In many ways, March 27 feels like years ago. That’s the day I was forced to publish my column exclusively online, and life just hasn’t been the same.
Since stopping the print presses nearly six weeks ago, the CN&R’s new website has been the only vehicle for our work. In that first piece, I laid bare what community newspapers like ours are facing during the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s not hyperbolic to use the word destruction, nor is it implausible that some publications are on the brink of extinction.
Indeed, some had already succumbed to economic pressure prior to this international health crisis. For many others, including the CN&R, it was the tipping point.
As editor, I didn’t write much over the years about profitability. My job was overseeing the paper’s editorial content—managing an annual budget that paid for my staff and the work of contributors—not the advertising revenues that pay the bills. What I can tell you about the entire operation is that the CN&R was profitable prior to the coronavirus, but the margins were slim and there wasn’t a big emergency fund to keep us or our sister publications in Reno and Sacramento afloat.
Even during this terribly uncertain time, we know that the pandemic will eventually subside. As I wrote in that first piece, we’re working to come out on the other side of this crisis and restart print publication.
At this point, we don’t know what that looks like. Given the challenges all community papers face even outside of a pandemic, we are exploring other ways to sustain the operation. This includes potential partnerships with the public and private sectors and the possibility of becoming a standalone nonprofit newspaper.
In the meantime, the CN&R’s readers have answered our calls for donations. The money has been essential in the effort to launch our new and much-improved website and to pay contributing writers, a few of them former staff members. We are exceedingly grateful for each contribution, large and small, and for the trust monthly donors have placed in us.
Today is Giving Tuesday. For those of us in the newspaper business, it’s also Giving Newsday, a fundraising initiative to buoy the local newsrooms providing journalism that’s critical to the communities they serve. I’m talking about the sort of coverage that is the hallmark of the CN&R. Case in point: our 300-plus Camp Fire stories, including the Ridge water-contamination series that last month earned us the California News Publishers Association’s coveted Public Service award. That reporting revealed the state and local governments’ failure to ensure public health through proper advisories and testing criteria. Simply put, that info would not have come to light without the CN&R.
This is the sort of in-depth, accountability journalism we at the CN&R are committed to doing. Every dollar that we raise on Giving Newsday or any other day will help us continue such work. Most urgent is our reporting on the effects of COVID-19 locally—from health care and commerce to arts and entertainment. We want to be there for our dedicated readers. Thanks, in advance, for being there for us.