Coronavirus impact on businesses is serious

Published 7:51 pm Tuesday, March 24, 2020

By John Edwards

Publisher Emeritus 

The effect of the coronavirus pandemic on local business should be a concern for every one of us. 

Every sector of the economy is being hit by something that two months ago no one could have imagined. Restaurants, in particular, are hard hit because of the limits on public gathering, but the effect goes way beyond food service. Every local business is struggling. They all need and deserve our support to the extent we can provide it if we expect our local economy to stay afloat during this crisis and to recover at its conclusion.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

I am most intimately familiar with one industry, however, and its decline has been particularly painful to watch and to witness up close. The downward spiral that all newspapers have endured — and many have not survived — began before and gained momentum during the 2008 Great Recession. Since then nearly a quarter of the nation’s newspapers has disappeared or merged, including a horrifying number of small, community papers.

Now, this catastrophic COVID-19 challenge threatens to become the nail in the coffin for newspapers, including the one that I devoted my entire adult life to nurturing. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

I spoke at length Monday morning with Steve Stewart, who purchased The Smithfield Times from Anne and me back in November and is now its publisher. He was at the paper doing what small paper publishers do regularly — putting out brush fires and working to get another newspaper on the street in the face of numerous challengers, only some of them involving coronavirus.

I’ve known Steve for a couple of decades. He is, as I have been, a career community journalist who is determined to see the industry, and this local paper in particular, survive. 

The difference between my approach and Steve’s, however, is dramatic — and important. He fully understands better, than I ever did, the necessity of using economies of scale, of trimming costs until they match revenues. He knows how to fine-tune a small paper operation to at least try and match costs with resources. And that’s exactly what he has been doing for the past four-plus months. Steve Stewart’s approach is, quite frankly, the only viable way forward for this struggling industry.

And then, coronavirus struck. The reality is that the businesses that are key customers of newspapers are themselves struggling to keep customers. Steve Stewart is determined to meet the challenge of holding onto a precious local commodity — this community newspaper — until the nation emerges at the other end of this crisis.

I’m going to help him any way that that I can, but there’s probably little of value that an old washed out editor can provide. One thing I can do, however, is to appeal to my neighbors in Isle of Wight and Surry to continue supporting local news. 

Please believe me when I say that you will not know what you have lost until the day that — heaven forbid — your local paper no longer exists. {/mprestriction}