Pandemic bringing major changes to your newspaper

  • Tuesday, March 24, 2020 1:05pm
  • Opinion

Social distancing. Stay-at-home order. Coronavirus. COVID-19.

Pandemic.

A day doesn’t go by that most of these words don’t assault our daily lives or dominate our (mostly online) conversations.

Consequently, we’re discovering the incredible value of video calls and instant messaging for staying connected to friends and family. It offers a pretense of normalcy and reassurance we’re craving right now and lessens the times of loneliness or slows the slide into madness.

And now, many of us fully understand just how dependent we are on the daily routine of heading into work each day and interacting with our coworkers.

Isolation is our current reality, however, and your newspaper is no different from the many other businesses being hurt by the pandemic — damaged in a way that couldn’t be accomplished by the economic downturn of the 1990s and advent of the internet.

Last week, we closed our offices to the public to protect the health and welfare of our staff. We reduced the hours of some staff from 40 hours to 24. We hoped that these changes would be enough, that there would be enough advertising support to get us through this disaster.

By Monday, it became clear just how destructive the coronavirus is. While our readership for the Whidbey News-Times and the South Whidbey Record has soared as people turn to us for local information about the pandemic’s impacts, advertising has plummeted to the degree where we, and our sister newspapers across Washington state, have shifted into survival mode.

This means some major changes to our newspapers that will affect our loyal readers, island communities and staffers who have stuck with the newspaper industry through two decades of struggle and adaptation.

I’ve no doubt this makes the anti-media factions giddy, those people who I’ve always hoped would come to understand just how important a free press is to our society. At times, the vilification of reporters and newspapers has sucked the wind out of my lungs and left me questioning whether I should have moved to another line of work when newspapers across the nation first started chiseling away at their newsrooms.

For those who work for a newspaper — at least I know this to be true of all the ones I’ve worked for — we have felt a responsibility to serve our community and arm our readers with facts so they can draw their own conclusions. I see a community newspaper as a historical record, a voice of the community, an institution that helps to keep us bound together during times that threaten to tear us apart.

But we are still a business that employs professionals who deserve to be paid for their work, one that has hard costs attached to every step of the production and distribution process. Many see a newspaper as a community service that should be free. What you get for free is unvetted press releases and soft news designed to protect your sensibilities.

Starting with Saturday’s edition of the Whidbey News-Times and the South Whidbey Record, we will be producing a single, island-wide newspaper twice a week. All of our subscribers will be receiving the News-Times for the foreseeable future. It will be smaller and lighter. Our advertisers have pulled back in droves, and we’ve gone into survival mode as a business.

More staff hours are being cut, including mine. Even harder, we must furlough some of our coworkers, people who have committed themselves to the newspaper, but whom we can no longer afford to pay. This is the choice we’ve had to make to keep the newspaper on your doorstep.

We know the local news is important to you, because we see it in our growing subscription base and online readership. We crossed our fingers and prayed that this would be enough to get us through this pandemic.

Like for virtually everyone in the same boat, however, the future holds no promises or guarantees that we’ll ever recover fully.

But, as long as we can keep the presses rolling, and there’s still breath in my lungs, we’ll be working hard to keep you informed.

n Keven R. Graves is executive editor and publisher for the Whidbey News Group.

More in Opinion

Sound Off: Much of school district’s excellence due to levy ‘yes’ vote

Four years ago, North Whidbey voters approved a maintenance and operations levy… Continue reading

In Our Opinion: Oak Harbor pro-Trump rally during Capitol siege poorly timed

An angry and violent mob of President Donald Trump’s supporters were still… Continue reading

Sound Off: County needs to respond, in public, in detail

This newspaper published an editorial on Dec. 29, “Public Health nurse exodus… Continue reading

Arny, Matt
Sound Off: Navy committed to environmental stewardship

Numerous area media outlets, including The Seattle Times, have published stories citing… Continue reading

In Our Opinion: Public Health nurse exodus is cause for reckoning

It’s not unusual for the state Department of Health to assist a… Continue reading

My wish list to Santa Claus after a very hard Rock year

Dear Santa, This has been a Hard Rock year on Whidbey Island,… Continue reading

In Our Opinion: CARES money should be spent on pandemic recovery

Apparently we have different Facebook friends than Zencity. In its first report,… Continue reading

In Our Opinion: With proper mitigation, classroom learning can be done safely

Oak Harbor Schools are bucking the trend across the island and the… Continue reading

In Our Opinion: Local education is a key to COVID-19 vaccination success

The COVID-19 vaccine does not contain tiny microchips, it won’t infect you… Continue reading

Sound Off: Shopping small this holiday season needed more than ever

It’s no secret that the coronavirus pandemic has made a huge impact… Continue reading

Sound Off | Negotiations with Navy over connecting to sewer have ceased

As Mayor of Oak Harbor, I appreciate the partnership the city has… Continue reading

Wise Drive: Phone usage while driving increases crash risk

Q:What’s the deal with people who wear a mask when they’re driving… Continue reading