2020 might become known as the year of the pivot.In the newspaper business, we’ve been zig-zagging for years now, since the Internet changed the business we knew. In some ways, that prepared us for 2020. I was just barely part of news media at its financial peak when there wasn’t as much competition, so I don’t expect ads to roll in easily. I expect to have to hustle to pay the bills. In some ways, its helps to have entered this business during the Internet age because I’ve always seen the benefits and challenges associated with it.
At TMC Publications, we were already a home-based business, which means we didn’t have to worry about how to pay the rent when revenue slowed to a trickle in April. We’ve been using a secure cloud-based system for years for our files.
We had moved to a VOIP phone system with a built-in video conferencing in 2019, and it sure came in handy this year. When we were all staying home, it was nice to see faces via video for interviews and sales calls, and its use is picking back up as we head into the colder winter months.
From 2004 to 2019, more than a quarter of the nation’s newspapers folded, leaving behind vast news deserts, according to research by the Hussman School of Journalism and Media at the University of North Carolina. Reporters and editors employed by newspapers dropped by about half, pointed out Des Moines Register Executive Editor Carol Hunter in a recent editorial. Locally, we saw City Pages abruptly close in October, and the Southwest Journal plans to discontinue publishing in December.
While newspapers are facing challenges in an evolving world, what hasn’t changed is our need for them.
“Newspapers have long served as ‘watchdogs’ over government. The pandemic magnified the significance of this role because the virus closed most government offices, and meetings of school boards, city councils and county officials moved onto Zoom,” pointed out Iowa Freedom of Information Council Executive Director Randy Evans, writing to support National Newspaper Week in October.
He added, “The most potent tool of newspapers continues to be the spotlight. They shine it on problems that need to be addressed and on solutions that ought to be considered. They shine it on stories that are heartwarming and uplifting. At other times, they shine it on topics that might raise the blood pressure of readers.”
We’ve certainly got our share of blood-pressure-raising issues right here in the Twin Cities this year, and we’re working to help you understand the varying perspectives around us with our coverage.
It’s been a year of challenges.
In response to this, newspapers nationally have come together to support the Local Journalism Sustainability Act. Read more about it on page 5 in Dean Ridings’ guest column, and then call your legislators to voice your support.
One of the hardest parts for me is hearing comments folks make disparaging the media, as though they’ve forgotten what a vital role we have in this great democratic experiment.
America needs journalists. We simply won’t exist without them. I’ve always appreciated newspaper coverage of issues the most, as I think you avoid some of the echo chamber found on cable, television and social media.
Here at the Midway Como Frogtown Monitor, we recognize that we need to pivot to keep up with the changes in our society, while also building upon what makes us strong.
In November, we launched a new, user-friendly website that we’d been working on for months. I’m pretty excited about it, and I hope you will be, too. We have more options for how we share the story with you, and it’s easier from the back-end, which means we spend more time reporting then on tech issues.
We’re also working on a great new Marketplace to showcase advertisers and connect local shoppers with local business, an important part of our mission. It fits in seamlessly with our What’s Open page. If you have a business, I hope you’ll take advantage of our free What’s Open listings and let folks know as you pivot in response to the coronavirus pandemic. You can go in and make as many changes as you’d like, and there are ways to upgrade your listing at affordable rates.
We’re adding paid obituaries to honor those we’ve lost. We’re also adding paid announcements such as birthdays, weddings, engagements and births to celebrate what we have. This is the stuff of our lives, what connects our community, and so it belongs on both our online and print pages.
With your engagement as readers and advertisers, we can build our community and pivot together.