fetzer and for good measure UMD and the University of Minnesota. (for daring to employ Fetzer)

Apparently, dreaming of a five million dollar payday allows one to forget about the First Amendment. Surprisingly, the suit actually ended up in court.
The U of M defended itself, UMD and Fetzer. Although not defending The Reader and staff, the U graciously allowed The Reader to shirttail off their efforts. The suit was dismissed with prejudice (which means the suit cannot be attempted again) after two hearings. Champagne all around! That might have been the end of it until Bieter realized that he had not succeeded in serving Boone personally in the previous suit. That technically meant that Boone was not a party to the suit which had been dismissed.  Therefore Bieter was still technically free to sue Boone personally. Bieter began a new lawsuit but quickly abandoned the effort after he saw how tough Boone looked without a shirt on.

Top Stories:  Secret Service Mug Shots
by Robert Boone  July 15, 2004

When George W. Bush, duly appointed President by the Supreme Court, came to Duluth during the 2004 election, the Secret Service posted mug shots of three men at all entry points to the DECC. When Reader publisher Robert Boone and his photographer Wendy Sjoblom spotted the mug shots and recognized local activists; Boone returned to the checkpoint to investigate. The Secret Service would not discuss the mug shots when questioned; and confronted Boone when he snapped a picture of the mugshots. The SS threatened expulsion and seizure of the camera, but did neither. They apparently did not realize what the focus of the picture was.

One of the faces was a man of Middle Eastern descent and the others were well respected Duluth activists Joel Sipress and Joel Kilgour. Sipress, a Princeton graduate, was then an associate professor of history at UWS. Today, Sippress is a Duluth City Councilor. Kilgour served with the Loaves & Fishes Catholic Worker Community.

When The Reader published our story, we blurred out the face of the unidentified man. Naturally, because the story involved The Reader, it wasn’t news in the News Tribune. The Star Tribune, however, followed us into the story; and then Salon.com writer Justin Rood spotted the incident in the Star Tribune. Rood interviewed Boone, Sippress and Kilgour. Boone’s confrontation was mentioned as early evidence of the SS’s new role as Republican flunkey in the Salon.com story of August 6. The New York Times then spotted the story on Salon and referred to the incident in an August 12th story by Dahlia Lithwick titled “Tyranny in the Name of Freedom” whereby “the use of the Secret Service to silence activists is an abuse of executive power.”

Duluth City Councillor Russ Stewart introduced a resolution expressing the Council’s “deep concern” about the incident. Stewart believed that the resolution should be passed to prevent the government from exercising any further abuses. The measure passed on a vote 6-3.
Eventually the Ripsaw’s challenge faded, and The Reader began expanding its content, page count and territory. The Reader now covers about a 90 mile radius around Duluth.

Junior Top Story: Bad cop
Around about this time (it is near deadline and we are too tired to dig out the particulars) it came to our attention that there were two police officers in Superior who had the bad habit of vandalizing cars. The Superior Police Department knew about the problem, but had covered it up rather than face public humiliation.  We helped them out by detailing the incidents and naming the officers, forcing Superior to suspend the officers.

Top stories: The Battle of Matthew Shepard
By Dennis Kempton January 2005

In 2004, the national news magazine, 20/20, reported on the Matthew Shepard incident with what it called “new revelations” about the murder of the gay Wyoming college student in 1998. Shepard was beaten unconscious by two men, Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson. Both were convicted of felony murder. At the time, the two of them alleged that Shepard came on to them at a local bar. Shepard was discovered bound to a fence and he died soon after.

Six years later, the killers had petitioned for clemency, saying that the murder was not motivated by Matthew Shepard’s sexual orientation, but a product of drug-induced mania. Their sole motive was to take Shepard’s money and buy more drugs.
Dennis and Judy Shepard granted an interview to The Reader about their take on the story. Reader columnist Dennis Kempton interviewed the parents on two occasions, and the detectives directly involved in the investigation of Shepard’s murder. The Shepards’ and the detectives discredited the assertions of both Henderson and McKinney that the crime was not motivated by Shepard’s sexual orientaion.

