I am optimistic

Apr 1, 2020

As I sit here writing this on March 26, I am optimistic. Several of my fellow publishers are less so, admittedly, but let me tell you why I still am bullish on our industry’s long-term resilience.

During the last couple of weeks, but especially in the last 10 days, our industry has taken hard hits economically. We hear stories hourly about layoffs at newspapers across the country and major changes in distribution, publication days and even moving entirely to online news “for a time” — although no one knows if or how a paper can come back to print. Our advertisers are freaking out, as one publisher friend told me.

But even as we recognize that we are not alone in this crisis, we know that our readers appreciate what we are doing and appreciate how hard our employees are trying to get them the news they can trust.

That trust factor is an invaluable commodity in these uncertain times. I can say that definitively because I have witnessed it repeatedly during the last week.

As we rolled out our COVID-19 coverage, we did something unthinkable even a month earlier — we gave away ad space.

You read that right — we gave it away.

Three pages the first week. Four the next. Probably more next week. No charge. Just get your message out.

The offer was opened to any business, whether they had advertised before or not. Open or closed, limited hours or business as usual, the message didn’t matter as long as it let people know the status of their business in this unusual time.

The response was overwhelming.

The business people were shocked by our willingness to help them, but our readers were more impressed with the information available at their fingertips — and many of them didn’t know it was done at no charge. Once word of that spread, the outpouring of support for our newspaper became a cacophony.

But words don’t pay reporters, pay for newsprint or plates, or keep our truck drivers and delivery people working. Money does that — money that has traditionally come from advertising. As we know, subscriptions don’t pay much of the bills.

So, our attention turned to the next immediate problem, ad revenues. Preprints were being canceled at record paces. Ads for events, gone. Stores with bare shelves, or whose doors are shut, have little reason to pay for an ad.

Oh, what to do? We talked to our competition, the local radio station. A month ago, we would never have agreed to work together. The owner and I were friends, luckily, but we long ago made it clear that business was business and we are competitors. COVID-19 changed that.

Yes, we are still competitors, but what could we do together to keep us both in business? Our joint plan, driven by my wife and ad manager Lisa, was to offer sponsorships to a message about shopping local, helping your neighbors, staying safe but knowing that doesn’t mean killing off local businesses that residents will need in six months.

Our “We are in this together” marketing campaign was born in print (newspaper ads, posters and flyers), on radio stations throughout the region, online and through social media. We blanketed the entire county and further with that message.

Sponsors came out in full force. Our projected income from those was eclipsed before the end of the day, and we had three times our meager projections before the first ad went out. People and businesses in the days following that launch called to join their voices, and their cash, to the effort.

Nearly all said the same thing: We truly are in this together.

Which gets me back to my beginning point: Community newspapers are the lifeblood of their markets.

Readers want — and in times of crisis, demand — accurate, quality local news that their already trusted news source provides.

That is us.

All our hard work is paying off now because readers — who can get instant “news” off Facebook or some national digital service — are turning to their local newspaper because of trust; and because we are their friends, neighbors and fellow businesspeople.

Once this crisis is over, that trust will most certainly carry over ... and NNA is here to help wherever we can. Because, as I said before, we are stronger together.

Matthew Adelman, publisher of the Douglas (Wyoming) Budget, is NNA president, 2019-2020. Email: publisher@douglas-budget.com