MinnesotaBrown’s Top Posts of 2015

Aaron Brown hosts the Great Northern Radio Show from Brooklyn Park, Minnesota on March 7, 2015. (PHOTO: Grant Frashier)

Aaron Brown hosts the Great Northern Radio Show from Brooklyn Park, Minnesota on March 7, 2015. (PHOTO: Grant Frashier)

Each year, my top posts are usually a hodgepodge of Northern Minnesota interests. Sometimes, however, they present a real trend. That’s certainly the case this year as my posts about troubles in Northern Minnesota’s mining industry and related musings dominated my annual list. More on that below.

Before we dive into the specifics, let me again thank you for joining me here at MinnesotaBrown.com — whether that was once, twice or every day. This blog takes a tremendous amount of my time and produces a tiny, tiny fraction of my income. I don’t do fundraisers. I don’t have subscriptions. I don’t fling popup ads at you.

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Without further ado, here are my top 25 posts written in 2015 according to my Google Analytics stats:

1. Warm Greetings from Northern Minnesota’s Hellscape

This thing was tops and it wasn’t even close. And even thought I hate everything about this post, the fact that I wrote it and so many people shared it, this one is a literary metaphor for the whole year. A) Instant outrage over something stupid on social media, B) a lack of empirical understanding of objective truth, C) A clickbait post attacking clickbait using clickbait, to the benefit of no one, D) The Iron Range economy actually turned out to be a hellscape shortly after this was posted, E) Oh, crap, this is turning into a listicle. DON’T CLICK ON THIS … NO, DO

2. Tall ships will return to Duluth in 2016
I’m cheating a little by including this one since I wrote about it late in 2014, but people love their Duluth tall ships and they will just stone cold Google them all year long.

3. Iron Range Fourth of July 2015
Every year, more comers try to steal my SEO mojo on my annual parades, street dances and fireworks post, but they all fail. They’re losers. Newspapers give you too much info, TV stations give you too little. This is just right. This is what winning looks like.

4. Stunning new video shows Hwy 53 route
This drone footage gave most people their first true understanding of where the quarter-billion dollar Iron Range Highway 53 bridge is actually going. Wonder how long YouTube-jacking drone footage will work for me?

5. Things you will see at your first Iron Range 4th of July
Another oldie recycled in 2015, but people love it and so I’m including it again.

6. Great Scott! Doc Brown visits Iron Range hot spot
Never mind the Christopher Lloyd part of this story. This post, and its resulting popularity, and resulting derivatives on social media, shows the degree to which the Iron Range cannot contain its shit when in the company of even the somewhat famous.

7. An uncomfortable truth about Iron Range’s mining woes
This post from April made people feel uncomfortable. The fact that my assertions were correct and also apply to next year is arguably more uncomfortable for everyone.

8. Magnetation announces indefinite idle at Keewatin plant
It got worse for this scram miner, though Magnetation did win its lawsuit to hold up its contracts with AK Steel last week.

9. Naked parties expose awkward moment for Iron Range city

10. Sleeping Giant: subtle view of Range people, places, color
Vance Gellart’s photo exhibit drew a lot of interest here at the ol’ blog.

11. Bob Dylan speaks of Hibbing, grandma & his dream career
Any time Bob Dylan talks about his hometown of Hibbing it’s a top 25 post at MinnesotaBrown.com.

12. NY Times story paints grim picture for Iron Range mines
No, really, the mining stuff was bad news this year.

veda-1-w900-h900-272x40013. Veda Ponikvar: America’s Iron Lady
My tribute to longtime Iron Range newspaper editor Veda Ponikvar, who died this year. Arguably one of the most significant Iron Range figures of the post-WWII era.

14. ’What’s left: lives touched by suicide’ opens in Grand Rapids
Though replete with heavy material, the “What’s Left” exhibit was extremely popular and was one of the MacRostie Art Center’s biggest openings ever. It was beautifully done.

15. Essar ramps up Nashwauk construction
This was good news at the time. Of course, Essar ended up hitting another work stoppage due to financial problems. The project now tip-toes forward, slowed by the same general mining malaise as the rest of the Iron Range.

16. The Iron Range is Dead; Long live the Range

I got some genuine push-back on this one. My assertion was that the era of mining that started with the taconite boom of the late 1950s and early 1960s is now over. We will still mine ore on the Range, but what comes next will be different. Smaller. More strategic. Mining is already fading as the dominant source of income for most people in our region, even in the heart of the Mesabi. Again, an April controversy that is fading into a New Year fact.

