In 2009, I was diagnosed with breast cancer, and after a year-long journey of surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, I have been fine. Sometimes I will run into someone (well, I haven’t actually been out to run into anyone since March) or talk to someone who will ask, “How are you?” with a tone of concern, and I realize they are wondering about my cancer. (Yes, I did go out for my mammogram. More than a decade cancer-free, thank you!).
2009 was also the onset of steep declines in newspaper advertising revenue, and that has been a pernicious and persistent problem.
Right now, when I hear that tone of concern (or something a little more ominous) with the “And how are the papers doing?” this person is asking about the GoFundMe, and whether we anticipate that we will survive the pandemic.
At the end of 2020, the Connection Newspapers shared a GoFundMe drive that would help all of our papers, including our flagship, the Alexandria Gazette Packet, publishing since 1784, the Mount Vernon Gazette, the Arlington Connection, Great Falls Connection, McLean-Vienna Connection, Centre View-Chantilly, Reston and Herndon Connection, and the Burke, Springfield, Fairfax, Fairfax Station, Clifton, Lorton Connection plus the Potomac Almanac.
We set a goal of $50,000, and thanks to community support, in a month we have topped 50 percent of that. Thank you so much.
There is no deadline. https://www.gofundme.com/f/save-americas-oldest-newspaper
How did we get here (I keep asking myself)?
We are facing an existential threat in the combined crises of a long-running decline in newspaper advertising, plus the onset of the pandemic and the economic shutdown that has come with it. (Newspaper advertising revenue overall fell more than 60 percent from 2008 to 2018, well before the pandemic.)
In the first week of the shutdown in March, the drop in revenue for us, and everywhere, was breathtaking.
Fortunately, some long time advertisers have stayed the course and kept our revenues from moving actually to zero.
But many restaurants, retailers and others are also facing an economic crisis that could lead to extinction. We are not the only ones. Businesses, families and individuals floundered for months after early federal help, desperately in need of more help. Now we know more federal help is on the way, but is not here yet.
More than 160,000 businesses in the US closed just between March and August of last year due to the pandemic, and that number is likely vastly underreported. While local newspapers were already suffering from advertising declines, the loss of thousands of local businesses as potential advertisers is a setback, and not just for The Connection. Event advertising, a mainstay, has disappeared.
Community support has come, through GoFundMe, and other means — many have mailed checks payable to their favorite newspaper, to 1606 King Street, Alexandria, Va. 22314, and others have purchased ads as a way to lend financial support. Words of encouragement and appreciation have also meant so much to all of us here.
So what is the plan? Our GoFundMe, as it continues to grow, will allow us to bridge the operational gaps between a deep valley and the arrival of the funds from the Paycheck Protection Program (through local banks). And that will give us time to grapple with the question of how to reinvent ourselves and create an organization and revenue stream that will sustain us. Our writers and others connected to us are full of ideas. I’m sure our readers, advertisers and supporters are also. Please let us know.
We are experts at cost-cutting, and that has been a painful, ongoing process.
Now we will embrace a combination of solutions, because just one source is unlikely to unravel the tough situation that we face.
More thoughts next week.