Post-Roe, North Dakota puts resources into alternatives to abortion

North Dakota this year adopted one of the strictest abortion bans in the country, with narrow exceptions for rape and incest victims in the first six weeks of pregnancy and to save the life of the mother.

Although abortions-rights advocates haven’t given up the fight, abortion opponents are moving ahead with the restrictions and placing a heavier emphasis on supporting new mothers through legislation and services, such as maternity homes for pregnant women and teens.

Post-Roe, North Dakota puts resources into alternatives to abortion
Molly Richards, 17, hugs her son, Bernard. Richards lives at the Saint Gianna & Pietro Molla Maternity Home, which provides services to pregnant people. (Photo courtesy of Molly Richards)

One of those teens is Molly Richards, who was just 13 years old when she learned she was pregnant.

She remembers feeling both “excited and oblivious” when she got the results at a clinic on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, where she grew up. The community is home to the Oglala Sioux Tribe, of which Richards, now 17, is a citizen.

“It was a very happy time for me,” she recalled.

Then the reality of carrying and raising a child began to sink in. But Richards didn’t view abortion as an option.

“Abortion was not on my mind. That was a big no-no for me.”

Seeking resources, Richards and her family connected with Mary Pat Jahner, director of Saint Gianna & Pietro Molla Maternity Home in the small, unincorporated community of Warsaw.

The picturesque brick home – four stories tall and trimmed with ornate gold crosses – is an institution within the North Dakota anti-abortion movement.

Originally a convent for nuns and a boarding school, the home now serves young pregnant women – most from nearby Native American reservations. In addition to food and shelter, the facility provides counseling services, help completing high school, clothing, job training and parenting classes to mothers.

The facility houses two to four residents at a time. Richards was four months into her pregnancy when she arrived at the home.

“Our main purpose is just to provide a choice for moms who …might need a place to stay or might need a family,” Jahner said. “Most of the moms don’t have a safe place to be, they might be living couch to couch. They’re not living on the street per se, but they might not have their own place to call home.”

Saint Gianna & Pietro Molla Maternity Home, seen here on July 6, 2023, is an institution within the North Dakota anti-abortion movement. Located in Warsaw, the facility was originally a convent for nuns and a boarding school. It now serves young pregnant women. (Trilce Estrada Olvera, News21)

With abortions essentially unavailable in the state, where religion is deeply ingrained and diverse, efforts to support mothers and their children have taken on new prominence.

After the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022 and returned abortion decisions to the states, researchers predicted the number of births would increase, as would the need to support pregnant people, young mothers and their children.

An analysis by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health estimates that nearly 9,800 additional live births occurred in Texas from April 2022 through December 2022 after a six-week abortion ban took effect in that state in fall 2021.

The federal Congressional Budget Office has said it anticipates an increase in births because of the end of Roe but that contraceptive use and other abortion methods, such as medication abortion, will largely offset that increase.

Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, a psychology professor at Temple University and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, doesn’t think the United States is prepared for an influx of births – and that policies nationwide aren’t doing enough.

“We are right now not a family friendly country. We may be pro-life, but we’re not pro-family. And if you’re going to make decisions that put more babies into the market, we need to support those babies,” she said. “I don’t care if you’re pro-Roe or anti-Roe, support children. They’re your future.”

Supporting pregnant people through legislation

State Sen. Sean Cleary, R-Bismarck, has been at the forefront of pushing for additional help for mothers and babies amid North Dakota’s abortion ban.

Sen. Sean Cleary, R-Bismarck, talks in the North Dakota Capitol in Bismarck on July 10, 2023. He pushed for legislation supporting mothers and children. “This topic was definitely top of mind for a lot of folks with the Dobbs decision.” But, he said, “These are all ideas that I would have supported either way.” (Morgan Fischer, News21)
North Dakota this year adopted one of the strictest abortion bans in the country, with narrow exceptions for rape and incest victims in the first six weeks of pregnancy and to save the life of the mother. (Morgan Fischer, News21)

“There was an understanding that women are navigating a very difficult time in their lives, that the state could be doing more to support them and empower them,” Cleary said. “We wanted to be a state that was known for supporting families and supporting mothers.”

