From what I recall through many annual visits to our Minnesota State Fair, whose latest edition starts today, you can hardly turn around on any sidewalk or street corner there without spotting a Pronto Pup stand, an adult holding a cup of beer, or an adult pushing a stroller with at least two children through the crowds.
And, from wherever you’re seeing those stroller rollers, beer cup holders or long lines of both of them waiting to buy breaded meats on sticks, you won’t have to walk far from there to find (or at least notice) the Giant Slide, the round beauty of architecture that is the Agriculture building, or one of many politicians or candidates sure to be roaming the grounds in this presidential year.
But as for some other attractions at the Great Minnesota Get-Together, you have to do your homework and make concentrated efforts to visit certain exhibits.
Such as, in a far deep corner of Heritage Square, you will find the Minnesota Newspaper Museum that has been open for 25 years at the fair. If you enter Heritage Square, which is located west of the Grandstand building, and walk toward the opposite corner until you walk into a fence that separates you from the fairgrounds’ massive parking lot, you will have gone too far but not by much.
Should you realize the great fortune this year of finding the museum at the fair, step inside for a look at the work and the equipment that was used to produce a small-town newspaper in the 1930s. Specifically, you can see all of the equipment that was used in the office of the former Maynard News from Maynard, Minn., about 20 miles southwest of Willmar. The celebration of a simpler time and of some of this state’s origins in community journalism have been kept alive at the fair through countless volunteer hours and contributions given by many people who know the importance of sharing local news.
In about another year, I will total 20 years of work that has involved writing, photography, the coverage of government meetings, school arts and athletics, and interviews with probably hundreds of public officials and neighborhood folks. Still, when I make my trip to the fairgrounds this year, which will be Saturday, Sept. 1, I could stand to spend 10-15 minutes in the newspaper museum because I have much more to learn about how doing this kind of work for the public interest was vastly different earlier last century than it is today – as much as it has also stayed the same, particularly the critical need to communicate with readers. When I began writing movie reviews and other arts features for my college newspaper in October 1993, the Internet seemed to be in its infancy, and just this week in the Monticello Times office I shared with my colleagues that I still cannot understand how journalists and newspaper editors did this kind of work before the Internet. When I need to find a phone number for a contact in Monticello, and the nearest available bound phone book was published in a previous decade and may or may not include current numbers, the quick answer is to search the Internet – but, as you may have heard or experienced yourself, Internet service can occasionally fail, and then a journalist or any other person might be left with outdated phone books and a nearly worthless computer.
How did Minnesota’s community journalists manage to inform their fellow citizens without computers, much less without quick information from a World Wide Web? I look forward to learning more at this year’s State Fair, and I hope you do, too.
By Paul Rignell