A COUPLE OF WEEKS AGO we had only enough money to keep our columbiapaper.com website going a few more weeks and the print edition was on ice with little hope of revival. Then we asked for help and you gave it to us. And now there’s a twist.
In our appeal, which annoyingly covers much of the first page of our website, I wrote that “our efforts to obtain government loans and private grants have so far been unsuccessful.”
That was true until Monday evening when I received an email that, at first glance, made me suspect it was a scam. But our tech advisor said it passed the spoofing test, which is tech talk for it’s okay to open. The email said Google has selected The Columbia Paper to participate in a program called the Google News Initiative Journalism Emergency Relief Fund: https://newsinitiative.withgoogle.com/journalism-emergency-relief-fund
Here’s what the email said: “Thank you for applying to Google News Initiative’s Journalism Emergency Relief Fund (JERF). We received over 12,000 applications from more than 100 eligible countries and we are happy to confirm that your application… has been approved to receive $5,000 from the JERF, in our first wave of announcements.”
The amount from the Google JERF program is what we asked for.
The JERF contract specifies that we can only spend the money for costs “directly related to the support or production of core news and original news reporting.”
I assume our readers already expect us to spend whatever we have on supporting and reporting the news. Please be assured that is where the money goes. None of you who have contributed to our appeal raised that question. Instead, many of you sent words of encouragement or told us you missed holding the printed paper in your hands. We feel the same way and we know that some of our readers don’t have, or can’t afford, the option of reading the local news online.
Another thing you might want to know is that contributions from readers to this appeal have added up to over $7,000. We’ll provide an exact figure as soon as we can. But this appeal is a reminder that we’re a local news source not because we publish local news but because so many people who live and work in Columbia County have made the choice to get their local news from The Columbia Paper.
So we’re preparing to resume publishing our print edition. The target is June 4 for the return, although that leaves little time to regroup after two months of digital only. There could be a delay, but for the moment let’s think positively.
If you were receiving a newspaper at the end of March you’ll get a paper in the mail when we resume publishing, and your subscription will still be in force. We’ll credit you by extending your expiration date. If you sent us a subscription request at the end of March or early April, we will get around to entering your subscription in our system as quickly as possible. We welcome subscribers, so please bear with us as we work our way through the backlog.
We also have to keep our drivers and other colleagues safe, which may require making newsstand deliveries to fewer places. And if you need to come to the office, please call 518 392-1122 first to make an appointment and please wear a mask.
The most noticeable thing about the first issues of the revived Columbia Paper print edition might be how slim it is. To keep costs low, we’ll limit the number of pages and watch how quickly display advertising returns. Those ads make up our primary source of revenue. They can make it possible to publish a local newspaper in a community the size of Columbia County.
And here’s another appeal. When you shop locally at a business that advertises in The Columbia Paper, tell that store or service provider: I saw your ad in The Columbia Paper. If you haven’t seen the business in our paper ask whether the owner has ever thought of advertising with us.
The money readers like you have contributed and word of our selection for participation in the Google News Initiative Journalism Emergency Relief Fund program can’t alter the trends that threaten newspapers with extinction. All we can do is our best to remain relevant because your lives, our lives, and the forces that shape Columbia County are newsworthy, meaning worthy of your time and support. Your generosity affirms our belief in the value of community journalism here. Thank you.