On March 19, 1896, two months before the village of Bemidji was incorporated, the first edition of The Bemidji Pioneer was printed.

That means the newspaper you are reading today -- even if it may be online -- was published by the longest continuously running business in town, exactly 125 years after that first edition came off the press.

The newspaper business has changed a great deal since then, especially in recent years with the advent of the internet. Fewer copies of the paper are printed these days as more people access Pioneer stories, photos, videos and advertisements online. But the mission of providing that information has not changed.

“Today with both our print and digital presence, it is an exciting time at the Pioneer,” said Publisher Todd Keute, “just as exciting as I am sure it was when that first edition rolled off the press 125 years ago.”

Bemidji Pioneer publisher Todd Keute, left, and editor Annalise Braught look over a recent edition of the Pioneer in the newsroom on Tuesday, March 16, 2021. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)
Bemidji Pioneer publisher Todd Keute, left, and editor Annalise Braught look over a recent edition of the Pioneer in the newsroom on Tuesday, March 16, 2021. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

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The Bemidji Pioneer was printed once a week when it was first established by Edward Kaiser, who also had a role in developing the townsite. In April of 1903, the Daily Pioneer was launched. It changed its name to the Bemidji Daily Pioneer in 1904 and was designated the official county and city paper.

The newspaper was locally owned until 1972, and for the next 25 years the owners were from outside the region, as far away as New York, Idaho and Virginia. Since 1997, the Pioneer has been under the ownership of family-run Forum Communications Company based in Fargo.

Publishers, editors and other employees have come and gone. The newspaper’s location has changed several times. Printing presses have gone away. But the Pioneer’s commitment to informing, entertaining and delivering ads to readers has not wavered.

“Many things have changed in 125 years, but being the voice of Bemidji has not,” said Bill Marcil Jr., fifth generation CEO and publisher of Forum Communications. “The Pioneer has a tremendous history of telling the stories that have made Bemidji. Our distribution methods have changed and advanced, but our company has been committed to investing in journalism, advertising and technology. Today is a good day to honor all the past and present employees that have been dedicated to Bemidji.”

The Pioneer now publishes a print edition twice weekly, on Wednesday and Saturday. On other days, Editor Annalise Braught and her team of eight reporters and multimedia producers also post stories online at bemidjipioneer.com, where a growing audience means more people than ever are being reached.

One member of that audience is longtime subscriber Gloria Woodard, who remembers retrieving the morning paper for her parents back in the 1940s.

“I used to walk out to the road and get the paper for them,” Woodard said. “It was a real treat. We had to get the paper to find out what was in it. To them, it was the only way to get the news.”

Woodard, 86, has adapted to the new world of online news, but also looks forward to delivery of her print editions.

“I try to look at it online every day,” she said, "but I’m having a little trouble with my internet, so when I know it’s Wednesday or Saturday I watch for the mailman to come, and I run out and get my paper.”

Another loyal subscriber is Cecelia McKeig, who grew up in Bemidji and now lives in Federal Dam. McKeig visits Bemidji regularly as an author and historian with great interest in her hometown.

“For a researcher the Pioneer is absolutely vital,” she said. “We use it more than any other resource for Beltrami County history. Because people were so candid in the early days, it gives us a much better picture of what life was like than any official document does.”

Like Edward Kaiser and others who followed as publishers through the years, Keute understands the role the Pioneer has played since 1896. The current publisher reflected on the newspaper’s 125th anniversary this week.

“I always come back to all of the dedicated employees and their commitment to keeping our readers informed over all of those years,” Keute said. “Thanks to our subscribers' support, the Pioneer has delivered pages upon pages with thousands upon thousands of stories chronicling, recording and reporting on the events which shaped Bemidji. It's hard not to be proud of the role the Pioneer has played over all of those years.”