Our first local coronavirus story ran in the Daily Press on March 11 — just a month ago, though it seems to many of us to be achingly longer.
That first story was about how local health officials were bracing for the virus to make its appearance here. And within just a week, the newspaper and our website would contain almost nothing but breaking coronavirus news as businesses shut down, public gatherings were canceled and the inevitable first local cases were reported.
We made all that crucial health news available free on our website, and readers responded. Our readers on the website more than doubled between January and March; we went from about 25,000 new users in January to more than 50,000 last month.
That’s a lot of people who weren’t previously regular readers of our site, and we’re gratified that those folks turned to us when they needed critical, fact-based information about local preparedness for the pandemic.
But now it is our turn to ask those readers for their help.
We’re in a unique position — we and every other news organization in the country. Just as readers need us most and are turning to us for information, our revenues are declining. When most businesses see a 100% increase in customers, they see a commensurate increase in profit.
But we rely not only upon subscribers, but upon advertisers to help us pay salaries and keep the lights on and presses running. And right now, advertisers understandably have stopped advertising. Who needs to market their cars or real estate or even their garage sales and help-wanted ads when no one can leave their homes and businesses are shut down?
In short, we need those readers who turned to us for critical information when it was free to return the favor now and subscribe.
I hope that those readers have seen that not only did we inform them about coronavirus in recent weeks, we told them about a lot more that they needed to know. Just this week we told the tragic story of a local man whose body was found in a ravine on the east side of Ashland last week. With police refusing to tell us anything — including letting residents know if they suspected a murderer might be loose in the area — we tracked down the family of the victim who told us of his tragic decline to the disease of alcoholism.
We’ve also sought out good stories to bring some light to these trying times — stories about local folks holding mock Easter egg hunts for kids, or volunteering to distribute food to their neighbors; of the folks who worked all night at the Ashland Super 1 grocery to make sure shelves were stocked during the unhinged run on toilet paper and other essentials, and of local folks making masks and face shields to protect health care workers.
Now that the initial health crisis is over and everyone knows how to take best precautions to protect themselves, we are putting back in place our subscription fee on the website. We will keep telling these stories, but as I’ve written before, giving away the work that we spend hundreds of thousands of dollars a year producing is not a sustainable business model.
Now more than ever, we need readers to support local news.
I was delighted this week to open an envelope in my office and find that a local reader had sent me a check for $35. No letter attached, simply a note in the memo section of the check: “Donation – good work!”
I’m grateful to that reader, and hope others follow her lead. If not now, then when they return to work.
Our staff — our three reporters, news clerk, publisher, ad saleswoman and I — all live here in Ashland or the surrounding area, all pay taxes here and all call this our home.
We’re proud to keep working through these difficult times to bring you the news you need, and we thank all of you for turning to us.
Peter J. Wasson is managing editor of the Ashland Daily Press.