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Warroad Pioneer puts out its final edition

WARROAD, Minn. -- The Warroad Pioneer may have printed its last issue, but the paper is making headlines on its way out.

Publisher Rebecca Colden said she couldn’t imagine a more bittersweet end for the 121-year-old paper than a visit from national and international media outlets. The New York Times and a documentary crew from Tokyo spent time in the newsroom during its final days to share the story of Warroad and emphasize a trend echoed across the country as small-town papers shutter.

“The Warroad Pioneer is 121 years old, and for it to be front and center in national news for its final issue … that was such an honor to the paper and to the community,” Colden said.

Warroad has just under 1,800 residents and is roughly 90 miles northeast of Thief River Falls.

About two weeks ago, Colden announced the paper would close unless a buyer could be found. Interest in the publication spiked after a Forum News Service article drew attention to the situation, but Colden said the buzz wasn’t enough to secure a sustainable plan for the paper’s future in the narrowing time frame.

In the end, the paper was a small business that wasn’t making money anymore, Colden said.

The paper has been struggling financially for years, although Colden said the situation became more dire in 2015, and the paper began to push the importance of local news with a blank cover reading “Without you there is no newspaper!”

Colden took out a small-business loan last year in hopes of keeping the paper afloat. She said Warroad is “a city in transition” and on the verge of growth, which encouraged her to keep publishing the paper despite the downturn in profits.

But on Tuesday, the paper’s final edition read: “How lucky to have known something so hard to say goodbye to.”

Readers across the country have reached out to Colden to express disappointment at losing their local connection to Warroad.

Colden said she doesn’t know what’s next. She plans to spend the next few weeks packing up the newsroom and dropping off archives at the Heritage Center, but then the storefront will sit empty.

The Pioneer was Warroad’s only remaining newspaper after two others closed within the past two decades.

The Pioneer’s 1,100 subscribers will be left with a sort of news desert, although Colden said she hopes surrounding community media will help fill the coverage gap.

“We’Il all miss it a lot, and I think the town will realize what local news means when it’s gone,” Colden said. “I think it’s just like everything else -- we don’t appreciate all the things that we have until they’re gone and then we see their value.”