Cecile Wehrman, The Journal to expand literacy project statewide

Kate Decker

Feb 1, 2023

February 2023 KidScoop News
January 2023 KidScoop News
December 2022 KidScoop News

‘If people don't like to read, then what does the newspaper have to offer them?’

You don’t have to be a big newspaper to accomplish big things.

In a new-year phone conversation, that was the sentiment echoed by Cecile Wehrman, publisher of The Journal in Crosby, North Dakota, as she kicked off 2023 by more than doubling the number of Kid Scoop Newspaper In Education copies she is sharing with North Dakota schoolchildren via their local newspapers.
When Wehrman learned about literacy rates in her community, she devised a plan to take action.

“I started learning about the literacy rates among adults — which is only about 50% of adults are even proficient readers — and then you look at the schools that are in the 30s for proficiency in reading in elementary ages … ,” Wehrman explained. “You realize that this is like an existential need that we need to make sure a new generation is reading and open to reading on newsprint.”

She continued, “The light bulb that went off for me is that if people don't like to read, then what does the newspaper have to offer them?”

Wehrman began the educational effort in May 2022, and as of January 2023, has gone from providing 12,000 copies to 28,000 copies; she is now making plans to expand to the whole state by fall 2023.

“It's funny because I'm sitting here in the far northwestern corner of North Dakota at, you know, a small weekly newspaper, and I'm doing something that's impacting half the state and potentially impacting the whole state,” Wehrman said.


Mid-December, Strengthen ND — an organization working to amplify nonprofits and rural communities — awarded The Journal a $100,000 grant. This adds to $100,000 previously raised in 2022, coming from the family of a former longtime Journal publisher ($50,000), the North Dakota Newspaper Association Education Foundation ($34,000) and individual donors.

“I would say it's not a hard sell,” Wehrman said. “Once you hear the story of what we're trying to do to engage a newer generation and make reading fun on newsprint, people just get it. And then they see the product, which is a 24–page tab that's full of color and neat graphics and almost kind of looks like a comic book. But it's just as soon as they see it, they just get it — that this is a vehicle that's going to encourage kids to want to delve into reading. And by the way, it happens to come on newsprint, which is making that connection that good things come on newsprint.”

Wehrman said she is happy to talk to any newspapers wishing to start a similar effort.

“One thing that's been really key is truly to make each newspaper a partner in this,” Wehrman explained. “For the most part, they are the ones that are contacting the local school and saying, ‘Hey, we want to bring this to you. There's no charge.’ And then they get the credit.”

Wehrman can be reached at journal@crosbynd.com.

Kate Decker is the managing editor of the NNA Foundation's monthly newspaper, Publishers' Auxiliary, and the associate director of the National Newspaper Association. She is based in north Texas. Email her at kate@nna.org.