Gov. Doug Burgum, a Republican, signed bills this year to eliminate taxes on diapers; expand Medicaid and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families benefits for pregnant individuals; and provide additional funding to the state’s “alternatives-to-abortion” program, which gives funds to child-placement agencies, anti-abortion counseling centers and maternity homes – including Gianna & Pietro.

Cleary co-sponsored the diaper tax and Medicaid bills, as well as failed efforts to create a paid family leave program, a tax credit for child care expenses and a program to increase pay for child care workers.

The 31-year-old said being a father helped him see the need for this type of legislation. He has a toddler and another child on the way.

“Families can’t afford to send their kids to child care, and the workers can’t afford to work there,” he said.

Abortion-rights activists doubt the effectiveness of the few measures that made it through the Legislature.

“None of them are actually adequate to address fully supporting a pregnant person bringing a child into the world and raising a child to adulthood,” said Cody Schuler, advocacy manager for the American Civil Liberties Union of North Dakota.

“If you’re going to have a near-total ban on abortion and you’re going to force people to carry pregnancy to term, you have to do more than give a tax break for diapers.”

Katie Christensen, North Dakota state director for Planned Parenthood, emphasized the problematic funding of the alternatives-to-abortion program.

Katie Christensen is the North Dakota state director of external affairs for Planned Parenthood North Central States. Though Planned Parenthood does not provide abortions in North Dakota, it is part of an abortion-rights coalition in the state. (Trilce Estrada Olvera, News21)

Christensen has criticized the program for providing $1 million in state funds to mostly religious ministries with little to no government oversight. State funding for so-called “crisis pregnancy centers,” which aim to dissuade people from getting abortions, is especially concerning to abortion-rights advocates.

There are at least seven such centers in the state, according to the Crisis Pregnancy Center Map, which provides nationwide tracking of these facilities and is maintained by University of Georgia professors.

“We’re putting thousands of public dollars into programming that aims to seek out people who want abortions and try to persuade them away from that,” Christensen said. “They’re still allowed to promote their religion while using these dollars.”

Despite this criticism, Sen. Tim Mathern, D-Fargo, one of only four Democrats in the 47-member state Senate, co-sponsored the alternatives-to-abortion funding bill, claiming that it “sort of became a litmus test between pro-choice and pro-life people.”

Although he supports abortion access, Mathern backed the bill in an attempt to change the tide of Democrats in North Dakota being seen as “the anti-religion and anti-God people and the people who kill babies.”

However, if concerns over these “crisis pregnancy centers” are legitimate, Mathern said, their practices should be evaluated and “the state’s attorney should be investigating.”

‘Small government’ approach to helping mothers

North Dakota’s Legislature meets for 80 days during odd-numbered years only. Legislators, who don’t have staff, work at their desks on the floor of the Senate or House. This model can mean less government funding for programs, something Republican state Sen. Janne Myrdal supports.

Myrdal represents far northeastern North Dakota, where the Gianna & Pietro home is located. She sponsored the state’s strict new abortion ban and co-sponsored the bill that beefed up funding to the state’s alternatives-to-abortion program. She warns that such funding comes with some strings attached.

“If you ask for that much support, then the government’s going to come on top of it and go, ‘We’re going to regulate you,’” Myrdal said. “You can’t pray for people, you can’t hug people, you can’t share Jesus with people who come in, because the government can’t do that.”

Gianna & Pietro, which is a nonprofit organization, receives the majority of its funding – about $500,000 to $600,000 each year – from individual donors, but it also has received funds from the state’s alternatives-to-abortion program.

In this year’s bill, about $100,000 was earmarked for the home; Jahner said the money will go toward updating vehicles and other needs.

In the nearly two decades of the home’s operation, more than 300 people have lived there, and over 100 children have been born as part of the program.

