FARGO — Norman B. Black took time in his busy life to write his brother a short letter with exciting news: He bought The Fargo Forum and Daily Republican.
“I believe I have picked up the best newspaper property in the United States for the money invested,” Black wrote April 27, 1917. “We paid $100,000.00 cash for the plant.”
That $100,000 investment 100 years ago is equivalent to $2.1 million today, according to inflation calculators.
The change in ownership of the newspaper, established in 1878 and now known as The Forum, was announced in the paper’s April 17, 1917, edition, marking the beginning of 100 years of family ownership by the Black and Marcil family.
It was a bold move by Norman B. Black, a North Dakota newspaper veteran. Just days earlier, on April 6, the United States entered World War I and the populist movement roiled North Dakota politics.
The same year, Woodrow Wilson High School was established in Fargo, named after the current president.
Black had been born in Port Hope, Ontario, the second of eight children and the son of a railroad worker whose family had immigrated to Canada from Scotland.
As it turned out, Black didn’t have the $100,000, which he had to travel to New York to borrow. He gave the previous owner, J.P. Dotson, $100 for a 30-day option to buy the newspaper. Banks decided Black was a good investment, given his success in managing the Grand Forks Herald as publisher and general manager.
Dotson had called Black, and the two met in the lobby of the Gardner Hotel in downtown Fargo, where Dotson told Black the newspaper was for sale. Joined by several close associates, Black was able to make the purchase.
“He is not only a businessman of proved ability, but he is also a genial, affable gentleman and Fargo business and social circles will be glad to welcome him and his family as permanent citizens of the city,” Dotson wrote in announcing the change to readers April 17, 1917.
“Norman B. Black was a pioneer in the newspaper business,” said William C. Marcil, Sr., chairman of the board of Forum Communications Co., which owns The Forum. “I think Norman, along with his son Norman D. Black and grandson Norman D. Black, Jr., would be proud of the company and its future.”
Norman B. Black’s tenure as publisher ended in 1931. He was succeeded by his son, Norman D. Black, who was publisher from 1931 to 1944. Norman D. Black, Jr., was publisher from 1944 to 1969.
Marcil, who served as The Forum’s publisher from 1969 to 2010, married Jane Black, Norman D. Black Jr.’s daughter. Their son, Bill Marcil, Jr., now serves as fifth-generation publisher of The Forum and president and CEO of Forum Communications Co.
“The Marcil family has maintained the solid business and journalism principles of the Black family,” said Marcil Sr. “We will continue to hold high standards of journalism and integrity into the future.”
In the century since the Black family bought The Forum, the company has grown considerably, with more than 1,500 employees and properties in four states: North Dakota, Minnesota, South Dakota and Wisconsin. Today, Forum Communications owns more than 50 publication titles, four ABC-affiliated television stations, commercial printing businesses, an interactive division, full-service content marketing, video production, radio, and multiple news websites.
“I often think of the thousands of people who have helped grow this company and the thousands who will come after I am gone,” said Bill Marcil, Jr. “I have a deep sense of gratitude for all those people and pride that my great-great grandfather had the desire to make it happen.”
The news business has its challenges, but also its rewards, he said.
“The media business at times can be filled with drama and sleepless nights, about what to print and what not to print, to broadcast or not. I think about the businesses that have used our products to grow and thrive. Every day we write and broadcast history. It really is an exciting business.”
Jane Black Marcil grew up and saw the newspaper grow and change, from the era of typewriters and linotype to the era of electronic publishing, where print and broadcast merge.
“It has been an honor my whole life to know that my great-grandfather bought and grew a business that has helped so many people pay their bills, make their house payments and send their kids through college,” she said. “Forum Communications has always been a special place made up of wonderful people.”