March 2, 2021

Letti Lister is president and publisher of the Black Hills Pioneer, devoting 31 years to the newspaper in Spearfish, South Dakota. From the beginning of the pandemic, she wanted her employees to feel safe, down to providing gloves and sanitizer to the newspaper carriers. When there were initial concerns about whether to touch newsprint and mail, she immediately did research to communicate with carriers and subscribers that newspapers were safe.

The 5,000-circulation newspaper covers five towns and three counties, and Lister said being a locally-owned publication has been a benefit when decisions during the pandemic need to be made hourly. In June, Lister said she increased subscription prices to cope with a 40% reduction in ad revenue, but she would not cut days of publication.

“I do not want to break the daily habit of our readers,” she said. “I want them to keep getting that paper every single day so that they form that habit and they want it. And the news is moving so fast and furious we have to keep doing that in order to get everything out there that everybody needs to have access to.”

Listen to the oral history interview:

Read the transcript.

See a story from the Black Hills Pioneer from March 28, 2929.

See a story from the Black Hills Pioneer from June 16, 2020.

See a story from the Black Hills Pioneer from August 21, 2020.

See more from The Essential Workers, an oral history project tracking the experiences of locally owned newspapers in Mid-America during the pandemic.

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Teri Finneman is an associate professor of journalism at the University of Kansas. She previously worked as a print journalist and multimedia correspondent covering state…
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