During a recent visit, three women who were either pregnant or young mothers, including Richards, lived at the home. Staff members stay on site, too, to provide support and help.

Jahner, her daughter, whom she adopted from a former resident, and several other children of former residents live on the property, as well, in a two-story home behind Gianna & Pietro.

Molly Richards, 17, feeds Brooklyn, another resident’s baby, on July 5, 2023, at Saint Gianna & Pietro Molla Maternity Home in Warsaw, North Dakota. Richards and other mothers living at the home help care for the children. Richards is in the process of having her own son, Bernard, adopted by a family in southern Minnesota because, “I wanted something more and better for my son,” she said. (Morgan Fischer, News21)

Richards’ initial stay in 2019 only lasted a month. Feeling homesick, she returned to South Dakota to give birth. But after struggling to parent on her own and dropping out of school, Richards returned to Gianna & Pietro over a year and a half ago, with her son, Bernard, in tow.

Richards is now in the process of having her son adopted by a family in southern Minnesota, because, she said, “I wanted something more and better for my son.”

There is a clear religious aspect to Gianna & Pietro. Residents must attend Sunday Mass, take part in nightly prayer and participate in grace before meals. A stained glass chapel is located on the first floor of the home, and delicate religious paintings are scattered throughout. Across the street sits a steepled red brick church where residents may also attend Mass.

The Rev. Joseph Christensen holds Mass inside the Gianna & Pietro maternity home’s chapel on July 6, 2023, in Warsaw, North Dakota. Christensen holds Mass every day for the mothers and staff. (Trilce Estrada Olvera, News21)

Although residents are not required to be Catholic or religious to live at the home, a question about religious preference is included on the admission application form and participation in religious activities is required.

“I didn’t become religious until I actually came here, so my family isn’t religious,” Richards said. “I was baptized (Catholic) a year and a half ago.”

Schuler, of the ACLU, and other abortion-rights advocates worry such religious requirements could lead to “coercing individuals into religion” with the help of government funding.

“When it comes to a maternity home, it’s being operated as a religious ministry. I don’t think state dollars should be paying for that,” Schuler said. “But at the same time, I know that there are individuals who are religious who might be looking for what that center might provide.”

Expansion of reproductive care in Minnesota

With limited capacity in homes like Gianna & Pietro, abortion care across the Red River in neighboring Minnesota remains essential, abortion-rights advocates say.

“The amount of pregnant people who are having their abortions today across the river would fill up those homes fivefold today – unless they’re going to open up huge apartment complexes to house all of these pregnant people,” said Destini Spaeth, board chair of the North Dakota Women in Need Abortion Access Fund.

Abortion is legal in Minnesota up to fetal viability, which is 24 to 26 weeks, and exceptions are granted to save the life or protect the health of the mother. Surrounded by states that have completely banned abortion or are in court fighting to prevent access, Minnesota has become a key state for abortion access in the Upper Midwest.

For nearly 25 years, Red River Women’s Clinic operated in Fargo and was the only abortion clinic in the state for two decades. Every Wednesday, when the clinic was open, protesters gathered with graphic signs outside the front door.

Then last year, after word of the Supreme Court’s likely end to Roe was leaked, its operators began looking for a new location. Last August, they reopened less than 3 miles away – across the river in Moorhead, Minnesota.

Each Wednesday, the clinic provides 25 to 30 abortions up to the 16-week mark of pregnancy. After that time, patients are referred elsewhere for a multiday procedure that the independent clinic lacks capacity for.

Since the move, the clinic has seen its patient load increase 10% to 15%, said Tammi Kromenaker, the facility’s director. And with fewer overall restrictions on abortion care in Minnesota, Kromenaker said she believes access has actually increased for women in North Dakota.

But the fear her patients feel has also gone up, she said.

“Every week, mostly patients from North Dakota will say: ‘Is it even legal for me to come here? Will I get legally prosecuted for this health care?’

