READ ALL ABOUT IT! The Detroit Lakes Tribune celebrates 150 years
The newspaper is the longest continuously-running business in Detroit Lakes, dating back to May 18, 1872, when the first edition of The Record was published. Read on to learn more about the paper's long history: How it got its start, who's been instrumental in its success, and what's changed — and what hasn't.
Editor's Note: This story is part of our special Tribune Sesquicentennial coverage, in honor of the Detroit Lakes Tribune's 150th anniversary on May 18, 2022.
For almost as long as there has been a Detroit Lakes, Minnesota — including the days that it was simply known as Detroit — there has been a newspaper here.
And though it has gone through many changes of name, ownership, and even location over the years, the newspaper has remained a stalwart of the community since the first issue of The Record was published on May 18, 1872.
“One hundred fifty years is a long time!” said Melissa Swenson , current publisher of the Detroit Lakes Tribune. “To think that our newspaper, whether called The Record or the Tribune, has been the keeper of history since before Detroit became Detroit Lakes is mind-boggling.
“Looking back at our old bound volumes (newspaper archives) reaffirms what I feel every time I walk through our newsroom: the work that we do here is so important,” she added. “We touch the lives of so many people by keeping them informed of city government, school news, community happenings, and features on friends, neighbors, and visitors to our fair city.
“While there has been a myriad of changes over the years, our commitment to providing award-winning journalism to our readers remains the same.”
Before Detroit Lakes, the newspaper had a brief stint in Ottertail
When The Record first began publication in the Becker County community that would later become Detroit Lakes, the newspaper came with a little history: It was actually established one year earlier, in the city of Ottertail, in neighboring Otter Tail County. It was started under the ownership of well-known local entrepreneur E.G. Holmes, and with the leadership of editor and publisher William F. Ball .
In that first issue, Ball published a story about the newspaper’s relocation. In it, he wrote: “To our many friends in our new field, and to all the residents of Becker County, we extend a friendly greeting. We have come among you on a mission which is beset with many difficulties and trials — to perform a task which at the best is a hard one. No one without experience can form a correct idea of the hard labor and many difficulties accompanying the publication of a newspaper in a frontier locality.”
“We come among you to try and build up a paying business for ourselves, it is true,” he continued, “but as the accomplishment of this result involves the the prosperity of the county, and the advancement of all its best interests, and as we shall labor to the best of our humble ability to secure these ends, we ask you to afford us all the encouragement in your power by extending us a liberal patronage.”
It wasn’t long before Ball retired, however; as announced in the June 22, 1872 issue, he was replaced by A.J. Underwood, who promised in a front page article about Ball’s retirement that “every good word and work tending to build up an advanced civilization shall have our aid and encouragement.”
“After more than 17 years’ residence in Minnesota, we claim at least to be identified with its interests, if not able to fully set forth its wants and advantages,” Underwood wrote. “We believe that the country newspaper is best fulfilling its mission when most devoted to local interests.”
New editor George D. Hamilton rolled out his first issue of The Record – which he freshly renamed the Becker County Record – on Nov. 23, 1878.
Hamilton proved a great newspaperman, and stayed on until September 1911, when the paper was purchased by Louis Benshoof and A.T. Thompson, who continued to operate it for the next 36 years, until it was sold to Byron L. “Jack” Benshoof and partner Roger Hamilton — George’s grandson.
‘Reminiscences’ of the paper’s early days
Fifty years after he became editor of The Record, Hamilton wrote a reflective anniversary column, titled “Reminiscences,” that appeared on the front page of the newspaper’s Dec. 7, 1928 issue.
In it, he wrote: “As Detroit grew to a thriving city of importance, improvements were gradually made and the Record became one of the prosperous businesses of the county. The circulation steadily increased until it covered the county thoroughly, and I believe I may say without seeming egotism, wielded considerable influence for the betterment of the community. …
“After 33 years of newspaper work the Record was sold to Lou Benshoof and A.T. Thompson, September 1911, and I am pleased to note that it has continued to prosper and that the general policy of the betterment and general upbuilding of the community has been consistently and ably maintained.”
After his son Byron took over the paper, Lou Benshoof wrote an editorial that appeared in the July 10, 1947 issue of the Record, in which he wrote: “This 36-year-old partnership has been both pleasant and profitable, but the immutable laws of nature still prevail and now the time has come for the management of the publication to pass into the younger hands.
“On Saturday, July 12, the writer (i.e., Lou Benshoof) will have completed 40 years of connection with the Record, and slightly over a half century of experience as the editor of a weekly newspaper. Truly, that is a privilege vouchsafed to but a few men — to spend 50 years in a single occupation, and in such a pleasant environment as has been the two score years of residence in Detroit Lakes and Becker County.
The Tribune is 150 years old, and we're celebrating with a special section! View historic front pages, check out vintage photos, take a look back at some of the beloved people who are part of the Tribune's history and more!
“I believe that during the 36 years of partnership with Mr. A.T. Thompson, the highest possible standard of newspaper ethics has ever been our goal, and knowing intimately the two young men now taking over the helm, I feel confident that this same objective will continue to be their ultimate achievement.”
In May 1961, Willard “Bill” Robbins purchased the Record, along with the Town & Country Shopper — which had been established 15 months prior — from Benshoof and Hamilton, taking over the business on June 3. Benshoof and Hamilton stayed on with the paper for a time.
On Oct. 9, 1963, Lakes Publishing Co. purchased the Record and the shopper, along with the Detroit Lakes Tribune, in a separate transaction. The new owners — J. Allan Cramer, John Meyer and Richard Knowles — were all experienced newspapermen, from Iowa and Nebraska.
