The coronavirus pandemic shows no signs of abating. The impact of that has both economic and public health implications.
Some practices have shown to curb the virus’ spread, chiefly the wearing of face coverings, increased hand washing, social distancing and limiting one’s public activities. But while those have demonstrated the ability to “flatten the curve” of COVID-19 cases, they also have flattened the economy.
Hundreds of businesses continue to struggle, even weeks after “reopening” and adhering to many of the health guidelines.
The Pilot has spent the past three months chronicling the coronavirus and its communitywide impacts, but we haven’t talked much about what it’s done to us as a business. Although all of our concerns have continued — the newspaper, our family of magazines, the digital services agency, The Country Bookshop — they had done so at reduced capacity and substantially reduced revenues.
Speaking only of the newspaper, we essentially cut the paper in half in mid-March — going from four standalone sections to two — to account for the large loss of advertising revenue. Normally, losing that kind of space would be disastrous from a news perspective. But when life basically went into lockdown for two months, much of our regular news just stopped: No “Out and About” photo features, no bridge results, no sports, public meetings occurring only via computer link.
As editor, I also made the call to discontinue using a number of the columnists, correspondents and free
lancers that we have used in the past, solely as a money-saving measure.
With newspapers, your two biggest costs, not surprisingly, are people and paper. But Publisher David Woronoff and I, early on in the coronavirus crisis, made a commitment not to compromise The Pilot’s news staff.
That decision has paid off in delivering an unprecedented level and amount of authoritative coverage regarding the coronavirus. As I wrote recently in another column, we increased our Pilot’s Briefing email newsletter from two nights a week to five. We began producing nightly 5 p.m. live newscasts on Facebook. More stories got posted online faster.
But we still needed to align expenses across the company with our lower revenue expectations. And so, within the news operation, one choice we have made to help achieve that goal is to eliminate the weekly TV Guide.
For years, The Pilot has purchased, via a syndicated service, daily grids for all the major television channels. The cost to purchase, produce and print those each Sunday is $50,000. That is not a trivial expense for a small community newspaper like The Pilot.
Now, for some of you, we know this will come as no great shock to your system. Many of you haven’t used a TV Guide for years, especially given the prevalence of streaming and on-demand programming.
And yet, there are still some of you out there who find great utility and value in the Guide. At least once a month I’m good for a phone call from someone complaining about some programming error in the publication. My dad made a point of pulling the Guide out every week, folding it twice — just so — and placing it on the table beside his chair in the Carolina room of his house. He consulted it regularly.
What can I say? It’s a generational thing.
For those of you for whom this news is upsetting, I apologize. When we surveyed readers two years ago about the TV Guide, we got some passionate replies from folks. Some threatened to cancel subscriptions. Others said the Guide was the only reason they got The Pilot.
But given the choice between eliminating this or laying off 1 ½ full-time staffers, I choose to protect people. So Sunday, June 28, will be the final TV Guide. Cutting that product, while regrettable, will allow The Pilot to maintain the level and quality of award-winning journalism you’ve come to expect from this community newspaper.
Contact editor John Nagy at (910) 693-2507 or email@example.com.