Bulletin's publisher retires; ad director earns promotion
The bitter cold of South Dakota prompted Steve Messick to seek shelter. All he wanted, he said, was something indoors and something warm.
Messick ended up finding a job in advertising sales at a newspaper and never really left the industry.
Now, after 38 years with the same group of newspapers, the Hastings resident is retiring. His current position has him in charge of nine newspapers, 10 websites, 140 employees and a commercial printing operation in Red Wing, Minn.It’s easy to say his desire to seek warmth worked out pretty well for Messick, who is 64.While living in Brookings, S.D., Messick was tending bar part-time and working in construction full-time.“It was freezing cold,” he said. “I was freezing and I wanted to find something warm. “I picked up the newspaper, and saw an ad looking for an advertising salesperson. It sounded warm to me.”He applied and came to find out that one of his supervisors was a regular from the bar. That gave him a leg up. So did the fact that he was the only applicant, he said.“They asked me if I had any newspaper experience,” he said. “I told them I was a substitute paper carrier for the (Sioux Falls) Argus Leader when I was 12. They said, ‘Do you think you can sell?’ I said ‘Yeah, I think I could.’“Obviously there weren’t any other applicants. They put a mirror in front of my nose. I created a fog and that’s how I got started.”Not long after, though, his girlfriend at the time, Jane, earned a teaching position in River Falls that was closer to her home.Messick explained the decision to move that way:“She said, ‘I’m going. I want to get back to where there are trees. If you want to come, fine. If not, that’s OK, too.’ Given my experience with women, I decided to go. It was the best decision I ever made.”Messick picked up a few odd jobs, working at a clothing store part-time and cutting trees away from power lines for Northern States Power. He even sold memberships for a European health spa in Maplewood for a time.Eventually, in 1977, he came to Hastings to visit the job service office there. The person operating the service chatted him up and found out he had newspaper sales experience.“They’re looking for an advertising manager at the Hastings Gazette,” the man told Messick. “You wanna talk to them?”Within minutes, Messick was on his way to the Gazette. They interviewed him and offered him the job on the spot.“There again, they must not have had anybody else,” he joked.Messick remembers asking the supervisors at the time about competition for the Gazette, and they said they were the main paper in town. On his way into the office at the Gazette for his first day, though, he said he tripped over the Trade Winds in front of the building. It was 24 pages thick, full of advertising and inserts.That same week, Messick saw the Mississippi Valley Star on newsstands, too. They were in direct competition with the Gazette.Within fewer than six months, the Star and the Trade Winds urged Messick to come over to their side of the fence and he did. Keith Horsch and Mike O’Connor succeeded in convincing Messick that they were going to be the one paper between the two to make it, and they were right. Within just a few years, the Star bought the Gazette.One of the part-owners in the Star Gazette at the time was a publisher named Arlin Albrecht. He later bought a share of the River Falls Journal and, in 1985, Messick accepted a position there as advertising director. In 1987, he was named the Journal’s general manager.By 1992, though, Hastings had a publisher opening available, as O’Connor was retiring. Messick got the job and came back. He’s lived in Hastings ever since, all the while adding to his responsibilities. He was named publisher of the newspapers in Woodbury and Cottage Grove in 1994 and the papers in Farmington and Rosemount in 1999. Then, in 2001, was named publisher and director of operations for the Rivertown Newspaper Group, which by then was under the ownership of Forum Communications Company, based in Fargo, N.D. The group includes Hastings, Woodbury, Cottage Grove, Farmington/Rosemount, Red Wing and four papers on the Wisconsin side of the river – Hudson, Pierce County, New Richmond and River Falls.The big challenge was getting a group of individual papers from across that wide region to all work together.“To get them all headed in one direction, as a team, that’s always been challenging,” he said. “My biggest responsibility was putting the right people in the right seat on the bus.”His departure left a big hole for the group to fill.“Steve is a manager who allows his people to grow,” said Matt McMillan, the vice president of newspapers for Forum Communications. “He sees potential, promotes people into higher positions and gives his staff a chance to move up. Steve is a good boss, focused on serving his customers and communities.”McMillan recently announced that Messick’s position will be taken by Steve Gall, the group’s current advertising director.The old daysLike any industry, the newspaper business has changed dramatically over the past 38 years. When Messick started, the Hastings Gazette was still printing with a big lead press in the back of the building.He designed his own ads and when artwork was needed for them, he’d flip through a big book and cut out the images he needed.All of his customers at the time were the bread and butter of community newspapers – locally owned and operated one-of-a-kind “mom and pop” businesses. The arrival of big box stores has taken a toll on those businesses and, in turn, newspapers.“We are still the source for mom and pops,” he said. “They’ve been cut by two-thirds, almost. We don’t have the retailers here that we used to have. At one time, we had four or five hardware stores, plus a Sears. Look at the clothing stores. We used to have three or four.”While the makeup of the local economy looks different, Messick still believes in newspapers.“The business has changed tremendously, but I still maintain our audience has tripled because of the Internet,” he said. “The Internet has enabled us to offer three times the number of advertising products – products that are very effective for all kinds and sizes of businesses. Our reach is no longer defined by our ZIP code. The world is now our marketplace.“The business is still a great business. Community newspapers are still vital to any community. If you don’t believe that, go talk to a community that doesn’t have a newspaper. We still have a big role, and we take it seriously.”Retirement plansMessick and that teacher named Jane had met while both were studying at South Dakota State University in Brookings. They ended up getting married and having two children – Steven and Brie.Steven is married with two children and Brie is getting married in February.As if that’s not enough to keep him busy, the Messicks recently bought a cabin near Brainerd, Minn., and have found that suits them well, to say the least. His woodshop is now a busy place as he’s making furniture to fit the new cabin.“I’ve got orders to fill,” he joked.The peopleSome of Messick’s co-workers from when he started as an advertising salesperson are still at the paper, including Sandy Burdine and Jane Lightbourn.When asked about her memories of Messick from the 1970s, Burdine had a hearty laugh.“Oh, I don’t know if I can sum it up in a sentence,” she joked.Messick said the relationships with his coworkers and businesses he worked with over the years will be hard to replace.“We had a lot of fun, and we helped a lot of businesses, but it’s always been about the people,” he said. “I understand completely now what my dad, who was in the grocery business, said: ‘I’m not going to miss the work, but I’m certainly going to miss the people.’ That’s true.”