Here is a dilemma: Your business is considered “essential” during the coronavirus outbreak. However, the coronavirus has made it very, very difficult to operate your business.
So many of our Detroit Lakes stores, restaurants and other services have learned this the hard way. That tenuous thread between “make it” or “break it” has been stretched to its ripping point for so many. Locals have found that they have had to essentially invent new business models on the fly, and deliver their "product" in ways they never anticipated.
What has given me some hope is that these businesses are being forthcoming about their difficulties. In this line of work, you often talk to people at their lowest. Most of the time, they don’t want to say what everyone already knows: They are in trouble, and need help. It is only when it is too late that the extent of the problems are made clear -- usually with big “going out of business” signs.
In that spirit of honesty, I can say this has been a difficult week for your local newspaper (and local newspaper people), too. We learned that several newspapers in our company (and others around the country) are pulling back on the number of days they print because of the understandable lack of advertising support. The Tribune, thankfully, continues on its twice-weekly schedule.
Meanwhile, in an industry that thrives on communication and interaction, the Tribune has gone from one office to several satellite bureaus: our own dining room tables. I can’t just walk a few paces over to the reporters’ bullpen to shoot the breeze on a number of topics and, oh yeah, make a newspaper.
Now, making phone calls and texts and video conferencing is done with much more purpose, because there is no time to lose.
Our work is deemed essential at this critical time, and the feedback and data we are looking at shows us that you believe we are essential, too. But without the revenue support, it will get harder and harder to do this essential work for this community.
Newspapers sit in a unique spot in a community’s mind: We are a business, but the public often thinks we are a utility.
That schism was apparent last week on the Detroit Lakes Newspapers Facebook page. Forum Communications, the Trib’s parent company, instituted what is called a “hard paywall” for content on all of our newspaper websites, save for stories of public safety.
This change was not warmly received, to say the least. All of a sudden, we were told by the very community we are reporting on that the Tribune is “a joke” and a “bunch of BS.”
Here’s the thing: We are not a charity, and we are not paid for by your taxes. We are a business, but a business that is here to best serve the public’s interest. To keep our community safe and informed and engaged and, yes, to save them money or point them toward deals.
But as advertising slows during the pandemic, the newspaper will rely on the subscriptions at each household or business to help pick up the slack, to maintain the level of coverage you expect. Just like the local restaurant you love so much, we need you to show your support for the newspaper. Our challenges cannot be bridged by curbside pickup, but they are challenges nonetheless. (Though, we have long been in the “online-order-deliver-to-your-door" game.)
If you are reading this column today and are a subscriber, know that we appreciate you. If you know someone who isn’t a subscriber, consider sharing this message with them.
A digital subscription costs less than $2.31 per week -- I spend more than that for a coffee. It’s a small price to stay informed, and to keep us in a position to continue to do that work on your behalf. You can view all our subscription offers at www.dl-online.com/subscribe.
Contact Detroit Lakes Tribune Editor J.J. Perry at 218-844-1466, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow @jjperry on Twitter.