Brian Hamilton: ‘One and Inseparable,’ indeed
No doubt, despite all attempts at advance warning, Monday morning was likely a bit of a wake-up call for many of us, as we were without an old friend — a print edition of The Union — to get our week started over a cup of coffee.
It’s a harsh reality that The Union will, for now, on Mondays not print a newspaper, which had been delivered six days a week to area residents as far back as World War II. Starting this week, we’re down to five days of print publication — Tuesday through Saturday.
Of course, it’s all part of cost-cutting measures to keep afloat this business — yes, The Union is a local business, one that’s served this community since 1864 — amid a crisis that has forced us all, in every aspect of our society, to change how we do what we do at whiplash-inducing speed.
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Shopping by curbside pickup or delivery, distance learning by laptop, governing via virtual meeting, visiting the doctor via telemedicine … we’re all shifting to new, innovative — often impressive — ways of getting the job done.
Change is certainly nothing new to the newspaper industry, which has been in the throes of our own great transformation — from our print past to our digital future — for nearly a quarter century now. A former boss told me long ago change will be the only constant ahead for our industry, and that I’d better get used to it.
Sure enough, change comes every day, and we must embrace the opportunities that also come with it.
Among those opportunities is the ability to reach an audience like never before in the 156-year history of The Union. As our print circulation has declined over the past two decades, our online traffic has soared to new heights — about 1.2 million page views at TheUnion.com in March alone, as we all seek news and information relevant to our community during this crisis.
Of course, the problem is our advertising revenue — one of the traditional three legs of funding in the newspaper business — has not seen such growth on the digital side. And with classified dollars on the decline, if not entirely gone, and print subscriptions following the trend, the old newspaper business model just doesn’t pencil out.
All of this has led to upheaval in the industry. Nearly 2,000 papers and associated websites have closed in the past 15 years, according to the University of North Carolina’s School of Media and Journalism. As of 2019, the U.S. had around 25% fewer journalists than a decade earlier and newsrooms have been eroded by half.
Close to home, the Auburn Journal reduced publishing to twice weekly a couple years ago. The Sierra Sun, our sister paper in Truckee, moved from twice to once a week in 2018. And more recently the News & Review pubs of Chico, Reno and Sacramento have stopped print publication altogether amid the coronavirus crisis, which only has exacerbated the industry’s existing challenges.
Even closer to home, in addition to pausing Monday print publication, we have frozen hiring two positions, our staff members have been furloughed one day a week and salaried employees are dealing with a 20% pay cut. We’ve tightened up the paper, publishing fewer pages and filling those we do print with more locally relevant info, as opposed to wire service content found anywhere.
All that said, I couldn’t be more proud of our team’s response, working together to not only cover their beats but also to delve into the deep impact the coronavirus is making on all aspects of our community, as well as shining a light on those who are helping us all get through this together (Visit TheUnion.com/coronavirus for related coverage). Our team is doing all this while dealing with our own personal struggles — taking care of ourselves and our families — through this crisis.
Over the past week, as we announced the pause in Monday print publication and reached out for support during these tough times, we’ve been buoyed by your words of encouragement and your generous donations. We also appreciate those who have signed up as subscribers, whether in print or online.
We know we’re not alone in this struggle, as similar cost-cutting measures are now the norm for the vast majority of our business community.
And we know that more than ever, we must support our businesses in order to help ensure their survival in our local economy.
After all, a community newspaper is only as strong as the community it serves, a “union” in western Nevada County that dates back to 1864 and has proven to be, just as our front-page flag declares each day in print, truly “One and Inseparable.”
Contact Editor Brian Hamilton at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-477-4249.
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