17. Sitting Range senator takes job with lobbying group
This was the first of a series of posts covering Sen. David Tomassoni’s decision to take a job with a local government lobbying organization while keeping his seat. Ultimately, he did the right thing by stepping back from the new job to keep his Senate seat. The cozy, fluid transition between low-paying legislative positions and high-paying lobbying positions remains a big problem, however, and certainly not just here on the Iron Range.

18. Essar Steel Algoma declares bankruptcy
Essar Steel Minnesota’s sister company in Sault Ste. Marie declared the Canadian version of bankruptcy, indicative of cash flow issues throughout the Essar Global family.

19. Researcher to revisit Iron Range dialect

Hey, everyone, come see! A story that isn’t horrible. Dr. Sarah Schmelzer Loss of Hibbing returned home to do a study on her native land’s unique regional dialect.

20. U.S. Steel to idle Keewatin Taconite affecting 400 workers
Bad news.

21. Minntac to lay off 700 in taconite slowdown
More bad news.

Highway 5322. Highway 53 to the Danger Zone
Ah, the Highway 53 project. Unloved, unstoppable, unbelievably expensive.

23. The Lobbying Cycle that limits Iron Range progress
In which I detail how a small group of Iron Range lobbyists use personal relationships and campaign fundraising to create a pay-to-play system. It’s not just here. But it is here. Bonus points for having my point proven in the comments section.

24. A more fashionable future for the Iron Range

This column introduced two Iron Range entrepreneurs. Both used an interest in fashion to serve Iron Range customers. They demonstrate how unexpected ideas like theirs make our communities stronger.

25. Is this the 1980s again on the Iron Range?
You’ve read the list so far. What do you think?

Fargo reviews
This year has a notable absence in my top traffic posts: my reviews of the TV show “Fargo.” It was a fantastic season and I reviewed the stuffing out of it. But the posts simply did not perform as well as last year.

Near as I can figure there were a couple reasons. One, the show being set in Southwestern Minnesota put me a little outside my “local expertise” comfort zone. I could manage, but it wasn’t as effortless as it was for Season One’s Bemidji and Duluth.

Second, there were many new comers in the Fargo review universe, most notably Minnesota Public Radio. In fact, MPR ate my SEO lunch on Minnesota-centric reviews. They even had the “Aw, Jeez” podcast, hosted by two benign, Current-sounding folks. I listened to about 30 seconds of the first episode before yelling guttural curses at my iPhone. Remember that scene from “A Christmas Story” with the dad, the neighbor dogs and the turkey? “Sons of bitches, Bumpasses!” Yeah, that.

Star Tribune
Sadly, my Up North Report blog at the Star Tribune ended this year, along with all the other “Your Voices” blogs. That section was eliminated in favor of a new first-person feature called “10,000 Takes.” I was honored to write for that section in a Dec. 24 personal essay entitled “Grandpa and Me: An Iron Ranger’s relationship with the grandfather who longed for a son.”

That essay did extremely well on StarTribune.com even though it was a holiday. For those interested in a follow-up, I can report that Grandpa is still here on the Range in the rehab facility. He’s doing so well that he’s cursing again. Believe me, this is a good thing.

My favorite and most newsworthy posts not on the top 25

The intrigue, impact and warning of low gas prices
A January post I find interesting for its proto-connections to the fact that low oil prices helped gut domestic demand for steel
The Iron Range’s Highway 53 Paradox
Governor names Mark Phillips as IRRRB commissioner
DNR to sell CL-215 water bombers (with bonus story about my time in a CL-215)
Reed Drug in Grand Rapids to close
Life is for people, not industries or ideologies
On shapes and letters, sound and fury
Gov. Dayton on Sen. Bakk: ‘I can’t trust him’
Iron ore tumble highlights hole in mining debate
A pretty good early March prediction of what happened the rest of the year.
The little town with blazing fast internet
A print/radio hybrid about a small Mississippi town with parallels to Northern Minnesota
Flags of many colors on the Iron Range
Remembering Howard Pitzen of the Effie Rodeo
Magnetation reorganizes under Chapter 11
An economy stuck on trudge
Vincent Bugliosi, a Range kid who left his mark on the world
Range business, gov’t leaders call for summit
‘Everything just fits together naturally’
Using a Swedish modular construction company as a model for Northern Minnesota
The haircut heard ’round the Eighth
Free dental clinic in Duluth swamped; our state’s dental denial
Talking Iron Range on Strong Towns podcast
A really interesting conversation between Chuck Marohn and me.
Responding to the Cuyuna call
Background, and a link to a Daily Yonder piece I did about the Cuyuna Range Renaissance.
Crowd rallies for Steelworkers on the Iron Range

This year, there was a special election in House District 3A after Rep. David Dill died of cancer. Lots of intrigue leading to LIVE BLOG: House 3A Primary Election and much less intrigue leading to LIVE BLOG: House 3A General Election. State Rep. Rob Ecklund now serves Koochiching, Northern and eastern St. Louis, Lake and Cook counties in the legislature.