Kromenaker continues to fight for abortion rights back across the river in North Dakota. Her clinic is one of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit over the state’s near-total abortion ban.

“We didn’t want to give up on North Dakota. We didn’t want to leave,” she said. “But our hand was forced.”

News21 reporters Trilce Estrada Olvera and Cassidey Kavathas contributed to this story. 

This report is part of “America After Roe,” an examination of the impact of the reversal of Roe v. Wade on health care, culture, policy and people, produced by Carnegie-Knight News21. For more stories, visit

The post Post-Roe, North Dakota puts resources into alternatives to abortion appeared first on Buffalo’s Fire.

Potential for rural electric co-ops to tap millions for renewables

North Dakota News Cooperative

North Dakota renewing focus on sex trafficking

Inadequate supply, rising costs hit renters statewide

Canadian nuclear project could locate near North Dakota border

Native Hawaiians are overrepresented in prisons. Here’s how cultural education could help. 

Alisha Kaluhiokalani spent most of her first year at Hawaii’s only women’s prison alone in a 6-by-8 foot cell.

She fought, broke the rules, and lashed out at everyone around her. Because of that, she was frequently sent to “lock” – what everyone at the Women’s Community Correctional Center called solitary confinement.

On a rare afternoon in the prison yard Kaluhiokalani heard a mellow, hollow sound. “What was that?” she whispered to herself.

She looked across the yard and saw a prison staff member playing the ukulele.

“You play?” he asked.

She nodded, taking the instrument and starting to strum. She sang “I Kona,” a traditional Hawaiian song loved by her father.

“You want to continue to play that?” the man asked her.

“Yes,” she said.

“Stay out of lock.”

So she did.

It was the ukulele, a Hawaiian language class, and her encounter with the man in the yard more than 20 years ago that changed Kaluhiokalani’s educational trajectory.

‘Not Knowing Who You Are’

Native Hawaiians like Kaluhiokalani are disproportionately locked up in the Hawaii criminal justice system, making up only 20% of the general population but 40% of people in prison. Similar imbalances are true for Indigenous people across the country.

Among other states with significant overrepresentation of Indigenous people are Alaska, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming and Utah, according to a recent report by the nonprofit Prison Policy Initiative. Native women in particular have higher incarceration rates than the general population.

Native Hawaiians are more likely to struggle with addiction, drop out of school and go to prison. Many feel alienated from Western education systems, Kaluhiokalani said, and that their cultural identity has been suppressed in the wake of historical losses of land and language.

“They call that the ‘eha … the hurt, and not knowing who you are,” she said.

That was something she has struggled with personally. She has often felt like a screw up given the life she has lived, she said. There have been times in her life when she had a hard time seeing herself as anything other than an addict or a prisoner.

Kaluhiokalani became pregnant with her first child at 17. She finished her GED before the baby was born by taking classes at night. Her boyfriend, Jacob, enlisted in the National Guard, and over the next few years they had three more children. During that time, they both struggled with addiction and cycled in and out of jail. She went to prison for the first time on drug-related charges at the age of 23.

In prison, shortly after that first year in solitary, Kaluhiokalani enrolled in her first college class, Hawaiian 101.

“That was a tipping point,” she said.

Being able to learn her language taught her about her identity, helped her see that there was a place for her in higher education. After that, she started working in the prison’s education department and created informal Hawaiian culture classes for her peers.

“I full-force dedicated myself to my culture, to helping people,” Kaluhiokalani said.

All higher education in prison has been shown to reduce recidivism, but incorporating culture into college programs can empower incarcerated Native Hawaiians in different ways, said Ardis Eschenberg, chancellor of Windward Community College.

“Pushing back on the narratives of colonization and racism through Hawaiian studies,” she said, “fights the very systems that have led to our unjust incarceration outcomes and underscores the agency and value of our students in education, community and society.”

