A longstanding mouthpiece, commentator, and documentarian of the Proctor community, the Proctor Journal is much more than a newspaper. After 110 years in circulation, it has proven itself an established brand and essential reading for any engaged Proctor citizen. Adding to this living legacy is its century-old office, which today stands as a familiar piece of historic architecture in the City.
The Proctor Journal began in 1906, when the paper was founded by Harry Breckenridge “H. B.” McKenny. Though legally not considered a newspaper until 1907, its weekly circulation was consistent from its first issue, published on June 23, 1906.
In 1908, R. K. Welch took over the duties of editor and, with his wife, proved highly influential in establishing the Proctor Journal as a cornerstone in the Village of Proctorknott. But likely their greatest contribution did not come in continued weekly publication of the paper, but in the form of the Journal’s actual building.
Looking for a building that would serve both as a home and a business, the Welches turned to the Sears catalog in 1909. Since the building would serve a dual purpose, they wanted something impressive, with presence. In turn, they ordered a two-story building, in addition to swanky pillars at extra cost. Appropriately, the Sears home was shipped into the Village of Proctorknott by rail and assembled on Fifth Street, set up to host the couple’s business on the ground floor and their home on the second.
Upon completion of the Journal office, the Welches hosted a surprise party for R.K.’s visiting sister, Beatrice Irwin of St. Paul. The following day, July 10, 1909, the Duluth Evening Herald reported, “The new place is large and light and a credit to the village.”
A significant reputation of the Journal is the historic loyalty of the editors who owned the paper and worked in its office. After a long tenure with the Journal, Welch gave up his post to Lynn Smith in 1948, who served until John Benson, an editor at the Duluth News Tribune, and his wife Blanche, bought the paper in 1951. Jake Benson, John’s son, worked alongside his father and mother for a number of years until taking over as editor and publisher himself in 1976. Jake’s ownership of the Proctor Journal (and other local newspapers) continues today.
Long tenures aren’t the only proof of the editors’ loyalty, however. Up until 1964, all editors, like the Welches, have lived in the building. And more importantly, all editors have devoted their energy to create something vital in the community – for sake of communication, entertainment, and even occasional fame.
Notably during John Benson’s tenure, the Journal was notorious for articles focusing on sex and scandal, drawing swift criticism of city dealings and therefore attracting high readership. A 1981 Minneapolis Star Tribune article highlighting the Journal and the senior Benson’s life read, “This house, whose siding has had to serve as armor against occasional rock-flingers, is headquarters for what may be the most controversial small-town paper with power and punch, one that is enjoyed by many for its humor and denounced by others as ‘totally immoral.’ A paper both relished and despised.”
Jake Benson’s tenure as editor and publisher, who along with his wife and office manager Diane Giuliani, thus far serves up a different reputation — one largely composed of consistency, industry advocacy, community advocacy, and occasional excitement. The Journal was one of the first newspapers in Minnesota to have a presence on the internet. In 2006, Benson inspired national headlines when he started charging political campaign letter writers five cents per word for printing, saying, “After years of having candidates drop by the office, news release in hand but no ads, I just got tired of spending space and time and not getting any sort of advertising and then getting barraged with last-minute letters to the editor supporting issues and candidates.” In 2010, the Minnesota Newspaper Association elected Benson as its president. Today, the paper remains the official newspaper for the City of Proctor and has a circulation of about 2,000.
Evolving into a truly iconic paper through its over-hundred years, the Proctor Journal — and its building — is an integral member of the Proctor community. And through it all, no one can dispute that it has brought, has held, and will keep the Proctor community together and informed long into the future.