The Edgerton Reporter, a ‘weekly miracle’ for 150 years

Teri Saylor

Special to Publishers' Auxiliary

Aug 1, 2023

This year, the Edgerton Reporter celebrates its 150th year of weekly miracles. It’s also a sentimental anniversary for Diane Everson (pictured), who spent most of her adult life laboring alongside her parents, Helen and Harlan, who bought the newspaper in 1951.

It’s a Thursday afternoon in Edgerton, Wisconsin. After a busy week putting the Edgerton Reporter together, publisher Diane Everson is still on the go, but she’s relieved that another issue is hitting the streets.

Every day the newspaper comes out is a good day.

Dubbed “The Weekly Miracle” during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Edgerton Reporter has struggled like many other community newspapers and small businesses over the past three years.

“During COVID, were so short-staffed, we started thinking if we finish this newspaper by deadline, it will be a miracle, so we just started calling ourselves 'The Weekly Miracle,'” Everson said in a recent Zoom call.

Today, as pandemic concerns fade, Everson is still running the newspaper with a shoestring staff. With no editor or reporters, she relies on seven freelance writers to cover the news. The newspaper employs a bookkeeper, a receptionist, an individual who formats copy into columns and a proofreader.

Everson handles all the advertising and is working on hiring someone to help her with that. She also wants to hire a fulltime reporter, even though she says her freelance team is a talented group of journalists who do a great job. She works with design teams overseas to get the paper laid out, then uploads the finished pages to a printer at the Janesville (Wisconsin) Gazette, which prints, labels and drops the papers off at local post offices (editor's note: this newspaper is part of APG Printing Solutions).

This year, the Edgerton Reporter celebrates its 150th year of weekly miracles. It’s also a sentimental anniversary for Everson, who spent most of her adult life laboring alongside her parents, Helen and Harlan, who bought the newspaper in 1951.

Keeping busy is in Everson’s DNA.

“In addition to producing the newspaper, my father was in the state legislature, and my parents had a cattle and crop farm,” she said.

When her father had emergency open heart surgery, Everson stepped in to help with newspaper and farmwork. After he recovered from the surgery, Everson ran his campaign for re-election to the legislature. She became co-publisher of the Edgerton Reporter with her mother in1989 and took over the role entirely when her mother died in 2017.

“It was an exciting time, and I was really lucky to work with both my parents,” she said. “They had such high journalistic standards and were two of the finest newspaper people I have ever known.”

Even today, Everson marvels over her parents’ commitment to public service.

“My family felt the newspaper was joined with our community at the hips,” she said. “My dad would always say, 'you can’t have a successful community without a successful newspaper.'”

Everson is a past president of NNA and has served on boards for the Inland Press Association and the First Amendment Congress. She was the 1994 Wisconsin Women’s Entrepreneur of the Year and was awarded the prestigious NNA Emma C. McKinney Award in 2006. She was inducted into the Wisconsin Newspaper Hall of Fame in 2013.

With a population of 5,600 and counting, Edgerton is among the fast-growing communities situated along the I-90 corridor in south central Wisconsin. The town was founded in 1853 and was the center of the tobacco industry in southern Wisconsin in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. At one time, there were over 50 tobacco warehouses along its streets.

“People would say that back in the day, more trains left Edgerton than Chicago during tobacco processing season,” Everson said.

Around that time, a newspaper in Edgerton called the Wisconsin Tobacco Reporter covered the tobacco business, along with general news of the town. The newspaper circulated all over the world, Everson said, and over time, began gaining the reputation of being a trade publication for the tobacco industry. Because of that, national advertisers wouldn’t advertise in it.

“The owners changed the name to the Edgerton Reporter so it would attract national advertising,” Everson said. “This was in the 1940s, a few years before my parents bought it.”

Everson’s parents taught her how to do every job at the newspaper, and she was prepared when it came time to take it over. They also gave her free reign to create projects, and one of her most successful and fun activities was putting out special sections. Nontraditional newspaper advertisers were eager to support bridal sections, home improvement, spring cleaning, autos and many other subjects.

“We even developed a campus community resource guide and published it at several colleges around the state,” she said.

The Edgerton Reporter’s special sections are not as plentiful as in years past due to time constraints, but Everson is excited about an upcoming publication celebrating the local hospital’s 100th anniversary. Another section will celebrate the installation of artificial turf and a new high school football stadium, a labor of love for a small community that managed to raise $1 million for the project.

“We’ll be doing a fall sports preview, which will include the new stadium, and we hope to sell ads to the company that built the stadium, the turf installers, the designers and architect, and all the suppliers,” she said.

Like many small-town newspapers, the Edgerton Reporter has an aging readership and depends on households with children to spark interest in subscribing because of the school coverage.

Located 30 miles south of Madison and about 120 miles northwest of Chicago, Edgerton has the feel of a bedroom community.

The town was once known as a drive-by community, but in the advent of remote working and the longing for a good quality of life in small towns, people are stopping and even sticking around a while, buying homes and enjoying the area’s natural beauty.

“We have a lot of lakes around us, and our area has prospered because the Chicago tourists have started staying around here,” Everson said.

For 47 years, the Edgerton Reporter published an award-winning Lakes Edition — a tabloid for tourists filled with information about places to go, things to do, interesting features and history. It covered a 70-mile circumference and averaged around 120 pages.

“It brought in badly needed revenue for us because the tourists had money to spend, and our businesses wanted a piece of that spending,” she said. “We could sell advertising in the towns around us, and that was good.”

Everson stopped publishing the Lakes Edition during the pandemic and hasn’t had the manpower to start it back up. She’s hoping to revive it next year.

Today, the Edgerton Reporter is published on Thursdays, and its circulation is 1,800. Everson also publishes the Edgerton Advertiser, a shopper, and mails it to 5,000 non–subscribing households each week. Occasionally, she sends the whole newspaper to the entire mailing list, and that usually brings in new subscribers.

It also helps that she delivers a personal touch to each subscriber by writing a note on their subscription renewals.

“If I know them personally, I’ll write a personal note and thank them for their subscription,” she said. “And I think that’s helped us retain more subscribers.”
As in many towns with local newspapers, readers always want more news than there’s room for, Everson says.

“And especially if they have heard about a bit of news by word of mouth, they want to read about it,” she said.

School news rules, whether it’s sports, school plays, debates, spelling bees or the 4-H. Readers can find it all in the pages of the Edgerton Reporter.
As the newspaper’s 150th anniversary looms on the horizon, Everson reflects on her role cultivating a legacy in her community.

“I see the newspaper as being like a farm,” she said. “Yes, you may own it, but you’re really a steward of it, and you’re taking care of it like you take care of the land. We take care of the community by covering the news and providing an advertising vehicle for our businesses, and we provide information for the readers so they can make choices about things happening in their lives.”

Teri Saylor is a writer in Raleigh, North Carolina. Reach her at