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Brandl and Peterson take over ownership of Tracy’s newspaper

Photo by Karin Elton Per Peterson and Tara Brandl stand in front of the newly-painted glass door that says Above The Fold Publishing LLC, the name of their new business — which puts out a weekly paper, the Tracy Area Headlight-Herald, and other publications. Peterson is the editor of the paper and Brandl is the publisher. There is also a retail business, which sells office items such as paper and envelopes. The two will have an open house April 17.

TRACY — They may be new owners of a publishing company, but they have a combined 40 years of experience in the newspaper industry.

Tara Brandl and Per Peterson took over ownership of the Tracy Headlight-Herald, now the Tracy Area Headlight-Herald, as of April 1. They bought the business from longtime owners Seth Schmidt and Jim Keul, who ran it under the name of Tracy Publishing.

Peterson has been in the newspaper business since he was a teenager. He started working in the sports department at the Marshall Independent at the age of 18, while attending college at Southwest Minnesota State University.

After eight years in sports, he was promoted to assistant news editor, then news editor and then was the managing editor for six years. He has been working as editor for Schmidt since January 2017.

Brandl started in the newspaper business at a young age as well. Straight after graduating at SMSU with a major in public relations/radio-TV and a minor in marketing, she starting working at the Independent in the sales department.

Both consider former Independent editors, Jim Tate and Dana Yost, as major influences on them.

“Jim took on a 18-year-old kid and Dana taught me everything I know on how to run a newsroom,” Peterson said.

After leaving as editor of the Independent, Tate took a job as head of the SMSU university relations department where Brandl worked while a student.

Brandl knew Yost as well.

“I took an intro to journalism class that Dana taught as an adjunct professor at SMSU,” said Brandl. “I told him I didn’t know what to do after graduating and he said I should apply for the sales job at the Independent.”

After one-and-a-half years as a sales representative, in 2005 Brandl was promoted to ad manager where she worked until last month.

Brandl is on Minnesota Newspaper Association board and Peterson has won more than 50 Associated Press and Minnesota Newspaper Association awards at the Independent and Headlight-Herald.

Although veterans in editorial and sales, they are newcomers to the business side of publishing. Both say they couldn’t do what they do without their staff.

“We have an amazing staff,” said Brandl. “They bring things to our attention that we haven’t thought of.”

“It’s like a wheel and we all our have our skills,” Peterson said. “If one of those spokes fails, we all fail. We’re a team. They’re all integral, they’re all assets.”

The two are grateful for the knowledge and support of employees such as Julie Johnston, who has worked in the front office since August of 2016.

“We rely on her for proofing the paper, she greets customers, she takes care of ordering stuff for us, she takes care of circulation,” Brandl said.

Lisa Sell in the sales department worked for Vic Keul, the previous owner’s dad.

“Lisa is an institution within an institution,” said Brandl, adding that the Headlight-Herald is the longest locally-owned business in Tracy.

April DeSchepper is the graphic designer. “She does print jobs. She is great, really talented,” said Brandl. “Carol (Strand) our bookkeeper — we couldn’t do it without her.”

Peterson and Brandl say they know they will make mistakes — “but that’s how you learn,” Brandl said.

“It can be stressful, but the reward is so worth it,” Brandl said.

Both feel that having local media is important for the local connection.

“You can go online, you can watch TV, but the community newspaper is where you find out the basketball score, what’s going on with the city council, board meetings,” Brandl said.

Both are grateful for a vibrant, dynamic community.

“People are so proud of their community and they are constantly working to make it better,” Brandl said. “The community organizations here are so active.”

“There’s a lot of enthusiasm in this town, whether it’s the chamber, the school,” Peterson said.

Peterson is a Tracy graduate and Brandl, who is originally a Chandler from rural Balaton, attended Russell-Tyler-Ruthton.

“For Per, this is not just a business that he bought,” said Brandl. “He has history here, his family is ingrained in this community. Per is Tracy. I’m different in that way. I didn’t go to school here. I moved to town. But I’m committed to Tracy in the same way. It’s just such a great community. It’s a welcoming community.”

They say they will do their best to cover events not only in Tracy, but in the surrounding area — Walnut Grove, Milroy, Currie, Balaton, Amiret and Garvin — which is why they are adding the word “area” to the name of the paper.

“We have Tracy Area School — it’s not just Tracy,” Brandl said. “People that are involved in our community are not just from Tracy. We want our paper to reflect that we cover those towns around us too.”

Peterson said he hopes they will be around as long as Schmidt and Keul were — 30+ years.

“We know we have really big shoes to fill,” Peterson said. “But we’re going to make it work.”