EDITORIAL: We’re back

THIS THING YOU’RE HOLDING in your hand; it’s a newspaper. You remember. (If you’re reading this online, just imagine a screen you don’t have recharge every night.)

For 10 long weeks we had only our website to bring you news of Columbia County. That digital exile reminded us how many of our neighbors still can’t afford high speed access to the internet. There are countless other local stories we want to share with you. But we had to wait more than two months to resume publishing those stories in print. And with your generosity, this is the day we can say: We’re Back!

The work of sustaining a print newspaper in the 21st century now begins in earnest. But first I offer a huge virtual hug to all of you who contributed to our appeal when we were on the brink of folding. What you did and how fast you did it stunned me. You had many worthy causes seeking your help as the pandemic and lockdown weighed on us all. And yet you made room for aid to The Columbia Paper.

Your generosity affirms my view of this county as a special place to live. It makes me grateful for the opportunity to work with people who help preserve a record of how we live at this troubled time.

Enough happy talk. We need to discuss the news. Here’s a breaking story that everyone who subscribes to The Columbia Paper should know: you didn’t receive as many as ten weekly issues of this paper because we stopped printing it during what we hope was the worst of the Covid-19 outbreak in New York State. When we realized that we could return to print as the outbreak subsided and contributions from readers like you came in, we promised to add 10 weeks to everyone’s subscription.

We arranged to have our circulation software supplier add those extra weeks automatically to all subscribers at once and do it this week. But let’s just say there was a communications breakdown and the make-up dates won’t be reflected on this week’s labels. Not to worry, the extension will take effect next week.

You’ll notice that this issue of the paper is slimmer than before—16 pages. No surprise there. With the size of gatherings still limited and many activities shut down for the season, we don’t yet have enough news items to create a weekly calendar. There’s still plenty of news to cover. For instance, we observe and report on local government meetings online. But the technology isn’t always cooperative, and digital meetings invite trolls to “Zoom bomb” online meetings. This disrupts the work of democratically-elected officials who assemble using the popular online application called Zoom. It adds challenges to our job too.

Another adjustment we’ve made to the new sort-of-normal is that The Columbia Paper delivery drivers will no longer collect our share of paper sales at the counter of stores that sell single copies. Instead, we’ll bill the stores. It’s called “touchless payment.” If you’ve eaten meals from restaurant take-out operations, you already know how to pay touchlessly. It might mean some stores won’t carry the paper.

Very few people work at our office. Man and dog comprise a crowd. But because contributors and drivers do show up, we have to observe the guidelines of social distancing and masks. That goes for visitors too. Wear your own mask or take one of ours. Keep six feet apart too.

None of these common sense steps affect our chances of success, even if you define success as nothing more than reporting news while paying the bills. We’re pursuing ideas to increase revenues, knowing that the economy is floundering. We accept that bad timing is the only timing we’ve ever had: we began this enterprise in 2009, the depths of the Great Recession.

Saying we’re back is a statement of fact. We have no cause to gloat, let alone take reader support for granted. A Brookings Institution report in 2019, concluded, “Thousands of local newspapers have closed in recent years.” We could easily face extinction unless we find ways to engage a larger audience willing to support a local newspaper as much as they do other parts of local infrastructure.

And yet here we are reopening as a printed newspaper in slightly better financial shape than when the virus forced us to suspend the print edition for 70 days. How did that happen? The answer is that we didn’t do it; you, our readers, did. Thank you, readers. It’s a pleasure to serve you.

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