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Talking Points: At the Sun Tribune, 'every little thing gonna be all right'

A bunch of media publishers, general managers and editors were sitting in a conference room, listening to somewhat dire news about the state of the industry, when a mobile phone ring tone song broke the silence: "Don't worry about a thing, 'Cause every little thing gonna be all right."

The room cracked up. And it's not clear what made for the better day-maker: the perfect poetry of music and moment, or the sight of the silver-haired company owner stopping in middle of a sobering speech to dance to a Bob Marley song.

You have to assume many of the people gathered felt a little better about the future of their profession when the man who employs them - who in the last few years has witnessed upheaval unrivaled in his many years in the business - can still smile and dance a little during a light moment.

As readers of this newspaper and its Web site, you should feel good about it, too.

Perhaps in no other industry is so much money spent on the front end to provide a product that costs its customers virtually nothing.

There are those clever, sanctimonious folks out there who love to chide us that "there's nothing in there," but the fact remains that for about the cost of a cup of coffee and a donut, readers can find out what local government officials are planning to do with their tax dollars next year, they can read an interesting feature story, read columns and commentary pieces, or they can find out how the local sports teams are doing.

They can find out, among many other things, who got engaged, who got married, who died, who graduated, who earned good grades, and who got in trouble with the law and why.

They can find out about numerous upcoming events, they can find out what's new at the local schools and university and who has what for sale and for how much. There's even a column that tells readers what was going on in their community decades ago, at a time when, presumably, there was "something" in the paper.

And that's just what's offered in this newspaper's print version. The electronic "copy" of this paper on the Internet gives readers access to all that information, plus there are up-to-the-minute breaking news and weather alerts, in addition to hundreds of other stories from dozens of daily and weekly newspapers and broadcast outlets in four states owned by the Sun Tribune's parent, Forum Communications. It allows us to produce, virtually, a daily "paper" in this market.

Through Area Voices, if you want to comment on a story, you can do so. If you want to agree or disagree with another reader/commentator, you can do that, too. If you want to start a personal forum - or "blog" - in which you can say just about anything about anything, the Sun Tribune's Web page offers you that.

Truth is, the media engine runs on advertising, and today the possibilities available to advertisers are virtually unlimited. The Forum network can deliver 1.2 million people to advertisers, and with advances in technology and marketing, an ad can be targeted at any segment of an audience in almost any market in Minnesota, the Dakotas and Wisconsin, at any time during the day. Never before have advertisers had the tools available to pinpoint their message to this degree.

This isn't to say that the print medium is dead, contrary to what many misinformed observers believe. Will print editions cease? Quite possibly, at some point in the future. But for the foreseeable future, you can still find your newspaper on your doorstep and not just on your desktop.

Is the industry out of the woods? Not by a long shot. Especially in larger markets, newspapers and other media outlets are struggling. But the word here is that the Sun Tribune is still a strong and viable company that will continue to serve its readers and advertisers, both in print and online.

For its employees, that's a reason to believe every little thing gonna be all right.

Same is true for our readers.