Column: Good Riddance 2020, The Future Of Our Newspaper In 2021

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Good Riddance 2020 … The Future Of Our Newspaper In 2021

I know it is commonplace to state how terrible the year 2020 has been.  It seems like every other post I viewed on social media reflected this mindset in late 2020 when reading about challenges that friends and family have battled through.

Recent conversations around the holidays heavily surrounded the challenges humanity has faced this past year. I even noted several recent New Year’s shows on television highlighting more or less what a horrific year 2020 proved to be, instead of the normal positive reflective highlights these shows normally broadcast each year.

I often feel poorly about my own comments when chiming in on 2020 difficulties as I try to be a glass half full kind of guy.  After listening to dozens of sermons from our church and several ministries I follow online, I know that I need to take into perspective that as bad as things have been, most Americans are still better off than the rest of the world and for those who believe, we have the promises of God to rely upon as future hope.

After all, each week when editing the newspaper before sending it to the print press, it does not take long to turn to the inside pages where the obituary pages begin to appear, knowing some of the names published are COVID related deaths.  Things could certainly be worse for us knowing that so many have faced the nightmare of having to continue with life after losing a loved one to COVID in recent months.

Most of us have a 2020 nightmare story it seems.

 

OUR BUSINESS BATTLE

Here is our story …

When the pandemic hit I honestly had little to no business game plan, I certainly was not expecting a forced shutdown late last Winter.

I learned in college and early in my self-employment adventures to always have multiple backup plans in place as difficulties can and will arise, thus needing sufficient plans of response (attack) are needed.  Yet in early 2020 I can remember sitting in front of my computer with my head spinning with no decent plan to battle a pandemic shutdown.

How can our business that has published since the 1870’s absorb a massive drop in income while our expenses remain so high?

For crying out loud, I have backup plans in place for just about every scenario, including if an attack ever happened on our American power grid, but who could have seen a pandemic shutdown coming when humanity and medical science was supposed to be so advanced?

 

THE STRUGGLE

March turned to April and then May and our essential business was allowed to remain open by “the powers that be” yet our business income capabilities were massively killed by the government (Federal, State & Local) shutdowns of local events which we rely upon to cover our most basic of operating expenses.

I’ve written in columns before that most weekly newspaper publications make little to no profit off selling newspapers once printing, mailing, delivery, collection costs are deducted.  Thus, most of our usable income to cover basic business expenses, to send writers and photographers into our communities, to design newspaper pages, editing, publishing to the website, etc. comes directly from print and web advertisement income.

Our newspaper efforts are twofold, first we must sell advertisement in order to then bring forth news coverage.  This is at times a very difficult battle for me honestly, as my heart and passion is to bring forth local news yet we are always limited by generated ad revenue.  This ad revenue vs news coverage battle has been ongoing for me since purchasing our first newspaper two decades ago, yet the challenges of 2020 shutdowns took the battle to a different level.

As 2020 continued, nearly every newspaper edition we published was financially crushed by the cancellation of events.  Example: when the Williams and Fulton County fairs were cancelled in back to back weeks.

Not only were we hampered by the cancellation of weekly events and gatherings, but the general mindset of the local small business owners was severely damaged.

I have stated before that sometimes mindset is more important than reality.  After the shutdown to stop the curve (reality) took place and businesses somewhat reopened, the general business mindset, at least locally, remained horrific (mentality).  While the reality of the shutdown to stop the spread was a handful of weeks the mindset has lasted easily 8-9 months now and appears it will continue well into the new year.

Each week in 2020 we contacted local businesses about assisting their marketing needs in the same manner as we have for decades (so that proceeds could be used for news coverage) the response was often the same, “we are sorry, but we do not know if we are going to be open in the near future or shutdown once again, thus we cannot advertise”.

After the economy opened back up in 2020, we often found ourselves losing money at the end of a sales day at the newspaper as we could not even cover the basic payroll expenses of our sales representatives as our marketing clients remained so deeply concerned by the future of the economy and another possible government future shutdown.  A lot of local businesses had this fight on their hands.  The local coffee shop could not pay an employee $80 in payroll for a day of work when they only sold $25 worth of coffee due to lack of customers venturing out into the pandemic, it was a loss for the business having the employee even show up to work much less leaving a needed profit to pay basic business expenses.

Even as we are a few months away from the one-year anniversary of the major virus outbreak, this deeply concerned mindset about the economic future of small business success is shaky at best.

It does not help when our apparent incoming President has said on multiple occasions that a cold dark winter lays ahead instead of optimism which we desperately need as Americans in these trying times (on the virus battle front and economic front).