McKinney and Henderson stated that their motive was robbery and they noticed the “well-dressed” Matthew Shepard at a local bar and figured him for an easy mark. Both men were sentenced to life terms for the beating that led to Shepard’s death.

Top Stories: The fatal David Croud incident.
by Robert Boone October 20, 2005

David M. Croud died on the afternoon of October 18th, six days after losing consciousness during his detention by the Duluth Police. In our story we relayed an eyewitness account of the arrest of Croud outside of Fon Du Luth Casino where police claimed he was harassing people.
According to Mike Mancini, owner of Downtown Computer, Croud was pinned, face first, up against the sandstone wall of the building with a bloodied face. Officers then flung Croud to the sidewalk and pushed their knees into his back. When they pulled him up, a puddle of blood was left on the sidewalk. Once Croud was cuffed and in the squad car, another officer used a taser on Croud. The officers stated to witnesses that Croud was “causing trouble” at the casino, and initially denied using the taser. Eventually they admitted attempting it, but claimed the device malfunctioned.

Mancini told The Reader that while he had witnessed a number of arrests downtown he had not seen one as aggressive as the arrest of Croud. He dialed 911 and reported the incident.
What followed were big questions. Did the police act inappropriately? Did they even arrest the wrong man? The casino chief of security denied there had been an incident there, although Croud had a history of police contact, mostly for alcohol related nuisances.
The MN Bureau of Criminal Apprehension stepped into the matter and took surveillance tapes from cameras installed around the casino.  The Native American community voiced outrage over the incident and Mayor Herb Bergson’s unequivocal support for the officers involved. The Reader was the lone media voice exploring the issue, which drew the attention of the ACLU. Eventually it was revealed that the officers had ordered that Croud remain cuffed, face down at the hospital; which St. Mary’s staff should not have allowed. The ACLU achieved significant settlements from both St Mary’s Hospital and the city of Duluth on Croud’s behalf.

Top stories: Undercover at WalMart
By Dennis Kempton  May/June 2006

What happens when you put an urbane, privileged, highly educated, and sometimes aloof (by reputation only, of course) homosexual writer in a blue smock and make him stock shelves at the world’s largest retailer, Wal-Mart?
After reading journalist Barbara Ehrenreich’s best-selling book on the working poor, “Nickel and Dimed: On NOT Getting by in America,” Kempton went to work for Wal-Mart, just as Ehreriech had during one of her low-wage job stints, to find out what life is like in the world of low-pay retail work. Not surprisingly, he didn’t like it. Not surprisingly, there were details of employee exploitation. One of Kempton’s co-workers had worked at Wal-Mart for twenty years yet could not afford Wal-Mart’s health care “benefit.” When his hours were cut to reduce him to part-time employment, he had to put his kids on public health assistance.

Kempton’s three-part series gained attention at the higher echelons of the Wal-Mart machine. Both the district and regional managers requested copies of the story. Management at the Wal-Mart attempted to keep The Reader out the break room.
In early 2006, longtime staff editor and layout person, Richard Thomas, left for an opportunity with Business North. He had been with The Reader for seven years and had worked tirelessly to make it an outstanding newspaper for the area. Business North offered more money and less hours, both of which Thomas deserved.

Pissing People Off: #9 Music Feud:

Music writer Andrew Olson has been in the crosshairs of local musicians for quite some time. In 2006 Olson wrote a few articles that rubbed people the wrong way. He suggested musicians should be giving their CDs away for free, and that if their shows lacked suitable attendance, to start letting people in without a cover charge. He compared the State Champs to a metal version of the Cranberries. In an April Fool’s issue Andrew wrote about a band called the “Fartwell Tour” who just released their fourth CD “He Who Smelt It Dealt It.” The backlash was impressive.

A Myspace page was posted titled, “I Hate Andrew Olson.” It was eventually removed but Olson states, “The sad thing was it had more friends then my own Myspace page did.” Olson once spotted a guitar case bumper sticker that read, “Andrew Olson is a good righter.” Mainstream music has caught up with some of Olson’s ideas, and he still contends that is dumb to charge a cover when the club is empty.

more Reader history continues next week...

Credits