Community newspapering is all about pronouns.
We have always behaved as if The Pilot is “your” newspaper, not “ours,” and we are merely stewards of it. I believe that this increasingly uncommon attitude has allowed us to thrive for almost a century of publishing.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about your newspaper and how it will function going forward.
The Pilot exists for moments like this. Readers and advertisers need us — now more than ever — to be the source of fair, thorough and accurate information as well as a voice for compassion, civility and kindness.
I told your staff two weeks ago that if we can reflect those values in our work, then we’ll be successful and the communities that we are so fortunate to serve will be better for it.
Obviously, The Pilot — like every other business in the Sandhills — has been negatively impacted by the measures taken to halt the spread of the coronavirus. Roughly 75 percent of our revenue comes from the sale of advertising. The balance comes from the sale of the newspaper to readers like you.
Newspapers are excellent barometers of the community’s commercial activity. And for the last week or so, there hasn’t been much. Business owners are understandably anxious and want to conserve cash, which means they are less likely to buy advertising.
That’s why the edition you’re holding in your hands weighs in at 24 pages in two sections, rather than our normal 40 pages spread over four sections. To those advertisers who chose to invest in community journalism, please accept a heartfelt thank you from the entire hard-working staff here on Pennsylvania Avenue.
Under normal circumstances, advertising subsidizes our news-gathering operation. Now that the usually reliable and stable advertising revenue stream has vanished overnight, we need our readers to cover the actual cost of the service they consume.
On our website, we deliver our content exclusively to our subscribers. We have responded to this crisis by placing all of our coronavirus coverage outside the paywall and available to all free of charge. We made the right call, but it is an expensive one.
All of this work costs money. A lot of it. That’s why we need your help. If you are not already a subscriber, please consider buying a digital subscription for $50 per year and help sustain community journalism here in the Sandhills.
Rest assured. Your staff has risen to the challenge the coronavirus has presented. We have tasked your 10-person news staff to cover every aspect of the pandemic and its effect on our special community. Now, more than ever, you need reliable professionals verifying the relevant information to help you navigate this crisis.
To date, their efforts have been nothing short of impressive. The Wednesday paper was chock full of important news and information. It weighed in at a relatively healthy 32 pages. We have written 76 stories in the last couple of weeks about the coronavirus, created 168 social media posts, produced five Facebook Live videos and distributed 114,000 email newsletters — all in addition to the printed edition.
While we publish in print twice a week (for the time being), we are acting like a 24-hour news operation online, posting stories within minutes of editing.
All of those efforts have been reflected in a 300 percent increase in our website’s traffic. It has almost tripled to an average of 20,000 unique visitors a day, who have read more than 350,000 pages in the past week. Right now, there is precious little ad revenue attached to all of those readers. But, our advertising department hopes to change that situation soon.
Editor John Nagy has started posting Facebook Live videos every evening. So far, his brief newscasts have attracted a decent sized audience of about 3,000 folks. The rest of the news staff has started posting similar videos to the newspaper’s Facebook and Instagram pages to make our reporting that much more available to the community.
In addition to all of that, we have decided to increase the frequency of The Pilot’s Briefing newsletter from twice a week to every weekday for the duration of the crisis, if not longer. The newsletter is emailed to 22,000 people throughout the Sandhills. These innovations will outlast this crisis and have shown us a better way to engage with our community.
While my crystal ball is just as cloudy as yours, I’m confident that your newspaper will emerge from this difficult time a better and sturdier organization. And, I know this: Life in the Sandhills will go on after this crisis.
Former heavyweight champ Mike Tyson once observed “everyone has a plan — until they get punched in the mouth.”
While there is some truth to that, I’m glad to report that Iron Mike wasn’t talking about us. We’ve taken a barrage of hits from the coronavirus, and are still standing. More importantly, we are working our plan of continuing to publish vital and relevant information for this special community — oftentimes in innovative ways.
Stay safe and wash your hands often.
David Woronoff, a 2019 inductee of the North Carolina Media and Journalism Hall of Fame, has been publisher of The Pilot since July 1996.