Some of you reading this column might breeze past these facts as some have done well for themselves during 2020 as work remained strong (example local manufacturing jobs) but many of you could have written a lot of this column on your own I suspect as you have had a similar experience from the 2020 shutdowns.

So what do you do when suddenly in the midst of a booming economy you go from being a financially secure company that has big plans to bring forth a historic amount of local news in 2020, to having the rug literally ripped out from under you?

You make hard decisions and truthfully painful ones.

 

SACRIFICES MADE

Sometimes when writing this column or sharing with friends and family in conversation, I debate on how much personal information I should share, after all people could twist and use it against us somehow.  But I’ve also always tried to be a transparent person.  You will get the same person eating wings and watching football on Saturday as you will get on Sunday at church.  I think there is a lot behind being a transparent person – they are the type I like to fellowship with.

With this stated I can recall in early November 2020 a “conversation” (okay an argument) I had with my wife about purchasing another $40+ box of pull up diapers for our three-year-old who is nearly potty trained, realizing after driving down the road for a while what a ridiculous scenario 2020 has put us into.  We have cut back business and personal expense so heavily that a purchase of diapers, an amount of money many people spend on pizza without a second thought, several times a week, felt like a major purchase to me.

When the pandemic hit leaving all our business operating expenses going full steam yet crippling our income, my wife and I as business owners stopped paying ourselves in the Spring and cashed in our retirement for our family of five to live off throughout 2020.  One may think that this sacrifice we made was rare, but as you drive around in our small communities in Northwest Ohio and see the small mom and pop shops, know that our story does not stand out alone, many simply do not have a column like this in which to vent.

Please keep this in mind as you fulfill your shopping needs.  Amazon and Walmart are not making sacrifices like this as they earn record profits in the midst of the pandemic, your neighbors and friends who have put their lives into their small businesses, neighbors that pump money back into our local communities need your local support more now than ever!

This saved payroll business expense was put directly into our newspaper coverage and basic business operating expenses (to keep the lights on) to avoid having to make major cutbacks to our product throughout 2020.  It has honestly been a very difficult 8-9 months of extremely long work weeks without pay and losing all our retirement (future security) in our 40’s, but we believe to our very core in our mission to bring forth local news, much of which cannot be found anywhere else.   After two decades of putting blood, sweat and tears into our business I simply could not roll over and allow 2020 to destroy everything we worked so hard to build.

Reflecting on the history of our newspaper dating back to the 1870’s there have been so many trying times that the newspaper successfully battled through including world wars, the Great Depression, on and on.  Reflecting back through our newspaper’s history what sacrifices did prior owners make to keep the presses rolling?  When the world was at war did they have to cut back and ration, I suspect so.

I do not have a crystal ball and cannot tell you what the future will hold, but no matter what happens I need to know (you should know) we are doing everything possible to ensure we make it through this storm.

A quote I use on my email signature states: “Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you.” -Saint Augustine.

At the end of the day, if we follow this guidance and make a strong effort, it is literally all we can do in life and business to succeed.

We are not alone in making big sacrifices at the newspaper.  We have had a lot of team members make their own sacrifices without even being asked.  Because I did not make a request and/or have their blessing to share their story here, I will simply state their efforts are appreciated beyond words.  We have some amazing people in our circle, team members that believe in our cause right here in our little Northwest Ohio communities.

 

THIS STORY IS JUST ONE OF COUNTLESS OTHERS

I have talked to a ton of people since the pandemic shutdowns started.  It is amazing the large array of scenarios Americans and businesses find themselves in.

Some people never missed a beat at work, their factory jobs have provided more hours this year than ever before (their retirement and 401ks have been doing remarkably well).

Some have lost their jobs due to forced government shutdowns.

Some have admitted when the large unemployment government backed checks were being issued that they could make more not working than returning to their jobs.

A few businesses I have talked to have indicated the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) assistance received put them into a very favorable position (others, such as ourselves, found these programs only absorbed a percentage of the loss sustained).

Many other businesses are operating day to day with no certainty of what the future holds.

Some people have been holding onto hope for COVID relief stimulus funds to hit their bank accounts in the near future.

Many others feel these government handouts (from taxpayer money) is another form of socialism as there are employers begging for workers to apply for jobs (handouts not needed as work is available everywhere).

It is certainly a mixed bag of economic times for Americans and businesses alike.

