“Lakeland News: 25 Years of Television Newscasts Celebration”


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"Lakeland News: 25 Years of Television Newscasts Celebration[image credit: Madelyn Haasken Bemidji Pioneer]"

Lakeland Public Television’s Lakeland News, a nightly telecast, is celebrating its 25th anniversary this month. Two key members of the team, Dennis Weimann as the anchor and Stacy Christenson as the weather presenter, have been part of the show since its inception.

The official 25th-anniversary broadcast of Lakeland News will air at 10 p.m. on Thursday, July 13. The enduring success of the program can be attributed to the dedication of individuals like Dennis and Stacy, as well as the unwavering support from the board, management, and staff.

Lakeland PBS, formerly known as Lakeland Public Television, has been a vital source of local news in northern Minnesota since its establishment in June 1980. When commercial television stations in the region did not cover local news, Lakeland News filled the gap, demonstrating the necessity and feasibility of delivering local television news.

Bill Sanford, the retired president, and CEO of Lakeland PBS, highlights the importance of the commitment and determination exhibited by the team in keeping Lakeland News thriving for 25 years. Their dedication and belief in the value of local television news have been instrumental in the program’s continued success.

Growing the station and expanding its credibility were key motivations behind the decision to create Lakeland News. Dennis Weimann and Mark Brewer, along with support from Emily Lahti, the general manager at the time, developed a plan and budget to establish a local nightly television newscast.

Despite concerns about the costs and staffing requirements, the board of directors, including Larry Stember, recognized the opportunity and approved the idea. They saw it as a chance to provide a valuable service to the community while also generating revenue for the station, which has always faced funding challenges as a public broadcaster.

The introduction of Lakeland News marked a significant leap of faith for the station, as it aimed to enhance its offerings and serve the local audience with informative and engaging news content. Over the past 25 years, Lakeland News has thrived, thanks to the dedication and commitment of its team members and the continued support of the community.

Weimann was hired in March 1998, four months before that first newscast. He was no stranger to Bemidji. The Stillwater High School graduate came to Bemidji State University on a football scholarship and captained the Beavers while earning his mass communication degree.

He went on to work in television for three years at KXMC in Minot, N.D., and five years at KVLY in Fargo. He was the station’s weekend sports anchor in 1998. He and his wife had a young daughter, and it was time to make a change.

“I was not making a lot of money in that role,” Weimann said. “I needed a bigger role somewhere, whether it was in journalism or not.”

Bob Smith, his former BSU professor, urged Weimann to apply for Lakeland’s news director position.

“It was a gamble at the time, for sure,” Weimann recalled. “A PBS station doing local news? But I was impressed with the people they had here. They weren’t doing news, but they were doing productions, and the quality of it matched up with what I liked to see.”

After joining Lakeland News, one of Dennis Weimann’s initial responsibilities was to hire reporters. He relied heavily on graduates from Bemidji State University (BSU), such as Stacy Christenson, who was completing her mass communication degree at the time. Christenson started as an intern, reaching out to local towns for ideas for a weekly segment called Community Spotlight. She eventually joined the staff as a full-time reporter.

Christenson’s transition into the weather role was unexpected. When it was discovered that there was no one available to do the weather, Weimann asked Christenson if she was interested, and she decided to give it a try. She quickly learned the ropes by shadowing a weather anchor at KVLY in Fargo.

Initially, Christenson had plans to gain experience at Lakeland News and move on to other opportunities. However, her journey took a different path. She is now a mother of seven children and has shifted to part-time status, focusing solely on weather reporting.

Reflecting on the unique nature of Lakeland News, Christenson acknowledges the commitment and resources required to produce a nightly newscast, especially for a PBS station. However, she emphasizes the significance of the station’s role in filling the void of TV news coverage in the region.

Lakeland News has served as a launching pad for numerous reporters, many of whom were BSU graduates. While some move on to major market jobs after a year or two at Lakeland, the station continues to cultivate talent and contribute to the growth of aspiring journalists.

Another notable success story from Lakeland News is Dave Schwartz, who started in the sports position at Lakeland before moving on to a station in Shreveport and later spending 15 years at KARE 11 in the Twin Cities. Weimann speaks highly of Schwartz, describing him as talented, dedicated, and a quick learner. Lakeland News has also seen individuals who started off rough but have gone on to major markets.

When Lakeland News first launched in July 1998, Weimann admits to feeling some nerves as the anchor. There was a different energy and the challenge of proving skeptics wrong who believed the newscast wouldn’t last more than a year.

Fast forward 25 years, and Weimann’s successful career at Lakeland has surpassed expectations. To celebrate the milestone, Lakeland PBS is hosting an open house at their offices, inviting the public to take a tour, learn about the history of Lakeland News, and watch Weimann film the Nightly News Update live.

For the 10 p.m. newscast, Weimann and Christenson will be joined by Reid Ferrin, the station’s first sports director who now resides in Atlanta.

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