Buying a Newspaper at Age 22 Not a Problem for Nebraska Journalist

By Gerri Peterson, Publisher/Editor, Hooker County Tribune, Mullen, Nebraska

My journalism career started in eighth grade, when I began covering high school basketball games after answering an ad in the local weekly tabloid newspaper, the Hooker County Tribune.

But my love for writing really began clear back in first and second grade, when I tried to fill as many writing journals during a school year as possible.

I was an avid journal writer all through my adolescence, and by junior high I was interested in a career as a photojournalist. I continued to write sports stories and other feature stories for the Tribune throughout high school, as well as be on the high school yearbook and newspaper staff.

My senior year of high school I narrowed my major down to journalism. On the way to a college visit at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, I also visited Concordia University at the suggestion of my mom since it was a “Lutheran college,” our church affiliation, in Seward, Nebraska.

I found out that at Concordia, I could get a degree in Communications with an emphasis in Public Relations and Journalism in 3.5 years, since I had taken a semester worth of college classes through distance learning in high school. At UNL I would have to choose which specific field of journalism I wanted, and it would take me five years if I also did public relations.

Gerri Peterson, Publisher/Editor of the Hooker County Tribune

After my scholarship offers came in, even though Concordia had a private school price tag, it would still be the best bang for my buck, which was important to me since I was paying for it all myself.

I immediately joined the staff of Concordia’s student newspaper, The Sower, where I was a staff member all three and a half years.

I was the rare college student who never second guessed my major and my favorite classes were always my writing and reporting classes. (Or maybe it was badminton or square and line dancing?)

Throughout college I continued to write for my hometown newspaper as much as I could during breaks, and this was when I started writing my column, “Pieces of Me,” which I still write today. I also did some photography and reporting for a larger neighboring weekly newspaper, the Custer County Chief.

The summer between my junior and senior year I had applied for and won a scholarship and paid internship from Nebraska Life Magazine in Norfolk, Nebraska. That was a great experience, and I even had a few stories published. But I realized that I liked the faster turnaround of a newspaper compared to a magazine.

The summer before my last semester of college, Lanita, the publisher of my hometown newspaper, asked me the question that everyone asks college students at that point in their lives — “What are you going to do after graduation?” I told her that my dream job was to own a small-town newspaper, and to let me know when she and her husband were ready to sell.

That October, two months before I graduated, I was still trying to figure out what I was going to do for a job when I received an email from Lanita asking if I was serious about owning a newspaper because they were looking to sell the paper that summer!

I screamed.

My dream job fell into my lap, not five or 10 years after graduating from college like I thought was more realistic, but immediately.

Believe it or not, the bank wasn’t real wild about loaning money to a fresh college grad with student loans, who also didn’t have any experience running a business. But the owners of the Tribune were willing to finance it for me, which I really appreciated. I was even able to pay them off a few years early!

I worked for Lanita from January until July 1, when the ownership was officially transferred over to me. She taught me everything she knew from 20 years of owning the paper.

My fiancé, Dane, and I also bought the house that the newspaper office is attached to, and then were married the next month! It was a busy summer!

I was 22 years old when I purchased the Tribune, making me one of the youngest publishers in the state – and the nation. Despite it being my hometown, I still felt like I had to prove myself and my product of a quality weekly newspaper to my community, which I feel like I have successfully done over the last 11 years.