 

DISTANT HOPE?  BATTLING AHEAD IN 2021

I will admit this is not my favorite column I’ve ever written.  Sometimes when composing my column I may spend an hour or so writing.  This particular column has remained on my laptop desktop for weeks.  I have no idea how much time I’ve put into it. However, as we wrap up 2020 and enter into a new, hopefully more optimistic year, I felt I should address the elephant in the room – what is our future?

Looking ahead we have to put ourselves personally into a position where purchasing diapers is not a major family purchasing decision after a 80-100 hour work week, we have little more to offer than we already have.  The only thing I put ahead of the nearly twenty years of effort put to build The Village Reporter is obviously our family.  Though a lot of newspaper operations are owned by larger corporations we are a small family owned, locally resident ran business.  Our gains and/or losses are not absorbed by a rich corporate account. In a way, the well being of the owners and team members directly reflects the condition of our small business and the product we can provide you, our faithful readers.

While sacrifices our team members have made at the newspaper have been wonderful, we need to ensure the owners and our team members have a more secure financial year in 2021 than last year, there is simply little more than can be sacrificed.

Looking at our expenses there is little we can cut going forward without reducing the quality of our news product which is the last thing I desire.  In the new year we will need to be able to depend on the return of lost advertisement revenue along with assistance from the COVID relief programs that are unfortunately the lifeline of a lot of businesses currently.

I would like to send a shout out to programs conducted by both the Williams and Fulton County commissioners that have helped a lot of local struggling businesses in recent months.

Conservative estimates in this country indicate that one of three American small businesses will not survive what I consider an all out attack on small business due to 2020 shutdowns and restrictions, I pledge here and now we will work our fingers to the bone to ensure, if at all possible, we will not be one of them.

As stated earlier we cannot control the reality of when our economy will rebound locally or the mentality that the “sky is falling” will change, so we can simply remain optimistic these areas will improve in the upcoming year and small businesses such as ourselves can slowly recover.

We are going to continue to fight as hard as ever to bring forth local news.  Normally we would have long term plans and goals, obviously those have been replaced with shorter term game plans.

Looking at the “big picture” on paper it is possible that we have began to absorb the worst part of the devastating curve 2020 shutdowns threw in our face.  The discouraging projection is that this can all repeat itself again this year instantly with another shutdown.

We have heard little concerning events and businesses fully reopening and again while incoming leadership in our country seems to be adding to the doom and gloom mindset of a positive future, so we will simply have to wait and see.

Since our business is a mirrored projection of the local economy, our success will be based on the success of the local economy.

While most of 2020 was a disaster financially we did seem to have some positive breakthrough in November and December as local businesses started marketing at a higher level than they did in March – September 2020.

Is this a sign of recovery?

Was this just a holiday bump?

Are we (the business community) getting used to a pandemic restricted economy thus a little bit of the “sky is falling” mindset is easing a bit and businesses are starting to be a little more proactive?

I don’t know honestly.  But when everything in 2020 was negative, I’ll take every bit of possible positive momentum we can take even if I have to dig hard for it.

Ironically as many issues as I have had with the government shutting down small business in our country, the hope of Paycheck Protection Program relief coming down the pipeline early in 2021 gives some small level of optimism that we can survive.  Hundreds of thousands of businesses like our own may be able keep the doors open and possibly even start recovering if there is assistance in helping ensure payroll remains going into the bank accounts of their hard working employees.

Hopefully at some point in 2021 things will begin to return to normal.  It is my prayer that fairs will reopen, community festivals will resume, parades will be celebrated, fans can return to sporting events, restaurants (other businesses) will be able to resume at full capacity,and even full celebration of life services (funerals) can return to normal – it is sad we cannot even honor the fallen like we used to.

If we can return to normal operation at The Village Reporter I think you will be amazed by the level of local news coverage we are ready to provide if the support exists to cover our base expenses.

How can you help us or other local small businesses?  Simply look for ways to support them financially instead of the big box and online stores.

Our newspaper has one of the strongest online followings of any media outlet in Northwest Ohio but at the end of the day readers only utilizing our free online content do not support our small family owned local business. Example: purchasing coffee at a local coffee shop = monetary support for that small business.  Purchasing a subscription or placing an advertisement helps us financially, money that is placed into the payroll for future news coverage.

Would you consider subscribing today to start receiving daily news articles online along with our weekly print & E-Edition products?

Sign up is easy at www.thevillagereporter.com or by filling out the subscription forms appearing each week inside the print product.

If you have a product or service you would like to market within our product, please feel free to contact me 24/7 at publisher@thevillagereporter.com to learn how we can help you succeed with your business promotions.

Thank you for your consideration.

Forrest R. Church may be reached at publisher@thevillagereporter.com


 

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