FARGO - A red carpet rolled out in front of the Fargo Theatre on Friday, June 2, was there for - of all people - journalists, a group of professionals facing criticism today from our nation's elected leader.
"These are tough times," said Marilyn Hagerty, 91, one of the eight notable North Dakota journalists featured in the documentary "Inside Stories" that premiered Friday night. A crowd gathered on Broadway outside the theater, eager to see family and friends on the big screen, compared to a byline.
The documentary begins in 1864, back when the state's first publication was released, leading up to the proliferation of small community papers and detailing the many changes in the industry due to technology and the ways people consume daily news.
"It's an industry that has changed more than any industry," said Steve Andrist, executive director of the North Dakota Newspaper Association. "My dad [John Andrist, retired publisher] is one of the subjects, and he likes to say that for the first 25 years he was in the newspaper business the technology never changed and the next 25 years it changed every five years. Now it's every year."
But the film is more than a critical history lesson in these times of "fake news." It's about sharing the stories of folks like Hagerty and Andrist's father.
"Newspaper people tell other people's stories, but nobody ever tells their stories," Andrist said.
Teri Finneman, the film's executive producer and an assistant professor of journalism at South Dakota State University, set out to do just that when she started working on the film three years ago. As a Hazen, N.D. native and former reporter for The Forum, she used her interview skills to piece together a narrative about news in North Dakota.
"In the media environment that we're in right now, it is really important to tell the story of the press and the real difference that they actually make in people's lives and in communities every single day," Finneman said.
From floods and other natural disasters to protests and politics, the film is a collection of behind-the-scenes insight showing just how far the industry has come and the key people who were a part of it all, including William C. Marcil Sr., chairman of Forum Communications Co., and former publisher of The Forum, and Mike Jacobs, retired publisher and editor of the Grand Forks Herald.
Finneman said Jacobs is heard in the film describing the community's appetite for news during the flood, "just clamoring to get a copy of the newspaper because they rely on the press to be informed," she said.
Students from the Missouri School of Journalism, Finneman's alma mater, used the footage created by her and Forum Communications' Ryan Babb to put together the documentary.
For those who were not able to attend the free premiere on Friday, Finneman said NDNA is in discussion about airing the film on Prairie Public this fall to reach a wider audience.
"I had so many wonderful experiences and this is just kind of like frosting on the cake," Hagerty said. "I started at the Capital Journal in Pierre, S.D., when I was in high school and one thing led to another and here I am on the red carpet. As a reporter, you're supposed to be in the background, but if you get to be as old as I am you can do whatever you want to."
Hagerty has written on and off for the Grand Forks Herald since the 1960s and still writes her weekly EatBeat column - a column that attracted national attention five years ago.
"I went viral," she said, referring to the Olive Garden review she wrote that prompted CNN's Anderson Cooper to invite her to his show not once, but three times. "That review struck people around the country as very humble, very weird. I went bridge club the next day I had a million hits online."
"I had three major networks in front of my house in Grand Forks and my neighbors couldn't believe it," she said, adding that the greatest moment in her career was receiving the 2012 Al Neuharth Award for Excellence in the Media from Neuharth personally at the University of South Dakota.
The press pioneers of North Dakota, as they are described in the film, remain hopeful about the value of newspapers in communities across the state and country despite dwindling circulation numbers.
"... I don't think I'm going to live to see it, but I expect down the road the print newspaper will be history, and everybody will be getting the news on the TV tube on your computer, whether it's the one you hold in your hand or whatever," says longtime Forum columnist Bob Lind at the closing of the film.
The premiere was followed by a panel discussion in which the journalists and film production crew answered questions from the audience.
For more information about "Inside Stories," contact the North Dakota Newspaper Association at (701) 223-NEWS.