Robbins stayed on as the newspapers’ editor, while Meyer became the publisher.
Meyer continued to serve as publisher of both newspapers until Detroit Lakes Newspapers — including both the Record and Tribune, as well as the Park Rapids Enterprise and commercial printing operations in Hawley and Detroit Lakes — were sold to Forum Publishing Company, now known as Forum Communications Company, in 1985.
The goal always been ‘to help the town become a better place to live’
Dennis Winskowski, who served as publisher of both the Tribune and Record from 1987 until 2015, agreed with Underwood’s vision, noting in a Jan. 14, 2015 article announcing his retirement that “newspapers have a great deal of influence in their community — I never took that responsibility lightly.”
“To flourish, a newspaper needs to be an advocate for the community, have a personality, and be the historian of the community,” he added.
Winskowski expanded on those sentiments in a recent interview, noting that during his tenure, “We had a successful newspaper, not just in the awards department, of which we won many — Detroit Lakes Newspapers has won more Mills Trophies (given annually by the Minnesota Newspaper Association to the top weekly newspaper in the state), I believe, than anyone else in the state of Minnesota,” Winskowski said. “The awards are one thing, but we also had a tremendous influence in the community, and our relevance in the community was very high.”
“The newspaper was often asked to support various (enterprises), whether it be school bond issues or community development issues,” he added. “The community depended on the newspaper to not only inform the public and give them both sides of the story, but to be, in general, supportive of a growing and prosperous Detroit Lakes, which it certainly has been all these years. It’s an amazing community.”
Winskowski says his enthusiasm and love for the community and its newspaper remains unchecked, even today.
“I think I probably had the best job in Minnesota,” he said.
He chose to use his platform as publisher to champion local economic development. He served as president of the Detroit Lakes Development Authority for 13 years, and also served on the board of the Midwest Minnesota Community Development Corp. and the Becker County Economic Development Authority.
“If a newspaper is relevant and can participate and help in any way…its job is to help the town become a better place to live,” Winskowski said, “to be a conduit for communication in the community, but also a supporter of developing the environment for a positive future.”
He praised Forum Communications and its leadership for providing the means for the newspaper to realize its goals.
“No organization can succeed without the strong financial support of the ownership group and the Forum certainly had a very, very, very good approach to community journalism and the idea that these newspapers should remain independent, strong and were vital to the health of a community,” he said. “The Forum corporation and the Marcils (company owners) have been very good in serving their communities over those years.”
Did you know? The Detroit Lakes Tribune started out as the Detroit Quiver
The Detroit Lakes Tribune has gone through several name changes over its 150-year history: In fact, the Tribune and the Becker County Record were originally separate publications. The newspaper that would later become the Tribune had its beginnings as the Detroit Quiver in November 1907, under the ownership of M. Kihn.
The name was subsequently changed to the Detroit Herald in 1911, the Detroit News-Tribune on April 3, 1924, and the Detroit Lakes Tribune on Nov. 4, 1926, according to the book “Images of America: Detroit Lakes,” published by the Becker County Historical Society in 2012.
The Becker County Record’s name, meanwhile, remained unchanged from 1878 until that newspaper ceased publication on Aug. 2, 2015, and the Detroit Lakes Tribune began publishing two print editions a week.
Its publisher at the time, Mary Brenk, said of the decision to cease publication of the Record in favor of the Tribune: “With this change we can streamline so many processes and alleviate confusion with readers and advertisers alike. We are looking forward to really strengthening the Tribune brand throughout our community and making it instantly recognizable as the regional newspaper.”
Though they remained separate publications, the two newspapers shared both staffing and office space for more than five decades. The Record and Tribune were published on Sundays and Wednesdays, respectively — until Sunday, Aug. 2, 2015, when the Becker County Record ceased publication and was absorbed into the Detroit Lakes Tribune, which is now published twice a week, on Sundays and Wednesdays.
Entering the digital age: ‘We are reaching more people than we ever could with print alone’
In 1997, Detroit Lakes Newspapers launched its website, dl-online.com , which continues to be the Tribune’s web address today.
Over the years, the website has undergone several changes in layout and content, gradually overtaking its print edition as the primary purveyor of news for Becker County residents.
When Brenk took over from Dennis Winskowski as publisher of Detroit Lakes Newspapers (which then included the Record, Tribune, and Lakes Area Press) in January of 2015, she disputed the prevalent belief that newspapers were a dying form of mass communication.
“I’ve had people ask me, ‘Aren’t newspapers dying?’, but the fact is, we’re not dying, we’re growing,” said Brenk. “We have a very strong digital presence on dl-online.com, and we are reaching even more people than we ever could with print alone.”
She noted that the newspaper’s digital platform had become an increasingly important part of the business, providing immediate news information to readers and giving local businesses “incredible opportunities.”
“It allows them to reach local customers, regional, national — even customers around the world if that’s what they want,” she added.
Current publisher Melissa Swenson said digital media has allowed the newspaper to more than double its readership since the early 2000s.
“With the Record and the Tribune, we had a combined circulation of over 14,000,” Swenson said. “Now, between print and online, we can instantly reach over 30,000 readers a week.”
Today, a digital subscription to the Detroit Lakes Tribune will get readers access to all of Forum Communications’ publications online, which means it is a gateway to news from around the globe — especially this little corner of it, as the company has media outlets not just across Minnesota, but also in Wisconsin and both North and South Dakota.
“Company-wide, we have over 5 million readers,” Swenson said. “Social media contributes to that.”
Social media outlets like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, “have become interwoven with the fabric of people’s lives,” she added. “They look to social media for their news and information. People check their news feeds multiple times a day. We have the number one website in the area for a reason, and a lot of that (website traffic) is fed by social media.”