Left: Alisha Kaluhiokalani at the University of Hawaii Manoa graduation on May 13. Photo courtesy of Alisha Kaluhiokalani. Right: Alisha Kaluhiokalani has kept the text book – Ka Lei Ha’aheo: Beginning Hawaiian – from the first college course she took in prison 20 years ago.

A Lack of Programs

Despite the benefits, there are few college programs in the United States that specifically target Indigenous people in prison. Windward Community College’s Pu‘uhonua program is an exception. It’s the only higher education institution in Hawaii offering culturally focused classes in prison, and one of only two offering degree programs.

Last fall, the college started an associate’s degree in Hawaiian studies at Halawa Correctional Facility, a medium-security men’s prison. The college was selected for a federal program known as Second Chance Pell, which has provided federal financial aid to people in prison on a pilot basis since 2015.

Eschenberg said that their focus on cultural education for incarcerated Indigenous students is part of Windward’s mission as a Native Hawaiian-serving institution. Almost 43% of their students on campus are Native Hawaiian, the highest in the University of Hawaii system.

For Native Hawaiians, learning about their culture is “validating them in a society where so much of Hawaiian existence has been invalidated in history,” Eschenberg said. And cultural education, she adds, benefits everyone.

“There’s robust research that shows that even outside of Native Hawaiian studies, ethnic studies courses in general helped to build resilience and success for students.”

Windward has also offered a psycho-social developmental studies certificate with coursework in sociology, psychology, and social work at the women’s prison since 2016. They offer Hawaiian studies classes as electives, and focus on the Hawaiian context for the other coursework, Eschenberg said.

In addition, Windward faculty teach Hawaiian music-related coursework, such as ukulele and slack-key guitar, at the Hawaii Youth Correctional Facility. The students earn both high school and college credit.

The college’s prison education program has primarily been funded by a five-year U.S. Education Department grant for Native Hawaiian-serving institutions that runs out this year. The expansion of Pell Grant eligibility for people in prison in July will help sustain the Pu‘uhonua program going forward. Eschenberg said that Pell dollars will help pay for instructor salaries for courses taught inside, but there are still costs not covered by federal financial aid.

Eschenberg had hoped that the Hawaii Legislature would approve a bill appropriating state funding for staff positions, such as academic counselors and coordinators, to support the Pu`uhonua program because those positions aren’t covered by Pell Grants. The bill stalled in the Legislature in April. Eschenberg said she’s currently applying for two federal grants to secure the necessary funding to keep the program running.

Elsewhere, other college-in-prison programs also have started to provide more opportunities for people to focus on their own cultures. In California, San Francisco State University last year created an ethnic studies certificate in state juvenile facilities. Portland State University’s prison education program also recently received a national grant to offer humanities courses focused on identity, including Indigenous Nations Studies, at Oregon’s only women’s prison.

While more programs in the United States are offering ethnic studies classes, few of those courses focus on Native people. Full degrees like Windward’s Hawaiian studies program specifically focused on Indigenous language and culture are even rarer, said Mneesha Gellman, political scientist and director of the Emerson Prison Initiative, which offers a bachelor’s degree in Massachusetts. Gellman’s research focuses on Indigenous language access and education.

Much of the cultural learning that currently occurs in prisons is informal education offered through community groups, prison arts organizations, or classes organized by incarcerated people. Those are valuable, Gellman said, but more academic programs should incorporate culturally relevant curriculum into traditional degree pathways.

Having culturally relevant content makes higher education in general more relatable to Indigenous students, she added, so they are more likely to go after a degree in the first place. And that in turn helps them get the credentials they need to get jobs when they leave prison.

A Wake-Up Call

While Kaluhiokalani’s path through education has had plenty of detours, a connection to her culture has resonated throughout. When she thinks about her elementary school years, she remembers the kupuna – Native Hawaiian elders – who would visit her school to share their cultural knowledge.

“Everything that I learned, I held on to …I loved to sing, play the ukulele, and dance hula.”

Kaluhiokalani grew up in Honolulu less than a mile from Waikiki beach, where she learned to surf.

