Starting this week, our Valley Life columnists get their faces back.
For more than a year, Ashley Lodato, Sarah Schrock, Shelley Smith Jones and Joanna Bastian have been wearing COVID-fighting masks in their column “mug shots” on the last page of the newspaper. They all agreed to it to show support for mask-wearing protocol and solidarity with the community. Many readers told us they appreciated it.
I surveyed the columnists last week, and they unanimously agreed it’s time to reveal themselves again. They are vaccinated, responsible people and we are, haltingly, adjusting to the evolving pandemic reality. And as Ashley noted, you can’t get the coronavirus from reading the newspaper — although some of the fevered conspiracy theory hallucinators might actually think it’s possible.
I’ve come out from behind the mask as well, although we had to hunt for a photo that approximates my current appearance. It turns out that wearing a mask and a cap wasn’t always enough camouflage anyway. Some of you managed to recognize me.
As more people get vaccinated (and more people must get vaccinated), the protocol patterns of the past year are slowly changing. In the newspaper office, we are all fully vaccinated and feel more comfortable working in the same room without masks. We have enough space to stay socially distanced. We still don a mask when someone knocks on our door (it remains locked to the public, for at least a little while longer), and we would prefer it if you where a mask when you come into our building. Please bear with us. It’s too soon to be incautious.
A few weeks ago we learned that, in partnership with the Okanogan Valley Gazette-Tribune in Oroville, the Methow Valley News will once again be publishing the official legal notices of Okanogan County government, starting in July. We had the county’s business for a few years until 2020, when the Omak-Okanogan County Chronicle won the 12-month contract in the annual competitive bidding process.
The bidding process is thorough and demanding. Our business partner Sound Publishing, which owns the Gazette-Tribune, was instrumental in putting the bid package together and will handle most of the logistics required to get the notices in the paper each week. We were fortunate and grateful to reclaim the legal notices contract. But it will be up for grabs again next year, so we are determined to meet all of the county’s expectations.
The revenue from the county contract is meaningful to this newspaper, and we’re pleased to have it back. We still have ground to make up after the previous year’s financial challenges.
Advertising revenues have a big influence on how many pages we can publish each week. Early in the pandemic months, we published quite a few eight-page, one-section papers. They felt skimpy. Sometimes we were able to bump it up to 10 pages. In the past few weeks, we have managed to produce 12-page, two-section papers that were common before the pandemic. Sometimes we have more material available than will fit in 12 pages. That feels more “normal” to us. But a 16-page issues feels like a lot to take on just yet. I have confidence that we’ll get there. Thank you, advertisers, for making it possible to better-serve our readers.
I hope you’ve noticed, as many readers already have, the recent return of the police blotter — a popular feature from the past that was revived by Managing Editor Natalie Johnson, who is doing a great job with it. You can tell she’s spent some time as a police reporter. It’s good to have the blotter back as part of our mix, and we’re happy to have space for it.
Speaking of comebacks, we expect to soon revive our “What’s Happening” events calendar, which has been absent for more than a year because there was a paucity of events to list.
“What’s Happening” actually consists of two calendars. The larger one includes entertainment opportunities, activities and other events the public can take part in. Many are hosted by nonprofits and don’t cost anything; others may have a cost associated with the event. What we don’t include are sales or promotional events (we think that should be advertising), or organizations’ regular operating schedules (we think that’s what websites are for).
The other, smaller calendar is a listing of the regularly scheduled meetings of local government agencies, clubs and organizations.
We will need to start rebuilding the databases for each calendar, and we’ll be asking for your help to make sure they are complete and accurate.