Same letters, new words

PHOTO: When downtown Hibbing moved to Howard Street in 1921 the Hibbing Daily Tribune set up an office in the First National Bank Building. (PHOTO: Paul Aubin Collection, Hibbing Historical Society)
Aaron J. Brown

Aaron J. Brown is an Iron Range blogger, author, radio producer and columnist for the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

In June of 1998 I covered Legion baseball games for the Hibbing Daily Tribune. One hot summer night some kid threw a no hitter. The kid was my age but I pretended to be a grownup to interview him. Afterward, I typed up the story in the newsroom.

All of a sudden Christina Hiatt, one of the news reporters, stormed into the building. She wanted to surf the internet and cool off in the air conditioning. I said hello. She said something unkind about her sweltering apartment. She regarded me with polite indifference, a benign interloper. I noticed that she was quite a bit feistier than when I had first met her during work hours.

A couple weeks later we found each other at the Hibbing Jubilee street dance and started chatting. I asked her out. We celebrate 20 years of marriage next month.

Meantime, the paper where we met just passed 126 years of service to this community.

The Hibbing Daily Tribune came to town as a hand-powered printing press and a knapsack full of letters. The editor set every letter of every word into the press and then pulled a lever to press each copy onto paper. Then they tore out the typesetting and rearranged the letters into new words for the next edition. The first editor was a carpenter, selected partly because he had the necessary arm strength.

The Tribune started publishing on another hot summer night — July 1, 1899 — joining rivals like the Hibbing Sentinel and Hibbing News. The Tribune outlasted and consumed them both, respectively. When it acquired the News in 1927 the Tribune rolled back its founding date to 1894, just one year after the formation of the village.

Soon came mechanized presses and a full staff. The Tribune became the Iron Range’s first daily newspaper in 1909 and the Range’s first Associated Press member in 1913. Now, 126 years after the origins of Hibbing newspapering, another big change will come.

This Wednesday the Hibbing Daily Tribune will merge with the Mesabi Daily News to become the Mesabi Tribune. It will publish six days a week and become the only remaining daily newspaper in Northeastern Minnesota.

There’s more to a paper than the printing press. These 26 letters, arranged into words, mark the history of the town. In 1915, when they were still dueling for readers, the Hibbing Daily Tribune and Mesaba Ore and Hibbing News not only reported the town’s fight for independence from the Oliver Iron Mining Company, they fought for it on their opinion pages.

They also sparred with each other, and other papers across the Range. It seemed there were as many opinions as there were editors, a good reminder of why social media seems so conflict-driven today.

As an early AP subscriber the Tribune shared news of the world with a town that was 50 percent foreign-born. Because of censorship in Europe during World War I clippings from the Hibbing Daily Tribune informed relatives from the old country where the armies were fighting.

These typeset letters forged through two world wars, countless booms and busts, and a move of the entire town. By the time I became editor of the paper in 2001 the entire process of making a paper was moving to a computer screen. There were still 26 letters, though, the same ones from the publisher’s 19th Century knapsack.

Change often means loss. And we are experiencing loss here. The way people consume information changed so dramatically these past 20 years that the market no longer supports a printed paper in every town.

But the news keeps happening. And the letters are the same. So long as people keep arranging those letters into the truth this human tradition and this American right of a free press will continue.

This column and I will be making the leap to the new Mesabi Tribune next week. I hope you’ll come along. It’s the same letters, rearranged for our changing times.

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog and is the creator of the Great Northern Radio Show which aired for eight years on Northern Community Radio. This piece first appeared in the Sunday, July 5, 2020 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune.



  1. It will be great to read your column on paper, rather than electronically.

    • Thank you, Mr. Haapala, and I am terrified that your line edits can now be mailed to me in red ink. 🙂 I still think twice before starting a sentence with “There.” But seriously, I wouldn’t be doing this without you.

  2. Joe musuch says

    Nice obituary…but unlike the post office no dead letters office. The letters are still actively dancing. Wasn’t the Sentinel more pro labor or am I mistaking ? Seems to me that the strike March from Virginia to Hibbing by the Wobblies In 1916 got more coverage in that sheet.

    • The Sentinel died in 1901, I believe. The publisher had grown tired of the mining companies and left/was run off. Claude Atkinson was brought in to run the News as a pro-company paper but ended up turning on them. He changed the name to the Mesaba Ore and Hibbing News and, during 1916, was far more supportive of the strike than any other Range paper (though he never fully warmed to the IWW). The Tribune was a cautious, comparatively bland newspaper with occasional moments of righteous indignation. It remains as such.

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