She associates Waikiki with her father, Montgomery “Buttons” Kaluhiokalani, who was one of the top young surfers in the United States in the 1970s. As a young teenager, she would hang out with him at the beach and smoke pot. Buttons, too, struggled with addiction throughout his life.

“I was a surfer, party animal, like my dad,” she said.

Kaluhiokalani was in and out of prison for most of her 20s and early 30s. Her father’s death in 2013 was a wake-up call, she said, for her to do things differently when she got out.

The associate in arts degree in Hawaiian Studies that Alisha Kaluhiokalani earned from Windward Community College.

In 2017, Kaluhiokalani was released for the last time. A few years later, she ran into a woman she had been incarcerated with who encouraged her to enroll in college. She immediately signed up at Windward when she found out there was free tuition for Native Hawaiians and she could pursue an associate’s degree in Hawaiian studies. She wanted to use what she learned in her classes to use Native Hawaiian practices to help others in the criminal justice system.

The Hawaiian language class, and the ukulele in the prison yard, started Kaluhiokalani on a 20-year journey. She earned an associate’s degree last year from Windward and then, this month, she crossed the stage to receive her bachelor’s degree in social work from the University of Hawaii Manoa.

This story was co-published by Honolulu Civil Beat.

‘There There’: NBC Universal owns rights to Tommy Orange’s award-winning novel

Tommy Orange, a renowned debut literary author, recently participated in Q&A at the Belle Mehus Auditorium in Bismarck, where he addressed urban Native identity, young adult readers, a new book in the works, and plans to bring his novel “There There” to TV.

The age of the Internet, mixed-race identities, and intensified racism have changed the landscape for everyone today, said Orange. “People are thinking about things in ways that we never did before.” Young Native readers, in particular, have gravitated to “There There” because many feel seen for the first time in a literary work.

Humanities North Dakota hosted a Q&A with novelist Mona Susan Power asking questions of literary author Tommy Orange. The two PEN/Hemingway Award winners engaged the audience on April 28 at the Belle Mehus Auditorium in Bismarck, N.D. Photo by: Jodi Rave Spotted Bear

Orange said he never read a full novel until he was around 24 because he didn’t see himself in the stories. “Part of that is not identifying with all the lives that were being written that I was required to read.”

The Q&A sponsored by Humanities North Dakota featured two prominent Native creatives on April 28. Novelist Mona Susan Power, a Standing Rock Sioux citizen, led the stage conversation with Orange, a citizen of the Cheyenne and Arapaho. Both Power and Orange are PEN/Hemingway Award winners for their first-book debuts.

Mona Susan Power during Q&A

Each writer also has a new book soon to be published. Power’s long-awaited book “A Council of Dolls,” goes on sale in August. Readers anxiously awaiting Orange’s new book “Wandering Stars” can expect it in March 2024.

It’s the sequel to “There There,” a book published in 2018 that quickly rose as a favorite among literary critics. It won the American Book Award in 2019 and was a Pulitzer Prize finalist for fiction.

Orange’s fictive writing deftly addresses myriad issues embodied in Native communities. In “There There,” a dozen characters’ lives converge at a powwow in Oakland that ends in tragedy. The stories tend to elicit sadness among readers in the United States and overseas, Orange said. A reader in Copenhagen, Denmark, told Orange he really liked the book, but then asked: “Why did you choose to write such miserable lives?”

Tommy Orange during Q&A

The comment took Orange aback. “It hurts me because I’m writing about people that resemble me and my family and my community,” he told the Belle Mehus audience. “And I would never think of our lives that way.”

The captivating writing grabbed the attention of HBO producers. The media conglomerate quickly bought the TV rights to “There There” after publication. Filmmaker Sterlin Harjo was set to adapt it to the screen. But the project was later dropped. “Somewhere during the pandemic, the thread got lost,” said Orange.

And this is before Reservation Dogs and Rutherford Falls before there was this sort of proof that people care about these shows, that the shows will be good, that there’s big talented acting pools to pick from,” Orange said.

