With next week’s paper, the Methow Valley News marks another anniversary and moves into volume 117, Issue No. 1. I wish we had a way to celebrate, but even a shared birthday cake is not likely, or easily consumed through a face mask anyway.
Nearly all of the newspaper staff is working at home, under COVID-19 protocol. Myself and advertising sales associate Sheila Ward are the only ones in the office most of the time — so if we don’t get to the phone right away, please be patient. The front door is locked. For the record, we have hand sanitizer, antibacterial soap and wipes, and powerful cleaning products on hand, and are not ingesting or injecting any of them. I do drink a lot of coffee.
Design, pagination, and production are all being done off-site. Reporters are calling sources from their spare bedrooms or kitchen tables, while figuring out how to cover public meetings online (and thus have learned that on Zoom, other people can see you). Our business and office activities are mostly being handled remotely. Modern technology makes all this possible, for which we are grateful.
Even in isolation, we know that you are out there, and I’m proud of my dispersed staff for the sustained, excellent work they’ve been doing for the past couple of months to keep the community well informed. Although there are a lot of contentious issues swirling around the pandemic, we strive to keep our coverage intensely local, with appropriate context. Some of you have suggested that we cover larger, overarching topics related to COVID-19. We don’t have the resources or, more to the point, the inclination to do that. There are plenty of reliable sources for excellent, up-to-date information that will help you get through this. I recommend the New York Times and Seattle Times, both of which are offering all their coronavirus coverage for free on their websites.
Our focus on the print product, and a shortage of trained staff (the trained ones are always pretty busy), has resulted in our website falling a bit out of date. I feel bad about that, but we only have so much time and effort to give, and have to choose priorities. We are doing the best we can on our Facebook page to post news and information as it’s available, and will update the website as we can.
You may know that, all over the country, newspapers are laying off or furloughing staff, cutting hours and salaries, and scaling back on what they are offering. Many have simply stopped publishing, including quite a few in the Puget Sound area. It’s been a barely-hanging-on struggle for many small weeklies, and the coronavirus pandemic was the final blow for too many of them. The reason is simple: the bottom fell out of local advertising, and that is what community weeklies live on.
The near-term outlook for the Methow Valley News is not as grim. We were fortunate to get a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan through the Small Business Administration (and unlike some of the massive corporations that got PPP loans, we are the kind of company they were intended for). We have the responsive, professional, and efficient staff at the Twisp branch of North Cascades Bank to thank for that. But the PPP will only help see us through a couple of months, which is all it’s intended to do.
While much of our display advertising has disappeared, several advertisers have taken advantage of our “half-price” sale on space (thank you). You’ll note that beginning with this week’s paper, Zumiez is purchasing a substantial amount of space to support the “Spend a Ben” effort.
All that said, at the current rate of advertising support, it’s clear to me that we have to come up with some practical survival plans (and we are working on them). I’m not an alarmist, just a realist, and I’m sure as hell not a defeatist. I think everyone knows that gradually re-opening the economy won’t be the same as restoration, and restoration won’t look like recovery for years. Remember how long it took to crawl back from the Great Recession?
I’ve told some of you, in conversation, that I have two goals: to keep my staff employed, and to keep the community informed, connected, and unified in purpose and spirit. We appreciate your cooperation and support. It has taken a lot of both over the decades to get us this far. We’ll need more of the same to make it to volume 118.