Publisher's Post: The newspaper that Fran and John built turns 50


(5/12/2021)

by Winona Post Publisher Patrick P. Marek

 

And they said it wouldn’t last. Fifty years ago, a dynamic and idealistic young couple thought that there was room in Winona for two newspapers. The pair, who were both gifted writers with strong opinions, created the Winona Shopper and unleashed it on the Winona trade area. The first issue on November 3, 1971, featured a musician banging a bass drum on the cover, and the fledgling paper made a lot of noise during the first few months of its existence, even though it dared to compete with the powerful entrenched force that was the Winona Daily News in those days.  That was the Christmas season, and almost everybody was able to find some extra budget to try out the new kids in the market.   Fran and John Edstrom took a deep breath and relaxed. This was going to be a piece of cake. Then January hit, and the bus on the way to prosperity town came to a screeching halt. As John was often heard to remark later: “If it was easy, everybody would have done it.”

John was a Winona native, graduate of Winona Senior High and Lawrence College, and son of one of the founders of the Hal Leonard Music Company. Fran lived in Framingham, Massachusetts, and had followed her mother’s footsteps to the College of Saint Teresa. The two met while performing together in a CST theatrical production and fell in love.

You can say that the rest is history, and if that is the case, what a lively and interesting read it would be. The Winona Shopper proved to be a healthy, but very demanding newborn. With the weekly whirlwind effort of selling advertising, producing, printing, paying bills, making payroll, and getting the newspaper delivered, you can forgive Fran and John for having a hard time planning for the next month, much less peering 50 years into the future.

The baby grew into one of the finest community newspapers in the nation. However, there were definitely growing pains as the paper matured. The Edstroms bought their own printing equipment, purchasing the same press that still operates in the basement of the building at 64 East Second Street today. They went to broadsheets and added news, becoming the Winona Post and Shopper. In 1980 they hired me, a Saint Mary’s College journalism graduate, as the paper’s first reporter, salesman, and “Bowler of the Week” writer. After winning hundreds of awards and the hearts and minds of readers in the Winona area, the newspaper dropped “Shopper” from the masthead and became simply the Winona Post. Although many locals can’t help themselves and continue to call the paper “The Shopper” (we forgive you), even they would have to agree, this publication has come of age and made many changes for the better.

The Edstroms endured shortages, recessions, personal tragedies, and the constant roller coaster ride of an uncertain economy. When the White family sold out to Lee Enterprises, Fran and John battled against the out-of-town chain newspaper competition with deep pockets for every dollar in a tough retail market. They fought the good fight for conservative principles, historic preservation, and for the causes their friends and neighbors in the Winona area cared about. Through good times and bad, the Edstroms never took their eye off the journalistic ball. They always delivered a top-quality news product to local doorsteps every week, free of charge, and never sacrificed their integrity in the process.

With that solid foundation, after 50 years, the Post abides. John passed away in 2012, and Fran sold the paper to me in 2014.  Fran still writes editorials and columns for us, and the Edstroms’ indomitable spirit is the moral compass that we attempt to follow every day. 

Today, the Winona Post is the leading source for original, local news, community news, and advertising in the Winona area.  While many reporters — both in Winona and across the U.S. — have disappeared from government meetings and community events, ours are still there, doing their jobs, representing the public’s right to know and helping our readers better understand their community.

It takes a team to keep a newspaper going, and we’ve got a dedicated one. From the graphic artists to sales people, printing press operators and carriers, proofreaders and inserters, managers and office staff, the Winona Post has been blessed with generations of wonderful and hard-working staff.

And you, our readers, have been with us every step of the way, supporting our advertisers, giving us feedback, sharing story ideas and news tips, writing letters to the editor, using our stories to get more involved, and partnering with us to share your important milestones, be they be obituaries, birth announcements, or family reunions. 

So, it’s our 50th anniversary, and we plan to celebrate for the rest of the year. As you can see from our front page, we have already unveiled our golden anniversary masthead, and we plan to have a special commemorative section and a brand-new website in a few months. Stay tuned. We have some great surprises planned. The Winona Post is all grown up and thriving. I just wish John Edstrom was around to toast our progress with an ice cold can of Miller Lite.

 

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