The lost thread, however, has been picked up again, this time by NBC Universal. Orange said he had prerequisites that needed to be met before signing over his ownership rights. He wanted a Native director, Native writers, and a Native cast to bring “There There” to life.

He joined the process of picking writers for the adaptation. Tazbah Chavez was selected to be lead writer. From this point, Orange said his work is done. The TV writers are free to interpret the book as they see fit.

“I don’t need a whole lot of my vision in it,” he said. “I’m not tied to it. My work is in the book. So, I’m open to new forms and interpretations.”

The post ‘There There’: NBC Universal owns rights to Tommy Orange’s award-winning novel appeared first on Buffalo’s Fire.

Small-Town Newspaper Readers Are More Open to New Revenue Ideas Than Publishers

There’s a conflict between what weekly newspaper publishers think are the most likely ways their businesses will generate money in the future and what their readers are most willing to pay for, according to a study conducted in four states in the northern Great Plains.

The research – which focused on weekly papers in Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota – found that publishers were more likely to bank on traditional sources of revenue like advertising and subscriptions. Readers, on the other hand, were more likely than publishers to say they were willing to pay for less traditional products and services such as events, memberships, and newsletters.

The study concludes that there is “a clear disconnect between what revenue streams publishers are willing to implement and what revenue streams readers are potentially willing to endorse.”

The research, written by scholars at public universities in Kansas, Colorado, and Missouri, has implications for small-town and rural media that are negotiating major changes in the news-industry economy.

In the last 20 years more than 500 rural newspapers have closed or merged, but little of the research on the journalism economy has focused on small-market media, said the study’s lead, Teri Finneman, associate professor at the William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Kansas. Dozens of papers closed during the pandemic alone, Finneman said.

“It really made me start thinking, ‘why is it that we don't yet have a solution for this business model problem?’ And frankly, I saw this as a failure of academia, like why in the last 20 years has there not been a solution found for the industry? And so this really motivated me to try to look into some solutions to this very serious problem.”

Together with two colleagues, Finneman researched the possible revenue streams, speakng with publishers and readers in the Heartland states of North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas.

Not surprisingly, the publishers picked the model that has been around for hundreds of years: advertising and legal notices.

“They very much pitch the current model, which is concerning, because we know that legal notices are under attack at legislatures across the country,” said Finneman, publisher of The Eudora Times, a nationally recognized news desert publication that she runs with journalism students. “And so at any point, newspapers could see that revenue disappear, which is why we are arguing why it is so important to be proactive instead of reactive, so that there are more financial resources coming in.”

For readers, however, the study found that the top response for an additional revenue stream was events.

“The most common phrase in rural areas is there's nothing to do. So it makes a lot of sense that events would be very popular because they're looking for things to do,” said Finneman, who grew up and spent a large part of her life in rural North Dakota.

Another top option for readers was memberships, which was defined as a perk beyond subscription.

“We left it simple like that, because there's different ways to do membership programs,” she said. “And this was something that readers said that they were really interested in.”

Other myths that were busted about rural America include that older adults care more about the news and consuming it. The study found that residents ages 18 to 54 were more willing to financially help their newspaper than those over age 55.

“The industry has got to get past this myth that their older readers are the only base that they have to serve because they have a lot of younger people who would be willing to support them if they were given an opportunity,” Finneman said.

Still, for all the myth busting and hardships for rural news, Finneman believes there are a lot of good things happening.

“Rural journalism has more of a stability to it, when they aren't run through Wall Street, and when they care more about their communities and not just making money for shareholders,” she said. “So there are a lot of positives for rural journalism. And I emphasize that to my students a lot about how many opportunities that there really are in this field.”

The post Small-Town Newspaper Readers Are More Open to New Revenue Ideas Than Publishers appeared first on The Daily Yonder.

Buffalo’s Fire

The Indigenous Media Freedom Alliance is creating a news system that can respond to the news gap of information in American Indian communities in the Great Plains.