An interview with Canada’s Governor-General
So, get this, I interviewed Canada’s constitutional head of state this year.

How does a cool mayor leave office? With a free concert
Godspeed to Don Ness, the most successful Mayor of Duluth in a generation.

I omitted dozens of pretty good posts about the mining downturn because there were so many and how much more of that does anyone need? One overarching trend was how this year marked a shift from lots of posts about the possibility of PolyMet and nonferrous mining in general to a lot of posts about the collapse of commodities markets. PolyMet, et. al., continues to seek permits, but mining advocates largely moved from offense to defense in 2015.

My favorite newspaper columns not on the top 25
This year I celebrated 14 years of writing a weekly column for the Hibbing Daily Tribune.
A nod to Iron Range roots on every Greyhound Bus
Range native holds high hopes for ‘Cold November’
Hibbing native Karl Jacob made a film about deer hunting here on the Iron Range this fall.
Ya, I guess I do have an accent then
Makers unite for Iron Range maker space, a follow-up to Thinkers, Tinkers and 3-D printers
Broadband issue fills rural halls, demands action, which set up this later column, Golden opportunity for broadband on the Iron Range, and the ultimate state and IRRRB funding of the Paul Bunyan Central Itasca County project.
Range Wars: Essar, Cliffs clash shows Mesabi at the crossroads
Blazing trails to sustainable Iron Range economy
Twilight for the unlovable chair
Somebody in the crowd
History’s human forge
Paying raptors attention
Un da’ raynch: Revisiting Iron Range’s unique dialect
Building s’more character
Lessons from a decade of parenting (I’ve learned nothing)
A short version of the longest day
The waste of doom and gloom
Whatever gets you through the night (On David Letterman’s retirement)
On graduation day
The forgotten dome city of Northern Minnesota
Live to sauna; sauna to live

Screen shot from 1950 U.S. Air Force report on UFO sighting in Hibbing, Minnesota.

Screen shot from 1950 U.S. Air Force report on UFO sighting in Hibbing, Minnesota.

Glowing green light in the skies above Hibbing (On declassified local UFO reports)
Journey to the Center of the Sax-Zim Bog
‘Microaggression’ top word of 2015

My favorite weird posts not on the top 25
Chris Pratt was born on the Iron Range
Three drunk birds (a play) … Last “caw” for alcohol.
Ma Peep and the way things are
The Great Iron Ranger Keystone Light Caper
How to Survive Blizzards (Maybe) with Love from Minnesota
Ugly ship probably has a nice personality
City mulls animal layoffs at Duluth zoo
Divers check for missing ruby slippers beneath Range mine pit
Hockey’s iconic Hanson Brothers ‘Home on the Range’
A tale of two junkyards
How mean is Lake Superior?
National TV ‘Taco Nite’ in Taconite?

Great Northern Radio Show

My Great Northern Radio Show continued its never-ending Minnesota tour this year, with stops in Brooklyn Park, Grand Marais, Bemidji, and Larson’s Barn outside McGregor. Our next show is Feb. 6 at Mesabi East High School in Aurora in honor of the Laskiainen Finnish sliding festival in nearby Palo. Two more shows follow quickly with April 9 at Pequot Lakes and June 18 at the newly renovated Reif Center in Grand Rapids.

Wrapping Up

Aaron Brown in Grand MaraisWe had 367,000 pageviews, down about 10 percent from last year. I wrote fewer posts, a conscious decision due to my work and radio schedule. Also, election years tend to bring more traffic around here, which could explain the drop-off. Nevertheless, this audience remains uniquely well-connected and deeply tied to the place I love: Northern Minnesota. I don’t optimize. I don’t spend all day pumping links in people’s faces. I write stuff. I post stuff. I share it, usually once, on social media.

What’s in store for 2016? I’m striving for quality, not quantity. More than anything, I am learning that my work is better when my life is in balance. My kids are getting older and involved in more activities. My radio show needs more attention. I want to be more active, physically and mentally. I want to write useful, thoughtful, interesting material. Why bother with anything else? So, yeah, probably fewer posts ahead, but I want them to be better than ever.


  1. Two thumbs up, Aaron, for your always interesting, and thoughtful columns. I deeply appreciate all your efforts to keep us informed on life in our part of the country; your keen observations , and your sincere and honest presentations. Balancing life is indeed a worthy goal, and i wish you every success in achieving it
    A very Happy New Year to you and yours

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