The news last week that the East Oregonian‘s parent company, EO Media Group, reduced its workforce by 47 employees because of the impact of the COVID-19 virus was disappointing.
I wish I could convey in this piece a wide-sweeping plan that would have avoided such a tragedy, but I can’t. I wish I could give a solid timeline for when the COVID-19 virus outbreak will end, but I can’t.
The reason for the layoffs is simple. Newspapers depend on advertising revenue. With major businesses, including big box stores, either closing their doors or pulling back their advertising, the revenue we depend on is gone. It is simple capitalism, simple math really, but I still don’t like it.
I am frustrated, like, I am sure, many of you who are either staying at home or laid off because of the COVID-19 outbreak.
The virus is frustrating because there really isn’t any way to fight back. Other than remaining at home and practicing social distancing — which are reactive measures — our tools to fight this insidious malady are few.
So, I am upset, irritated, angry. But those emotions are not going to solve this virus crisis or bring back jobs or suddenly prompt a wide swath of advertisers to start running ads in the East Oregonian.
The seriousness of the impact of this virus was probably said best by the EO Media Group’s CEO, Steve Forrester.
“Our company is in survival mode,” he said last week.
Forrester then made another point clear — one that I believe should resonate — regarding the future.
“While none of us have seen a pandemic and its economic effects, our company has weathered economic challenges, such as the Great Depression, the Astoria Fire of 1923 and, within our lifetimes, the Great Recession of 2008.” In other words, there is hope.
My biggest concern, now, is for the employees who were laid off. I would never pretend to know how they feel, I can only imagine how unsettling a feeling it is.
My second concern is more general but a serious one.
For the past 20 years, the newspaper industry in this nation has been under virtual siege, as readership dwindled, revenues faded and once-proud news sheets folded or were gobbled up by venture capitalists with little interest in democracy or in the important role journalism plays.
Now, the entire industry faces clearly its biggest test and one, I fear, that may damage the industry severely.
That’s why we need help from all of you. By that I mean if you want solid, local news with good information, become a print or digital subscriber. Your help is needed now, more than ever. Visitors to the East Oregonian website will be seeing regular messages to “Support Local Journalism” and an invitation to make a one-time or monthly donation to the newspaper. The direct link is eastoregonian.com/contribute.
I wish I could predict where the newspaper industry will be in nine months, but I can’t. I know that the decision to lay off employees by this company wasn’t taken lightly. I know there was plenty of soul searching and sleepless nights by company leaders, and I know the final decision was one that was agonizing.
There are a lot of things about COVID-19 I can’t do. But I can, as the editor of this newspaper, assure you that we will continue to provide up-to-date local news at an affordable price for as long as we possibly can.
I also know that his crisis isn’t going to last forever. Its timeline is finite. One day it will fade away. Toward that day we should all look, trusting in our ability as Eastern Oregonians to weather any challenge and overcome any problem.