Monday, June 1, 2020
June 1, 2020

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From the Newsroom: Changes in the face of uncertainty

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I don’t know about you, but “reinvent my entire life” was not on my March to-do list. But here we are, so it’s only prudent to react to the circumstances as best we can.

We got some clarity on those circumstances this week and reacted. You will notice some of these reactions as a reader of The Columbian, either in print, online or both.

First of all, we think many of these measures will be temporary. It’s way too early to tell when the economy will rebound, but it will.

But in the meantime, I am going to start with the bad news. Frankly, we have lost most of our advertising support. We are not in this alone. Millions of dollars are suddenly gone as advertisers close or face uncertainty. In Portland, the Portland Mercury and The Portland Observer have moved to online-only publication. Pamplin Media, which owns 24 weekly newspapers including the Portland Tribune, announced it was cutting employees’ pay and considering merging some of its titles. Many newspapers in Washington are cutting back.

We are responding by reducing the number of pages we print. We already discontinued our Weekend section and are going to shrink the page count of our paper beginning Sunday. Sundays will now be four sections of six pages; Tuesdays through Saturdays will be two sections of 10 pages. With almost no advertising, these smaller papers should still offer plenty of space for news.

To make this all work, we must temporarily discontinue our Business section, including the daily markets page and the weekend mutual funds. We will continue to report business news, but it will appear on our other news pages.

I am sorry about this disruption, but we need to cut our costs immediately.

We are also reducing what we share for free with non-subscribers. When the coronavirus crisis broke, we placed all COVID-19-related content outside our digital paywall where anyone could see it for free. A lot of things we take for granted were suddenly changing, and the public needed to know. Web traffic soared. We haven’t had a chance to analyze the numbers, but I think we have had a record month.

Now that we in the public have received our orders and know what to do — or not to do — our journalism is trending toward analysis and features. It takes hours and hours of good old-fashioned reporting to write these stories. We need to get paid for that. So we are going to charge non-subscribers to read it. It’s not fair to ask loyal customers to pay for something, then give it away for free to others. We will still provide free access to content that alerts the general public to take action, however.

Viruses and newspapers

One question that we and other newspapers have been getting is whether viruses can be transmitted by touching newsprint or the plastic bag the newspaper comes in. The answer is “not likely.”

According to the World Health Organization, “the likelihood of an infected person contaminating commercial goods is low, and the risk of catching the virus that causes COVID-19 from a package that has been moved, traveled and exposed to different conditions and temperature is also low.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has also advised consumers that coronavirus had “a very low risk” of spreading on packages, newspapers and mail.

In other words, we are just like a bag of lettuce or a bottle of aspirin. Unlike those products, however, you can opt to receive our product electronically.

If you are a print subscriber, you already have unlimited access to our website, smart phone app and a digital edition that looks like the regular newspaper. If you haven’t activated your account, visit www.columbian.com/digital. If you have trouble registering for any of these products, call us at 360-694-2312 or email circulation@columbian.com.

Lou Brancaccio’s column is due up next Saturday in this space, but if we have more breaking news about your reader experience, I will let you know. Meanwhile, thank you for your financial support.

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