Size and Content of the Paper
In the APRIL 9 issue,.the paper announced that due to the industry-wide downturn in advertising income during the pandemic, it would be downsizing issues from 12 or 16 pages to just 8, and therefore running fewer photos with people in them (since events have been cancelled). Indeed there have been a couple of 8-page issues but I was happy to see it return to mostly 12-page issues pretty quickly.
Editor Emerita Mary Lou Williamson explained that the economies of scale are such that the savings from reducing the number of pages isn’t substantial and there’s plenty of news and stories to run, so the size has stayed mostly normal.
GNR Board President Cathie Meetre added by email that “The other interesting thing is that people want something to do – so they are writing and taking photographs – and there is really no shortage of material. We’ve had interesting stories coming in from people who never wrote for us before – in a variety of age groups. It’s delightful. We hope it continues after this is done.”
And here’s something I wouldn’t have thought of – that a 12-page, story- and photo-packed issue take a lot more editorial work than a 12-pager packed with ads. Cathie says: “That’s not just more writing, it’s more editing, more captions, more layout! Gary’s been the person juggling this equation and, of course, there’s no perfect answer. But so far, so good. We’ve not run out of copy and we’ve not disgraced ourselves – so three cheers for Gary! In fact, I think we’ve been putting out very good papers – lots of variety, some upbeat, some less so. Very connected to our audience. Our layout and proofing teams have also come up to mark splendidly – with a number of workarounds to go the extra mile. It has been a really great team effort.”
Logistics During Shutdown
The same April article explained that much of the work of putting out the paper was being done from home, remotely. For those who need to be in the office, they’re “insisting that only three or four at a time work and that they follow social distancing rules. We have equipped each work station at the office with alcohol wipes so any surface touched is wiped before anyone else touches it. We are also working with a significantly reduced number of staff members. Our paper carriers are also still working and are following appropriate hygiene and distancing rules.”
Cathie further explained that “The takeaway is that we were able to capitalize on previous IT initiatives that allowed at least a substantial fraction of work to get done without going into the office. This means that the folks who do need to go in are frequently alone…in the office at corners of the room – it’s a pretty big room..
“We set up a workflow that allows us to produce a paper very efficiently and though it perhaps gets somewhat less copy-editing than previously, it’s still a pretty high-quality product. Unfortunately, not everybody can work (even if they want to) in this streamlined process, because it requires additional computer capability at home and because our system isn’t sophisticated enough to avoid us tripping over each other if we have too many people working in parallel.”
When I asked editor Gary Childs about this, he wrote to me that “Very little about the News Review is about one person, even with the much smaller staff getting the paper out each week. It always has been and always will be very much a team effort (and I can’t wait till our whole team can come back to work). For example, the system we use in processing our articles and photos makes sure that documents aren’t being worked on by more than one person at the same time. The system was designed by Cathie, our process person, designing and automating the way we do our work.”
At the paper’s low point of advertising income during the pandemic, the paper operates at a loss, even at just 8 pages. According to Cathie, “A 2-page paper wouldn’t do it (and there were some 2-pagers in the 1950s, by the way – the paper was barely surviving). So, even an 8-page paper costs more than we’re making.”
But as Mary Lou told me, thanks to conservative financial management over the years, the paper has enough reserves to operate at this level of operating loss for “several years.” Cathie agrees that their reserves “should allow us to weather this period with reasonable aplomb,” despite their expectation that advertising will continue to lag even when things are “back to quasi-normal. It may take us years to inch back – but we make a pretty good tortoise.”
Kudos to the News Review for responsible management over these many years. We see the excellence of the content week after week but this insider look at the financial management of the paper is very reassuring. The paper is one very essential business that Greenbelters don’t have to worry about weathering the pandemic shutdown.
And thanks to the GNR for keeping up-to-date their list of open-for-carry-out Greenbelt restaurants!