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How one family has kept its small town newspaper going for more than 70 years

After decades at the helm of the Minden City Herald in Sanilac County, Paul Engel is passing control of the small town newspaper to his grandson Nathan Marks and his wife Amber. The publication has been in operation since 1889 and serves the communities of Minden City, Ubly, Harbor Beach, and Deckerville in Michigan’s Thumb.

Engel inherited the Minden City Herald from his own father, Bill Engel, who bought the paper in 1946. Before passing it on to Marks, Engel says he warned his grandson that taking on the paper would mean a huge lifestyle change.

“You no longer basically get a weekly paycheck, you know. You're gonna be the face of the area, so you're going to be going a lot of places,” Engel said. “My kids used to complain to me that I would go to the school and always take the camera with me. Well, he's gonna be doing that stuff now. But it's very rewarding.”

A black and white photo of Bill Engel in front of a building that says minden city herald
Credit Courtesy of Nathan Marks
Bill Engel in front of the Herald building in the 1940s. He bought the Minden City Herald after working for several other local papers in the state.

As a child, Marks would help out with the family business when he was visiting his grandparents. They even let him type up obituaries for the paper. Marks’ formal training is in social work, though, not journalism. But he says he’s always been interested in family history, and was excited to be a part of the legacy his grandfather and great grandfather spent decades building.  Preserving his family’s business wasn’t Marks and his wife's only reason for buying the paper. 

"We immediately acknowledged the importance of a newspaper to a small community like this, and we felt it would be really meaningful to be a part of something like that,” he said.

The Minden City Herald’s printing method has evolved from pressing two pages at a time to a full-blown digital operation. But in spite of some technological advancements, the publication has never had an online presence. While Marks says he does not intend to start posting virtual editions of the paper, he and his wife are setting up a Facebook and an Instagram for the paper. He is also working on uploading a digital archive of issues dating back to the 1890s that will be accessible to subscribers. 

"It's kind of nice actually, having a blank slate rather than having to take over a ton of different social media and online accounts from my grandparents,” Marks said. “We kinda just get to start from scratch, and in that regard, it's been pretty seamless."

Though the two come from entirely different media generations, both Engel and Marks say they believe local stories can strengthen small communities. Engel has seen how losing a local newspaper can be a devastating blow to a small town’s sense of community. 

“There's probably three newspapers in the area here, weekly newspapers that were bought up by a larger company. And after a short period of time, they just closed them up, just wrapped them all up into one newspaper, and you know the communities all lose their identity,” Engel said. “To me it's not a good thing, that's for sure."

Marks doesn’t want to see that happen to the communities the Minden City Herald covers. He says his goal is to build on the groundwork his grandfather has left him, which means keeping coverage as local as possible. 

"We wanna keep this paper for the community. We're not gonna delve into national news, there'll even be limited statewide news,” Marks explained. “If we're gonna write material for the paper it's gonna be about this region. It's gonna be about things that matter here."

This post was written by Stateside production assistant Lia Baldori.

Stateside is produced daily by a dedicated group of producers and production assistants. Listen daily, on-air, at 3 and 8 p.m., or subscribe to the daily podcast wherever you like to listen.
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