Arms to Call

It goes without saying in 2016 that the networked economy and mobile communications technology have profoundly changed how the news media contributes to democracy. Print journalism especially—newspapers, magazines—has seen more upheaval than perhaps any other industry this century. While many large and middling newspapers and magazine publishers have achieved a level of stability in their operations, they have typically only done so by consolidating operations, moving online-only, and reducing their newsgathering resources generally.

Such reductions in capacity occurred in the wake of the collapse of countless local and niche publications (in part brought about by the bankruptcy of the Independent Press Association in 2006 and the raised distribution rates that followed passage of the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act that same year). So it is that despite the inauguration of the Information Age and the explosion of information generally, there is in many communities across the United States less news and analysis being produced relative to the late-Twentieth Century.

The consequences of this shift are particularly salient in North Dakota where as a result of journalism’s decline a single company—Forum Communications—today manages some 50 news brands across media within an 80 mile radius of Fargo, ND. Such brands include: the Fargo Forum, Grand Forks Herald, Jamestown Sun, West Fargo Pioneer, and Tribune (Detroit Lakes, MN) newspapers; the WDAZ and WDAY television and radio call signs in Fargo and Grand Forks; Agweek and Prairie Business magazines; and the, ApartmentsHQ, and CarsHQ websites. Forum also controls its own means of production and manages a public relations bureau in the form of four printing houses (two in the Fargo metro area) and the Forum Content Studios marketing and design firm, also based in Fargo.

The reasons behind Forum’s growth to a regional news and information monopoly are various, complicated, and linked not merely to emerging technologies but to Bill Clinton’s signing of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which effectively deregulated the various media industries, resulting in the consolidation of media markets locally and nationally. That is to say, Forum Communications has for years been doing what many other news firms have done in order to remain profitable in the new century. Nevertheless, it is worth noting that as it has grown, most Forum publications have profited by abandoning long-form journalism, critical and analytical reportage, and stories focusing on topics likely to antagonize advertisers.

This is where comes in.

The consolidation of local media, closure of small publications, and emergence of lifestyle blogs alongside the reinforced status of a handful of major publishers like the New York Times results in a “missing middle” where deeper reporting on regional subjects, marginalized publics, alternative cultures, and emerging industries specific to local economies goes undone. There a need in the Dakotas and northern Minnesota, rather, for a media platform dedicated to providing longer form reportage, analysis, and commentary on the persons, places, and ideas routinely ignored by both establishment media organizations and individual lifestyle documentarians.

Take the opposition to the Dakota Access pipeline protest in 2016-17, which coalesced just as this website was getting off the ground. Early short-form news and editorial commentary was firmly in opposition to the water protectors from Standing Rock and their allies. Likewise, most late stories—even those reporting sympathetically on the protest—by larger news outfits were also truncated in scope. Ironically, most of the attention to the protest from outside the Dakotas didn’t materialize until after North Dakota state officials until began arresting and prosecuting journalists from within the state and without, Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! being only the most notable. And in keeping with the needs of advertisers, even those stories tend to be quite concise.

To that end, agricouture will provide residents of the Northern Plains with thoughtful essays and reporting on a variety of subjects that stretch the length of a typical newspaper or web-oriented story beyond the 1,200-word maximum (this introduction notwithstanding). Pieces can take the form of critical journalism on topics germane to the region: agriculture, energy, military-industrial complex, higher education, governance, and American Indian issues. But they will also include record/book/event reviews, editorials and cultural commentary, and the occasional rant.

But enough about us….

Thanks in advance for your interest and support. ⍟