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Forman goes digital

FORMAN, N.D. -- Donna Reinertson is keeping this city connected, one click at a time. If something happens in Forman, or is going to happen, it likely will find its way into the Forman e-News. Road construction updates, School Board election resu...

FORMAN, N.D. -- Donna Reinertson is keeping this city connected, one click at a time.

If something happens in Forman, or is going to happen, it likely will find its way into the Forman e-News.

Road construction updates, School Board election results, candidates for the Miss Forman pageant, the Hoistad family reunion -- it's all there.

As the city's community affairs advocate, Reinertson has been hammering out the digital newsletter -- a one-page Microsoft Word document -- for nearly 16 months.

Every Wednesday, more than 250 issues are dispersed via the Internet. Daily e-News flashes inform subscribers of more urgent events.


July's first issue of e-News made its way to 280 people. Reinertson estimates only 25 or 30 of those are from outside Forman, a city of 506 people 90 miles southwest of Fargo.

Like most rural North Dakota cities, Forman doesn't have a daily newspaper. The nearest weekly paper is the Sargent County Teller, published in Milnor, about 20 miles northeast of Forman.

Reinertson and her husband, Todd, moved to Forman in 1992, when he got a job at the Bobcat plant in nearby Gwinner.

"Ever since I moved here, I thought we should have some kind of in-town newsletter or communication, weekly or daily, and I just couldn't afford to start up a printing shop or anything like that on our own," she said.

Prior to moving, Reinertson had sold and designed advertising for the Detroit Lakes (Minn.) Tribune. In Forman, she kept busy painting signs and caring for her and Todd's two children.

In March 2002, Forman Mayor Bob Cookson hired Reinertson as community affairs advocate to promote economic development in the city. The part-time position gave her the opportunity she needed to start a newsletter.

"I've always enjoyed working on the computer and creating things," she said. "And with the newspaper background, it just kind of fell into place that I would do this."

She compiled about 40 e-mail addresses of friends and sent the first newsletter March 26, 2002. By word of mouth, or perhaps word of mouse, people began contacting her to get on the list.


"And pretty soon it grew to 100, then it was 200, and now it's nearly 300," she said.

Reinertson recently beefed up the newsletter with movie theater listings from Oakes and Britton, S.D., and she also added obituaries.

"I always said if you died on a Monday and your funeral was on Thursday, nobody would know about it," she said. "A lot of the older people have e-mail now, and they're the ones who really like this, and the people out in the country."

Nathan Schlecht said the e-News keeps him on top of his kids' baseball and T-ball schedules, although he said he's a little uncomfortable with the obituaries. This past week, he used the e-News to let people know that his store, Forman Drug, was closing Saturday for the July 4 weekend.

"We have a local paper, but it only comes out once a week, so it's kind of nice to get things up to date in between," he said.

Even his parents in Enderlin, 30 miles to the north, subscribe to e-News, "just to keep track of what we're doing here," he said.

Reinertson's subscriber list also includes snowbirds who head south when cold weather comes around.

"That keeps us pretty well-informed when we're down south for the winter months," said June Fritzen, curator of the Sargent County Museum.


More rural residents are using technology such as e-mail and Web sites to stay connected, said Dale Naze, a North Dakota State University Extension agent in McKenzie County.

Communicating about daily events can be more difficult in rural areas, where, Naze quipped, "It's telegraph, telephone or tell a woman."

Reinertson said she wanted to make sure Forman residents didn't have to visit a Web site to get their e-News.

"I wanted it to go to your mailbox," she said. "To me, it seemed like a more personal thing."

Until a few weeks ago, she was producing the e-News from a makeshift office in her bedroom closet. A new armoire let her transfer to the living room.

Each weekly issue of the e-News takes about two hours to produce, Reinertson said. She typically checks her e-mail six times a day for notices from schools, churches, community clubs, local governments and others.

"The hardest part is just getting people to send the news in," she said.

Reinertson said she's thankful for the city's support for the newsletter, noting many cities Forman's size don't have a community affairs advocate.


"If and when my job ends with the city, I'm going to have a hard time letting this go," she said.

Cookson said the newsletter plays an important role in efforts to build up Forman, such as the recent location of Wurth Service Supply to the city's industrial park. Currently, he supplies Reinertson with updates on the city's messy $3 million sewer and street project.

"She's telling people where our problem areas are, and communication is everything in this business," Cookson said. "We're a small town, but we've got a lot going on."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528

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