South Dakota Top Blogs

News, notes, and observations from the James River Valley in northern South Dakota with special attention to reviewing the performance of the media--old and new. E-Mail to

Thursday, March 23, 2023

What can people in Aberdeen do to get some news?

 The most noticeable symptom that something was wrong was that the newspaper featured a front page photo of Governor Ditz (aka Noem) almost everyday.  That seemed  to be a distraction for the fact that the paper contained no local reporting whatever.

The Aberdeen American News has been wheezing along on life support for a couple of years now.  About all that's left to do is close the lid on the casket and bury the remains somewhere.

It announced its ill health in the spring of 2020 when it shut down its press and printed the paper in Sioux Falls, where it said it would be adding production staff, and moved ts editorial operation out of its building on Second St.  into office space on Main Street.  Twenty-one employees got booted in the old wazoo with that move.

Then in November 2021, the Gannett folks, who own the paper, announced that it was closing down the press in Sioux Falls and printing the paper in Des Moines, Iowa.  It said that the rinktums* of 24 people were the boot targets in that move.

There seems to be no one in Aberdeen working on the paper, but someone in Des Moines or environs is filling the news hole with canned copy and getting Kristi Ditz's petulant pucker on the front page every day to signal who is in charge of life in the great state of South Dakota, land of the Oahe stock dam.

When I came to teach at Northern State College, I was faculty advisor to the student publications.  I found that Aberdeen was monitored by a substantial news crew.  It had the Aberdeen American News, reporters and video photographers working out of two television stations, KABY and KELO, and news departments in three radio stations.  And once a week or so, an Associated Press correspondent dropped by to see what was going on in town. Those sources have all vanished.

But there are news people, mostly from the defunct newspaper, trying to keep up some semblance of community journalism.  A local communications entrepreneur, Troy McQuillen, who publishes Aberdeen Magazine, has started an online news publication,  The Aberdeen Insider, which has announced plans to publish a weekly print version in April.  Former Aberdeen American News employees Elisa Sand and Scott Waltman are heading up the news reporting operation.  The Insider openly states that it operates behind a pay wall because bills need to be paid.

The Insider does not plan comprehensive coverage of sports, but directs attention to the online SD Sports Scene run by another former Aberdeen American News staffer Dave Vilhauer.  It contains some great photojournalism by retired American  News photographer John Davis.

All one can do, at the least, is patronize and support these efforts to keep local reporting flowing.  These folks are all we have right now to keep some version of the fourth estate alive for Aberdeen.  There are blogs which make some effort at tracking news, but they are sporadic and often a bit notional about what comprises useful news.  There are other online enterprises that cover news on the state level, such as South Dakota News Watch, South Dakota Search Lightand The South Dakota Standard. However, the Aberdeen American News is a prime example of what happens when hedge funds take over the news business.  We owe a debt of gratitude to those who survived this destruction of journalism and are at work to keep us informed.

*Rinktum: as in "rectum." "I'll skin your rinktum" (William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury, p. 70).

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Fired NSU president appointed president of Minnesota State U. Moorhead

Here is the news release from Moorhead: 

Timothy Downs Named President of Minnesota State University Moorhead

The Board of Trustees of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities has named Timothy Downs to serve as president of Minnesota State University Moorhead. His appointment becomes effective July 1, 2023.

“Dr. Downs brings considerable expertise and keen insights into the changing nature of higher education,” said Devinder Malhotra, chancellor of Minnesota State. “He is a great communicator and a person who is strongly committed to being an ardent supporter of students and the innate missions of a regional comprehensive university anchored in liberal arts and sciences. Without a doubt, he is the right leader at this point in the university’s history.”

Downs is a leader known for facilitating transformational change and positioning campuses to meet current and future demands and needs. In past roles he has dedicated himself to student success and sustaining a campus culture that facilitates a spirit of belonging. Bringing enrollment management skills and strong financial acumen, he is an accomplished fundraiser who has successfully cultivated a shared vision with stakeholders and investors.

He currently serves Cal Poly Humboldt as interim chief of staff where he is responsible for coordinating efforts among all divisions within the university.

Previously, from 2016 to 2021, he served as president/CEO of Northern State University (NSU), a member of the South Dakota Board of Regents System with enrollment of 3,500 students and 330 employees. 

