For most newspapers, including The Local, financial struggles precede COVID-19. In 2019, however, we bucked the national trend.
Over the past two decades, putting out a newspaper has been a challenge for all publishers, even in the best of times. Since 2004, 2,100 newspapers in the United States have shut down, leaving many communities without a local news presence. A large majority of those closures were weekly newspapers. So, when you add a significant complexity such as a worldwide pandemic to the mix, it’s all the more difficult and dire.
For most newspapers, including The Local, financial struggles precede COVID-19. In 2019, however, we bucked the national trend. We were able to increase revenue over the prior year. Our expenses also rose as we implemented a redesign of the paper and started a few other initiatives. In 2020, we were budgeted to be profitable for the first time in a while. And we were off to a good start.
Through March, we were hitting our targets. Since April, however, our advertising revenue, which in 2019 accounted for just over 85% of our total income, has been off by 42%. Were it not for donations to the emergency fund created through the Chestnut Hill Community Fund, the PPP Loan, and some targeted grants from Google’s Journalism Emergency Relief Fund and the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association (PNA), I cannot say if you would be reading this column today. Without some other intervention between now and whenever we return to normalcy, the Local’s future is, at best, clouded.
We have not sat on our hands during the past several months. Thanks to the grants from Google and PNA, we overhauled and redesigned our website. We created the Mt. Airy Local in partnership with the Mt. Airy CDC. And we started a new glossy quarterly, Wissahickon Magazine, which hopefully, all our subscribers will have received in the mail by the time you read this. (The good people at the USPS must really be enjoying the new magazine since they do not seem to want to part with them.)
We have also significantly cut expenses. Unfortunately, some of those cuts were the result of a reduction in staff.
With reduced costs and the new products and initiatives, we have positioned the Local for a brighter and more stable future if we can get there.
It is incumbent upon us to create a product that, each week, people want to read, and advertisers can depend on to deliver results. The Local is a business that, like any other business, must make its own way. We do not receive ongoing financial assistance or subsidies from any organization.
We have some challenges ahead. If we cannot get additional help in the form of a new Payroll Protection Plan loan, the Local will be in imminent peril. It seems that every organization faces similar hardships. And everyone is asking for help. And I am joining my voice to that chorus.
If you would like to help financially, you can make checks payable to the Chestnut Hill Community Fund and make sure you mark the check specifically for the Chestnut Hill Local Emergency Fund. Mail the checks to us at 8434 Germantown Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19118. You can also go to our website (chestnuthilllocal.com) and click on the “Donate Now” button. Either way, contributions are tax-deductible.
There are other ways you can help us if you are so inclined:
We do not just want you to read The Local; we want you to love The Local. To that end, I am asking you to send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Let me know what you think of The Local, how we can be better, story suggestions, etc. This is a serious request for you to take a minute and send me a note. And I will respond to each one I receive.
Finally, on behalf of the Chestnut Hill Local staff, please accept our wishes for a Merry Christmas and an especially healthy and prosperous New Year!
Chestnut Hill Local