‘A lot of people like to hold the newspaper in their hands’

Dec 29, 2017

Yankton County
Observer, soon to
celebrate 40th
anniversary, uniquely serves its community

By Teri Saylor
Special to Publishers’ Auxiliary
If you aren’t from around Yankton, SD, you might do a double-take when you spot Kathy Church and Kristy Wyland walking down the street. But for most folks who live in the small town near the Iowa border, the sight of these identical twins might signal that something newsworthy is happening because the sisters own the Yankton County Observer, the local weekly newspaper.
Born and raised in Yankton, being twins has become part of their identity, and as co-publishers, their “twinship” has become part of the newspaper’s identity, too.
“So many people can’t even tell us apart, though there are some differences in our appearance,” Kristy said. Indeed, she wears her hair slightly shorter than her sister. “Being twins makes us memorable,” she added.
The twins, 60, might be the legal guardians of the Observer today, but the newspaper will always be Brian and Bernie Hunhoff’s baby. The brothers birthed the Observer in 1978 down in Bernie’s basement, which he renovated into a production office. Bernie was 28 and working full-time as a public relations specialist at the University of South Dakota, while getting the newspaper off the ground. Brian, who was 18 at the time, was working for his brother for $50 a week, laboring to get circulation numbers up. He eventually became co-owner and took over the entire newspaper operation when Bernie left to start South Dakota Magazine, which he still publishes.
“It was a hard job, and I loved it,” Brian said. “But I couldn’t control my hours and worked 90 to 100 hours a week.”
He sold the newspaper to Dave Baumeister in 2002, and took a job as a mental health assistant for the South Dakota Human Services Center until 2012 when he was elected to his first term as Yankton County’s Register of Deeds, an office he still holds. He served as chair of the Yankton County Commissioners and became well-known for his strong advocacy for open government by his reluctance to go into closed sessions. Through it all, he has continued his labor of love with the Observer as a contributing writer and editorial page editor. Brian also writes a regular column for Publishers’ Auxiliary.
Kathy and Kristy made their way to the newspaper through their love of printing. Both worked together at the local Boller Printing business until their mother developed dementia. Kristy left the workforce for seven years to care for her mother. When the printshop came up for sale in 2011, they purchased it. They bought the Observer from Baumeister in 2012.
Given their printing experience, they thought publishing a newspaper would be a breeze, but early on, they discovered design work was one of their biggest challenges.
“We thought laying it out would be the easy part, but we were wrong,” Kathy said. “It was a 24-hour process, but now we’ve mastered it.”
Kristy added that their Friday delivery schedule can also trip them up if the weekly news cycle doesn’t cooperate.
“If something newsworthy happens at the end of the week, just as the paper is coming out, we have a dilemma,” she said. “And we have to wait another entire week before we publish the next paper.”
Working with Brian, who enjoys enterprise journalism, the publishers compensate for the delay in publishing breaking news by digging a little deeper into the issues affecting the community. A social media presence is on the drawing board for 2018, and the Observer does have a website, available in full to subscribers, who can pay for the print edition with a value-added login to the website. Or readers can subscribe to the website only.
“A lot of people like to hold the newspaper in their hands,” Kathy said. “Most of our subscribers read it in print.”
The newspaper’s circulation is 2,000, delivered by mail and available from racks at convenience stores, grocery stores and restaurants. Many readers love to drop by the Observer on Fridays to pick up their Observer and hang around. The twins enjoy these opportunities to chat one-on-one with their readers and customers.
According to Brian, one of the unique aspects of the Observer is that the longtime ad manager, Jim Anderson, is also the newspaper’s cartoonist, who he describes as “quite skilled,” with a unique, conservative point of view.
“Another unique thing about the Observer, of course, is that it has survived four decades in a community with a good daily newspaper—The Yankton Daily Press & Dakotan. That required us to create a niche with a lot of human interest stories, columns and opinion writers,” Brian said. “Some of the paper’s longtime unique features include: “The Observer Gets Around,” “The Roster,” “Sportlight,” “Focus on Farmers,” “Off the Cuff” and “Around Town.”’
Brian adds an editorial voice to the opinion pages. Although the newspaper doesn’t attend local government meetings, it does publish minutes and mines legal notices for story ideas.
Good news is the hallmark of the Observer, according to the twins. They publish news about youth and high school sports and run birthdays each week. They run news from the sheriff’s report such as warnings of cattle on the highway, suspicious cars and other out of the ordinary rural happenings.
“Our readers love this,” Kristy said. “We have carved out our niche as a friendly newspaper. People know what kind of stories they are going to get in the Observer.”
Over the years, the Yankton Observer has won numerous awards, including eight first-place awards and the big sweepstakes award from the 2015 South Dakota Newspaper Association’s Better Newspapers Contest. Brian has won the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors’ Golden Quill award twice, and last spring, he traveled with his 13-year-old daughter, Olivia, to Tulsa, OK, where she accepted her first place NNA award for humorous column writing.
The Observer will celebrate its 40th birthday in less than two months, making it the second-oldest newspaper in Yankton history, according to Brian. Several other weeklies have come and gone over the years. There was a weekly called the Yankton Public Opinion that published from 1920 to 1957.
“I enjoy reading the Public Opinion archives,” Brian said. “Like us, they survived many years in the shadow of the daily, but managed to forge an identity that lasted nearly four decades. I feel a kinship with the Public Opinion because it reminds me, in many ways, of the Observer, which has been such a huge part of my life and my identity since I was a teenager.”
For the twins, their main goal is to be more successful.
“We pray every night to be able to keep going and to continue putting out the best newspaper we can,” Kathy said.


Publisher’s Name: Kathy Church, co-publisher and managing editor.
Name of your newspaper: Yankton County Observer, Yankton, SD.
Circulation: 2,000.
When was the newspaper founded? February 1978. (The Observer’s 40th birthday is February 2018.)
How do you perceive your role in the community? We publish a folksy “people paper” with emphasis on human interest features, multi-photo essays of community events, and local columnists. The Observer gained its foothold by becoming the paper of record for the five small towns in Yankton County. We continue to focus on those towns, in addition to the larger city of Yankton. Also—as an independent, locally-owned newspaper produced by lifelong community residents—we feel our opinion pieces (editorials and columns) resonate because people know we are here for the long haul.
What makes the Observer unique? Our special projects have been unique. Our staff produced a 13-part ‘Back to School’ series, spending one day in the classroom of each grade level. Earlier this year, longtime writer Brian Hunhoff did a 17-part series on interesting and important news that can be found in public notices. Brian has also won first-place in the National Newspaper Association’s Better Newspaper Contest awards for editorial packages about open government, and for his reporting on a century-old local murders that went unpunished here. He is currently working on a 10-part series for 2018 about the rising suicide rate in Yankton County and what can be done to reduce it.
What are your greatest challenges? Like most newspapers, our biggest challenge is maintaining advertising revenue and readership amid the challenges of social media.
What are your biggest rewards? When we publish a piece that really strikes a chord with the community and gets good reader response.
What is one thing about the newspaper you would never change? I can’t think of anything we would never change. Change is good. We must be willing to change with the times.
Email Address: kathy@ycobserver.com
Phone Number: 605-665-2263
Website: www.ycobserver.com