Phillips: Local news still coming even as the world turns upside down

David Phillips
Bluff Country Newspaper Group

It’s inconceivable that just a few weeks ago many of us were focused on the hope of spring, which seemed so close as the snow melted much earlier than it had in the past few years when it took so long to shake winter. Today, our minds are focused on life and death decisions as we wait for a pandemic to unravel.

Government officials are making life and death decisions about acquiring resources to handle the outbreak as well as decisions on mobilizing society, or rather immobilizing society, to restrict the spread of the coronavirus that carries the COVID-19 disease.

Individuals are making life and death decisions on how much social distance to put between themselves and others. Their decisions impact not only their own lives, but potentially the lives of others.

Businesses are also making life and death decisions, not necessarily about individuals, but about the future of their enterprises. In some cases, those decisions may have been made for them when the governor shut down businesses that attract crowds or have a lot of personal interaction.

The residual effects of all these decisions reverberate throughout the economy. Even businesses that are still open depend on employed and mobile people to spend their money.

Although newspapers haven’t been shut down and don’t have many individual customers coming in their doors every day, they depend on the success of other businesses for survival. About 90 percent of the revenue of our newspaper operation is from advertising, something that isn’t needed for businesses that don’t have their doors open.

That is why we are making some drastic changes to our operation. The unfortunate part is that we don’t have time to plan these changes as the coronavirus pandemic unfolded in unexpected ways that many people didn’t take seriously when it surfaced.

The unfortunate part is that our industry was already stressed as the economy of rural communities transformed over the past several years. Consolidation of businesses, a rash of retirements by business owners who had no succession in place and changes in shopping habits have all contributed to the stress.

Not everyone may agree that media offer an essential service, but community newspapers remain an integral part of rural life as there are few other sources for local news, the kind that documents the day-to-day lives of people living in small towns and outlying areas. Local reporters are usually the only media representatives at local government meetings, veterans’ halls, school activities, nursing homes or community gatherings.

The demand for local news will continue among our residents as the big media aren’t going to start covering the little towns that dot our area. That means the future of community newspapers, in a way, is bright.

The near-term future is stressful, though, just as it is with every individual dealing with changes in daily life due to the public health crisis in our midst.

Our newspapers are attempting to deal with the distribution of local news in the best manner we can, but we can’t continue business as usual. That means some changes in the next few weeks.

First off is a combined newspaper to save on newsprint, labor and mailing costs. Readers will be getting that next week under the Bluff Country Reader banner, which is familiar to local residents, but perhaps not to distant readers. We will try to include as much local news as possible, but it won’t be easy in this time of so many constraints, which are increasing by the day.

The week after that is still somewhat up in the air as conditions change so rapidly. It seems like ages ago that school was called off, yet it has only been a week. What we know this week will likely change next week, so hang on as we make our best efforts to get you local news.

Thank you for your patience.