For more than a month, the Herald has dealt with the monetary side effects that have accompanied the coronavirus pandemic, just like so many other businesses in town.
We have filled our pages with news about the pandemic and how it has affected Greater Grand Forks and the region. Our news staff has been kept whole, because we know this is a time like no other, and one that requires us to continue to provide useful and trusted information for our readers.
And during the pandemic, we have seen our revenue dwindle, again like so many other businesses. Astute readers certainly have noticed; for example, ad spots that previously brought in dollars have been replaced with a Herald-sponsored public-service campaign, urging readers to support local businesses.
And with no guarantee of a complete or speedy economic recovery, it leads us today to a difficult announcement: As of next week, the Herald will reduce its print days to two per week. We’ll still produce a daily e-edition that looks like the newspaper, as we do now, but home delivery service will be reduced to Wednesdays and Saturdays.
It’s a decision being made at newspapers across the nation. The newspaper in Tampa, Fla., recently announced it will only print two days per week. The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead – which is owned by the same company that owns the Herald – this month reduced its print days from seven to five.
In a column that announced the changes in Fargo, our company’s CEO, Bill Marcil Jr., said that although newspapers have been declared essential businesses in both North Dakota and Minnesota, we’re still suffering losses as a result of the pandemic.
“We have lost advertisers who have been forced to pull their placements as their own businesses shut their doors – either temporarily or permanently. We have lost subscribers – some who are concerned about how they can afford their subscription at a time when they may no longer be getting a paycheck,” he wrote.
The news website MinnPost reported this week that Adams Publishing Group, which owns 60 newspapers in Minnesota, has reduced workforce hours by 25%. At the Star Tribune in Minneapolis, employees are taking pay cuts. At the Pioneer Press, employees are being bought out.
The report also noted that analysts are predicting up to a 40% decline in 2020 newspaper revenue because of the pandemic.
And all of this comes after a difficult two or three years of retail in the Grand Forks region, a trend exacerbated by the downturn in the ag economy and the steady reduction of Canadian shoppers. Numerous businesses closed before the pandemic, including many of the big retailers that were traditional Herald customers.
Our company’s dedication to the news has not wavered. Although recent efforts have been made to cut costs at the Herald and throughout Forum Communications, those cuts have not reduced the company’s reporting staff.
At the Herald, our newsroom remains intact – smaller than the heyday of a decade or two ago, but the same size as the past two years. These days, our reporters are working remotely, but their home base remains in downtown Grand Forks. When the pandemic passes, they will return to our office and continue to write about local happenings and events.
From Tuesday through Sunday last week, the Herald news staff wrote more than 80 stories about the goings-on in Greater Grand Forks and the region. That’s just over a six-day span and doesn’t include extra stories that ran only online.
But that kind of reporting costs real money, and with revenue declining, difficult decisions are being made. Chief among them is the decision to cut print days.
It’s a conundrum. Our content is being read more than ever, yet because of declining revenue in certain sectors, we need to make cuts to stay viable and continue to provide the information we know is so important to our customers and readers.
The pricing will remain the same, but, again, we will continue to provide news every day on our website, including our replica e-edition, which looks just like the daily newspaper.
I know there will be disappointment. I know that a newspaper in hand is a special feeling, one that is reassuring to so many news consumers. Unfortunately, as we are seeing around the nation, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to provide that feeling for our customers.
We also know that online readership is skyrocketing, and so that’s the direction we must follow. While the Herald’s print circulation has declined in recent years, we have seen exponential growth with our online offerings. Some days, more than 80,000 unique visitors come to our website.
We don’t feel we are leaving traditional news consumers behind, but we are making a pivot toward what we see as a more stable path to our future. It’s painful, but it’s a decision that comes after much consideration, and it’s one that is being made or considered by newspaper owners and publishers everywhere.
We have said it many times in recent weeks: Local businesses need your support. Well, we’re one of those businesses, too.
We hope current readers stay with us. Likewise, we hope others will join us and support local news and journalists.
Korrie Wenzel has been publisher of the Herald since 2014.