Despite fire destroying its office, New Rockford newspaper back on its feet – INFORUM

An electrical fire started in the office area of the New Rockford Transcript newspaper building in downtown New Rockford. Within about four hours, the building which had stood for decades was gone, and the place where Wobbema worked now needed a new home.

“The hardest thing for me (on) the day of the fire was finding something to say,” said Wobbema, the Transcript’s general manager.

Wobbema said the Transcript uses its Facebook page as the means to interact regularly with the newspaper’s readers and the community. Throughout the day of the fire, people were posting pictures and videos of the fire on the newspaper’s Facebook page and sending messages of concern. Wobbema said she felt it was necessary to respond in some way, but she had trouble finding the words.

“It took me until about 10 o’clock (at night) to come up with the words I wanted to actually put on the page with those photos,” she said.

By writing the Facebook post, Wobbema said she was able to write the story for the upcoming week’s edition. The headline for the Aug. 24 edition read “Hot Off The Press,” an idea Wobbema said the editorial staff took from an advertisement that Northern Plains Electric Cooperative ran in the Aug. 24 edition.

“They (Northern Plains) sent us an ad to get us back on our feet,” she said. “The ad said, ‘You bring new meaning to hot off the press.’ We immediately said that needs to be our headline.”

New Rockford Fire Chief Bruce Hirchert said Friday he had been notified by Ken Sisk, the lead investigator with the North Dakota Office of the Attorney General’s Fire Marshal Division, that Sisk’s report for the Transcript’s fire would be ready sometime next week. Sisk was not available to comment Friday when contacted about the fire.

After the fire

Craig and Bonnie Voigt have owned the New Rockford Transcript for 27 years. Most of the time, the newspaper has operated out of the building that burned down—a building the Voigts owned. Craig Voigt said they ordered new computers for the newspaper the evening of the fire and went and picked them up from Best Buy in Fargo the next morning.

“We set up the new computers on Monday (Aug. 17) and were able to start working on the next edition (Aug. 24) Monday afternoon,” he said.

Bonnie Voigt said their biggest need immediately after the fire was a place to work. She said Dean and Alicia Vorland, who were in New York at the time of the fire visiting relatives, called her Aug. 16 and told her the newspaper could use their offices until she and Craig found a new home for the Transcript.

The newspaper set up shop on Aug. 17 in the Vorland Land Co. office and have put together two editions since then and are working on the third. Craig Voigt said the support from the community has been tremendous. So has the support of the newspaper’s staff.

Wobbema, Vicky Ryan, who mans the newspaper’s front desk and helps keep the business’ books along with Bonnie Voigt, and Sandi Clapper, who sells the newspaper’s ads and does a variety of duties, were all instrumental in getting the newspaper up and running again so quick.

“If it wasn’t for Amy and Sandy and Vicky and Bonnie … everybody just pitched in,” Craig Voigt said. “I probably would’ve just thrown in the towel if it had been just me.”

Voigt said it was also the work of New Rockford city officials, like Bruce Hirchert, the New Rockford fire chief and the firefighters with the New Rockford Rural Fire Department.

“All the firemen were nice about trying to put the pieces back together,” Craig Voigt said about sifting through the rubble after the fire.

More positive news from the fire is that the Transcript’s bound volumes and archives survived. Bonnie Voigt said the archives were kept in a walk-in safe and other than a couple of bound volumes on the floor that got a little wet around the edges, everything was dry and protected from the fire.

Community reaction

Community members are also glad their hometown newspaper was able to keep going after the fire.

Kelli McKnight, co-owner of Baker’s Dozen, a bakery in New Rockford, said after seeing the result of the fire, she was shocked when she heard a new edition of the newspaper was coming out so soon after the fire.

“I figured they’d be down for a while,” she said.

McKnight said if her business had a fire, there is no way she would have been able to turn around and start making baked goods again on a commercial scale.

“It would cost over $1 million just to replace our equipment,” she said.

Steve Ross works at Duchscherer’s Do it Best Hardware in New Rockford. He said he was getting ready to lock up the store for the day when he looked across the street and saw black smoke rolling out from the Transcript’s building. He said he reads the paper every week and he was surprised a new edition came out the next week.

“That was nice they (the newspaper’s staff and owners) kept it going,” he said.

Craig Voigt said the Transcript will be moving into a new temporary space, a building next to the Rockford Theatre, in a couple of weeks.

National attention

The biggest surprise for Craig and Bonnie Voigt and Wobbema was how much attention the paper’s fire drew nationally. MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow featured the newspaper’s fire and quick recovery on her show the week after the fire. Maddow championed small, community newspapers like the New Rockford Transcript and urged her viewers to subscribe to their local paper.

Craig Voigt said Maddow’s reporting on the fire was accurate and he appreciated that Maddow talked about the New Rockford community, including community events like the upcoming Central North Dakota Steam Threshers Reunion.

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