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Deft portrait of America’s divisions, played out on the prairie, draws praise

Reed Anfinson, publisher of the weekly Swift County Monitor-News, walks by old letterpress printing blocks and bound volumes at the newspaper's office in Benson, Minn., Nov. 29, 2021. Anfinson is also editor, photographer and reporter, and while his editorials lean left, he takes pains to report the news without bias. “There are no alternative facts,” he says. “There is just the truth.” But in an America of competing visions, some in the community say he has taken sides and they have lost trust in the paper. (AP Photo / David Goldman)

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AP global enterprise reporter Tim Sullivan and his colleague, photographer David Goldman, produced a widely read and highly praised portrait of America divided against itself, focusing on the editor/publisher of a weekly newspaper and his disgruntled readers in the small prairie town of Benson, Minnesota. Sullivan’s reporting found small and midsized papers across the country facing worrying losses of conservative subscribers who believe in an alternate America, a place where vaccines are dangerous and the government is plotting against its own people.

Sullivan reached out to Reed Anfinson, publisher, editor, photographer and reporter of The Swift County Monitor-News, and also to Anfinson’s critics — such as the local Republican Party. Eventually Sullivan was introduced to Jason Wolter, who lives next door to Anfinson and believes vaccines are killing people. Sullivan spent weeks traveling to western Minnesota, meeting repeatedly with both men and many others, including a deeply conservative farmer. Goldman joined Sullivan, providing rich, evocative photos of this place and its people.

The package,with a presentation built by immersive storytelling producer Dario Lopez,was among the AP’s most-viewed stories of the week and led metrics for reader engagement. It also drew wide praise: Politico’s Playbook said it was “a lyrical and disturbing story about America coming apart at the granular level.” NPR’s Minneapolis political newsletter promoted it as its first suggested read, and the St. Paul Pioneer Press called it “our top read this morning.”

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