I don’t know Karl Thies or Martha Wiley, but I sure do appreciate them.
If you looked at the bottom of Page A9 on Tuesday, you can see why. A display ad they commissioned reads “Democracy dies in the darkness. Local newspapers are important. We support the Columbian.”
If you looked at the rest of the paper, you can see what prompted them to purchase the unusual ad. Like virtually every other newspaper in the United States, we are unsustainably thin on advertising. There are two main reasons: A lot of our advertisers are closed indefinitely as we battle the spread of the coronavirus. And some advertisers that are open are unsure about their inventories or aren’t enticing shoppers at the moment due to social distancing.
We haven’t been hit as hard as, say the restaurant industry. But this week, a New York Times analysis found that more than 28,000 news media employees in the United States have been subject to pay cuts, furloughs or layoffs in the last couple of weeks. On Wednesday, The Oregonian announced pay cuts and furloughs for its employees, joining most of the Portland news media in cutbacks.
We are using a Washington Employment Security Department program called Shared Work for copy editors and sports reporters, as well as employees in other departments of the newspaper. They are working reduced hours, but still receive their full benefits and get unemployment compensation for the hours they have lost. We hope it will be a way to keep our great staff as intact as possible, so that we can return to a more normal footing once the restrictions are eased. And we are doing many other things to save costs, too, as I wrote about last week.
On the revenue side, we’ve applied for a share of the Google Journalism Emergency Relief Fund, which is intended to help small- to mid-size operations such as ours, and also the government programs available to all types of businesses. It will be a while before we hear if get any money.
But I think it will be our readers who will keep us going. I haven’t kept track of how many nice notes I have received from our readers over the past month, but I think it’s more than the cumulative total since I became the editor three years ago until the coronavirus crisis.
Retired Clark College journalism professor Dee Anne Finken and her husband, Dennis, had this to say:
“We are longtime subscribers of The Columbian (nearly 23 years now) and believe strongly that your publication does a top-notch job of ensuring Clark County and its surroundings are a quality place to work and live. Your staff does a yeoman’s job of informing us about issues and events. Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, as Greg Jayne on Sunday quoted Joshua Benton of the Nieman Lab saying, The Columbian is one of ‘the little machines that spit out healthier democracies.’ Because of The Columbian, we have better local government.”
Reader Don Anglin wrote this: “I just wanted you and the rest of The Columbian staff to know how much I appreciate your continued efforts to report the news, both local and otherwise. The Columbian’s reporting and support for the community is one of the most valuable assets we have in a time like this. I have been reading The Columbian for at least 40 years, and I will continue to do so until I can’t read any more.”
Although the Finkins and Mr. Anglin didn’t buy ads, they asked a question I am getting fairly frequently: What can I do to help The Columbian financially?
Right now, the best answer is to buy a subscription and encourage your friends to do the same. Although we aren’t currently set up to take donations, it is a future possibility (last year, The Salt Lake Tribune became a not-for-profit company.) We’ve created a webpage to show you our options. It’s at www.columbian.com/support.
Since this crisis began, our digital subscriptions are up. I’m hopeful that this trend will continue. If you are a subscriber, thank you for your support. We’ll get through this together.