Under his leadership, NSU revised its campus strategic plan, including a refinement of its mission and vision, and revised its recruitment and enrollment plan to stabilize undergraduate enrollments, increase graduate enrollments, and increase student retention.

He worked to sustain respectful and supportive learning communities to serve all members of campus with respect and dignity.

He designed and led a capital campaign that raised over $62 million, raised additional endowed scholarship funds totaling $5 million, and, in total, received over $110 million in gifts to the university during his five-year tenure at NSU.

He facilitated efforts that yielded 20 new academic programs and partnerships, including a graduate program expected to become a national benchmark in special education.

His efforts have helped to confirm NSU as a regional economic and workforce development partner and build exceptional relationships with the community.

Previous engagements include serving as provost and chief academic officer at Niagara University (NY) from 2011 to 2016, and Gannon University (PA) from 2002 to 2011.

He holds a bachelor’s degree from California State University, Sacramento, a master’s from West Virginia University, and a doctorate from the University of Oklahoma.

Dr. Downs will succeed Anne Blackhurst who has served MSUM as president since 2014 and has announced her intention to retire.

Saturday, March 18, 2023

A deathwatch for a community

If you notice that the community you live in is unraveling, it can be dangerous to mention it.  Communities seldom actually die, but they do fail.  Community leaders tend to take explosive umbrage if someone notes that their community is showing signs of failure.  They will rail that the person stating such notice is a negative a--hole, and they will launch into an inventory of all that is alive and thriving in the community and why that negative person is mentally deficient for claiming otherwise.  I live, rather I dwell, in a community that is diminishing in aspects of community life.  Rather than face the facts regarding the faltering community, many who regard themselves as leaders go into a raging denial.

The latest crisis for Aberdeen, South Dakota, is the announcement of the closing of Presentation College at the end of summer.  The closing of an educational institution is a significant loss to a community, a  reduction of its status in the world.  The closing of Presentation College has implications that have not been fully confronted in terms of the resources it once provided or the options it offered. Finances and enrollment are the usual reasons a college has for closing.  However, the place that an educational institution has in the lives of its staff, of its students, its sponsors, and the community is part of their development, their identities, their very lives.

Small colleges such as Presentation which do not operate with a substantial endowment have a formidable disadvantage.   The annual tuition and expenses at Presentation is cited as $22,006.  Across town at the public Northern State University, it is advertised at $8,845.  Northern has the further advantage of more than 50 academic programs, a full range of extra-curricular activities, and supplies financial aid to more than 80 percent of its students.  It also has a much longer history of being part of the Aberdeen community.  Northern was founded in 1901, and Presentation 50 years later in 1951.  However, that indicates a half a century's tenure as part of the community for Presentation, and raises questions about the decision to end that relationship.

The questions raised are not about the college's assessments of its financial and enrollment outlook, but how those assessments reflect on the community's ability to support and sustain an institution that has contributed much to its intellectual, educational, and public services environment.  The loss of Presentation College is a severe setback.  It significantly diminishes the community.   And it comes at a time when Northern State shows faltering in enrollment numbers.  In terms of full-time equivalent enrollments, Northern has the lowest of the state's public colleges.  The reasons given for the closing of Presentation are "a high dependency on gifts and tuition revenue, a remote location that’s hard for out-of-state students to reach, and the pandemic."  As a public institution, Northern is part of the state's regental system and has the resources of the system to help out when enrollments decline and tuition income drops.  But it is also affected by potential declines in enrollment and a remote location that affected Presentation.  So, college officials at Northern and the state have to be alert to any circumstances that might disrupt its operation in ways experienced at Presentation.  Northern had a sudden dismissal of its president in 2021 that was never explained to the community, nor addressed by the faculty.  That dismissal makes many of its constituency wonder if the institution has lapsed into the status that once earned a censure by the American Association of University Professors.  The closing of Presentation alarms community members who know and understand the crucial tasks of keeping higher education functioning and reputable as it might affect Northern.

Aberdeen has experienced many severe reductions in employment by companies throughout the years.  In the mid-1980s, it lost 750 jobs when Control Data closed a plant and more recently hundreds of jobs when Molded Fiber Glass shut down its operations.  Aberdeen has an extensive history of employers abandoning the town. 

It has also lost its status of being a regional shopping center with the closure of such retail operations as Shopko, Kmart, and Herberger's.

The closing of a college is a different dimension in which a community can falter.  Residents are right to wonder what will be next.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States