For most newspapers, a subscription rate of 100% of the residents in their distribution area would be a success so huge as to be unimaginable. But Lee Zion, whose tiny Lafayette Nicollet Ledger reaches all 500 people in the tiny Minnesota town of Lafayette, says he is throwing in the towel – because he wants to fight for Ukraine.
Zion is offering to give away the weekly publication, which is profitable and free of debt, before he goes off to fight against the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Zion, 54, bought the Ledger four years ago for $35,000, after working in journalism for decades.
“To put out a good newspaper, they have to do what I do,” Zion warned prospective owners in an interview with Minnesota’s Star Tribune. “And that is, do everything myself with only a handful of [freelancers], and work seven days a week and never take time off.”
An advertisement posted in the journal said Zion “wants to leave the paper in good hands. To get this newspaper, entirely free of charge, the next owner must show that he or she has the knowledge, experience and the drive to take on the challenge.”
Zion’s motivation to volunteer to fight against Russian soldiers is complex. Before the invasion, he concedes, he didn’t care much about Ukraine, but he did have strong feelings about the bandura, a plucked string folk instrument that combines elements of the zither and lute and is considered Ukraine’s national instrument.
“It’s a gorgeous instrument. I thought, someday I’m going to buy one,” Zion told the Star Tribune. “And Russians murdered people just for the crime of playing it.
“Sounds silly, but at the same time, it’s so silly that it’s evil,” he added.
Zion contacted a bandura chorus in Toronto who advised him to contact the Ukrainian consulate in Chicago. Ukraine officials told the Military Times in March that they were looking for foreign volunteers with combat experience who would require little training before being armed and sent to the frontline.
“Where I go, that is up to other people,” he said. “They’ll decide whether I’m going to be in a combat zone. They’ll decide whether I dig ditches. They’ll decide whether I’m a teacher. I can be an escort taking people out of Ukraine.
“Maybe they’ll put me into news, because that’s what I’ve been doing my whole adult life.”
Some won’t be sad to see him go. In a 7 March 2019 editorial decrying anti-immigrant sentiment, he suggested that if people with xenophobic attitudes did not want to fight a declining birthrate by accepting immigrants into the country, then women should have sex with him instead.
A letter from Jan Anderson of Lafayette, publicly posted to Zion on Facebook and partially republished by South Minnesota News, called the editorial “disgusting, disturbing, and downright creepy” and called for Zion to leave town: “We are asking that Mr Zion make Lafayette, and the surrounding communities, less creepy again by packing up your wares and opening shop someplace else.”