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A voice on the plains

The boss … Don Ravellette, back from branding cattle, rests his dusty boots.

Special to The Pioneer Review

by Bill Kunkle, Eugene, OR

Seems like everybody is blaming the media for the world’s problems. Sadly, the electronic media makes up a substantial part of where most people get information, including news.

There remains places where folks read their weekly paper word for word. In a town like Philip, South Dakota, people really care about each other, how they are, and what they are doing. It’s a place of front porch talkrs who discuss events from barking dogs to drunks. They pray together in church and cry together at funerals. They want “Home Town” news. CBS film crews are something you don’t see here everyday, and that suits people here just fine.

Many daily newspapers, and some magazines, have seen a steady decline in circulation, about 25% since 1987. What was once a nation of readers has become mesmerized by a box in their living rooms, where fantasy and entertainment become an obsession. Some say it’s the dumbing down or “walmartization” of America.

Area dependent papers are doing quite well in many places, some are even pressured to sell to chains. The Pioneer Review, published in Philip, is in a geographical “market”. While in places like California’s San Joaquin Valley, it’s tomatoes, in Haakon County it’s cattle that drives the train. Papers like The Review avoid competitive pressures of other media outlets. That works well for both the publisher, who knows his readers’ needs, and for the advertisers.

The Philip Pioneer Review is an independent newspaper endeavoring to be a candid, but fair and helpful, citizen of its community. It has earned the title of “Pioneer” with its long, local presence. The paper was called “The Bad River News” from 1906-1912, became the “Pioneer” in 1919, and then the “Pioneer Review” in 1922.

Don Ravellette, 41, is the publisher and president of a company that bears his name. He grew up in the newspaper business, as his parents were owners of the paper, and is a native of Philip. He started by cleaning the presses.

South Dakota people are hesitant to sing their own song, but Ravellette has a sweet story of success, by any measure. He is an entrepreneur who knows where he is and wants to go, and is on his way. He now operates seven newspapers, including the Philip Pioneer Review, in west central South Dakota. The others serve the towns of Kadoka, Wall, New Underwood, Faith, Bison, and Murdo.

He is not only an astute businessman, but in his heart and soul is a cattleman – a simple cowboy who’s not afraid to get dust (and other stuff) on his boots, a real product of the land where he grew up. The day I saw him, he had helped brand a hundred head of cattle.

Ravellette says he avoids taking a position on local, state, or national politics. “Here, I have to walk down the streets and be aloof from this,” he said. He loves the people in these towns, and says, “Each community has its own identity, and I want it to stay that way instead of telling them what to do or how to vote.”

He sees a great future in this area as more people see not only the quiet beauty, but development opportunities spreading in western South Dakota.

Don gives much credit to his loyal, dedicated staff. Kelly Penticoff has been with the paper for 20 years and its general manager since 1995. She is married, a native of the Faith and Philip areas, and started as a proofreader. She is pretty and smart, a good combination, and makes the place hum. A graduate of Philip High School where she was “good in English”, she learned the newspaper business from the ground up; it’s a perfect fit.

The new editor is Del Bartels, who comes from the Black Hills. He is a smart, solid worker who is seen at nearly every local event, and bent over his word processor when he gets back to the office.

There are many rural correspondents like Vivian Hansen, who write columns of chatty, local happenings, including who visited who, what they had to eat, or if they brought a hot dish or jello. Readers have said they “keep taking the paper” because of these reports by correspondents.

So, don’t overlook your hometown newspaper. The stuff that really matters if there.