Sometimes stepping back from the story reveals the big picture

Grand Rapids paper mill

As society sheds paper, an industry shrinks. Photo: Richard Sennott/ Star Tribune

Adam Belz of the Star Tribune planned to write about a local paper mill shutting down. A fatal fire caused damages of more than $50 million and the company didn’t want to make the repairs, Adam says.

“Here we had this 100-year-old mill closing and 260 people were out of work,” he says. “I thought maybe I’d do a narrative on the explosion and weave in plenty of history, the economic impact to Sartell and St. Cloud, and the health of the paper industry.”

Adam Belz

But the company’s financial losses indicated the closure was inevitable, Adam says. The company’s financial picture mirrored that of the industry so Adam broadened the story, launching an occasional series on the effects of declining demand for wood products.

In his first story, he writes that decreasing demand and industry consolidation have hurt the industry. His second story focuses on how decreasing demand affects loggers. He says a third story that emerged from his reporting looks at what’s ahead. “Scientists are working on creating new products from trees and you’d be surprised what they’ve come up with,” he says.

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