It’s been ten years since the plug was officially pulled on the Ripsaw, Duluth’s experiment with having a newspaper similar to City Pages or Isthmus. It didn’t last long, but it was good while it lasted.
For the uninitiated it should be explained the Ripsaw had five distinct incarnations. The Ripsaw entry on Wikipedia lays that history out in detail, but the short version of it goes like this:
- From 1917 to 1926 the Ripsaw was an old-school scandal sheet published by John L. Morrison.
- Brad Nelson and Cord R. Dada brought back the scandal-sheet style Ripsaw in 1999, as a monthly publication, with an additional focus on the local music scene.
- The paper switched to the alt-weekly format in 2000. Dada sold his share of ownership to Tim Nelson in 2001.
- In 2004 the Ripsaw switched to a monthly magazine format.
- Three black-and-white newsprint editions were published in 2005 as the paper struggled to hang on.
On Dec. 6, 2005, Brad Nelson sent an email to contributors outlining the Ripsaw’s successes while calling it quits:
Comrades, the Ripsaw is officially dead.
It was a good run. We managed to spin the blade for six-and-a-half years against a long list of odds. A&L Development tried to sue us. Much of the business community blacklisted it. Mayor Doty said he “didn’t read that tabloid.” And 11,000 people picked it up every week with Christian-right zeal (20,000 monthly). We did well.
But it’s no secret that keeping it going was a perpetually tenuous act. The tightrope finally snapped.
Thank you for throwing in on it with me. It was quite a ride. The Ripsaw wrote about and influenced the art and music scenes; local elections; the Spirit Mountain golf course debate; the Clayton, Jackson, McGhee Memorial; the Soft Center debacle and DEDA funding; eminent domain use; historic preservation; the crusade to end homelessness; GLBT rights; the buy-local movement; and many many more issues and things. The Ripsaw helped create a new state of mind for Duluth. It gave amazing local designers, cartoonists, artists, and columnists needed exposure. It covered outdoor adventure, dining, film, theater, visual art, science, and sex. It published a calendar and the High Five so people knew what to go see. The Sawyer Awards became the best Best-of issue around. It grew the Homegrown Music Fest, Undergroundhog Day and Green Man with local CD reviews, band features, and a special issue for each. The Ripsaw did a lot for this rusty town. No wonder we’re tired.
For now, I’ll be beering, skiing, and drumming. If you are interested in any of those three areas, then chances are I’ll see you soon.
See you soon.
Power to the People,
Ripsaw arts writer/editor Julia Durst wrote her version of the Ripsaw’s obituary for mnartist.org, and cartoonist/proofreader Barrett Chase laid out his thoughts on Perfect Duluth Day. As the Ripsaw era ended, PDD and the Transistor — both considered to be sort of spin offs of the Ripsaw — were in full gear. Years later, former editor Tony Dierckins began publishing Zenith City Online. Chris Monroe’s “Violet Days” comic was eventually picked up by the Duluth News Tribune. And thus the Ripsaw spirit lives on in various places.
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