Vance: There are better days ahead - stick with us
To our readers: Let me begin by saying this — thank you.
The past four months have likely been the toughest four months in the 60 years of the Spotlight's history.
To be sure, the paper has gone through other tough times — the lousy economy and gas lines of the 1970s were certainly not kind to Columbia County, nor to the Spotlight's readers and advertisers. The dot.com bust in the late '90s made it difficult for the paper, its advertisers and readers, too.
Almost all of us are old enough to remember the Great Recession of the Bush and Obama administrations, and the impact that downturn — coupled with $5 per gallon gasoline — had on our lives.
None of those tests, however, have been anything as difficult as what we've gone through during the COVID-19 pandemic. For our newspaper and website, and for our readers and advertisers, it has brought huge and unwelcome changes.
I've addressed these changes with many of our readers individually, on the phone and via email, so I think it's only fair to share with our readership as a whole.
Let me start by acknowledging and explaining the changes you've all seen in the print edition of the Spotlight. Since early April, when the response to the coronavirus shut down most area businesses — and wiped out much of our company's advertising — the Spotlight has been part of what we call a "zoned edition." That means that, in addition to the information we publish about St. Helens, Scappoose and greater Columbia County, our readers have also seen news (and opinion pieces and ads and more) from Pamplin Media Group's papers in Beaverton, Tigard/Tualatin/Sherwood, Hillsboro and Forest Grove.
That's true for all of Pamplin Media Group's other papers, too, with about 20 of our weekly products bundled into four zoned editions.
Here's why we did it. With our advertising revenue cut drastically, Pamplin Media Group went through a huge round of personnel layoffs back on April 1, cuts that took out writers, editors, photographers, salespeople, page designers, workers at our press operation and more.
In addition to cutting staff, Pamplin Media Group also limited its remaining employees to 24 hours per week, basically imposing a 40% cut in hours and pay.
Needless to say, none of this has been easy. It hasn't been easy on PMG's remaining employees and it sure as heck hasn't been easy on those who were laid off four months ago. Despte those challenges, all PMG papers have moved coverage of COVID-19 — anything that might directly impact readers' health and livelihoods — outside our paywalls so anyone could see it for free.
As hard as these changes have been, the Spotlight has fared better, and recovered more quickly, than many other papers within our newspaper group. Because of its unique location in Columbia County, the Spotlight couldn't be easily packaged with PMG's Washington County papers. That meant the Spotlight always kept its own unique front page and at least a couple other pages dedicated solely to St. Helens, Scappoose and Columbia County (while other stories/photos related to Columbia County often appeared elsewhere in the section).
Over the past couple months, the Spotlight has seen its local print coverage double, bringing back its own unique Opinion page, along with more news, features and photos. The rest of our company's papers in Washington County are just now preparing for the return of unique front pages and more local content, while the Spotlight is edging — slowly — closer to its pre-pandemic model of all Columbia County coverage all the time.
We don't yet have a date for when that will happen, but it will indeed happen, and sooner rather than later.
So for those of you who have hung in there with us over the past four months, thank you very much. For those of you that have stuck around despite annoyance with the presence of Washington County news — and sometimes voiced that annoyance with me or our office manager Rose Zimnicki or our circulation department — thanks to you, too. If you care enough to complain, at least you care.
There are better days ahead and I hope you'll be there to share them with us.
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