By JUDY PATRICK
VP for editorial development, New York Press Association
Imagine having a stack of checks arrive in your newspaper office every day from people in the community who believe in your mission and just want to help you through this COVID-19 crisis.
That’s what is happening at the Valley News, a daily newspaper that has received more than $128,000 in community donations in less than two weeks. The paper has a circulation of 10,000-11,000 and covers the upper Valley Region of Vermont and New Hampshire.
Like nearly every other newspaper, the Valley News has seen its print and insert advertising revenue drop significantly as business came to a near standstill because of the COVID-19 crisis. Like others, the paper has compensated for some of revenue loss by cutting staff and reducing page counts.
When that wasn’t enough, the paper asked its community for help via a crowdsourcing campaign. The 1,288 donations, either made online or via checks mailed directly to the office, have ranged from small to large. The average is $50.
“The response from readers and non-readers alike has been mind blowing,” said Dan McClory, the paper’s publisher.
The paper isn’t a charity so the donations aren’t tax deductible. But people don’t seem to care about that, McClory said.
About 25 percent of the checks arrive with notes of thanks and encouragement as well, each of which gets posted on the paper’s bulletin boards. Many of the messages emphasize that the newspaper is one of the few elements of normalcy for them in this chaotic time.
In seeking help, McClory’s message, posted on the paper’s homepage, was simple:
Please support the Valley News during the COVID-19 pandemic. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the local economy — and many of the advertisers who support our work — to a near standstill. During this unprecedented challenge, we continue to make our coronavirus coverage free to everyone at www.vnews.com because we feel our most critical mission is to deliver vital information to our communities. If you believe local news is essential, especially during this crisis, please donate.
Thank you for your support of the Valley News.
Dan McClory, publisher
The campaign has prompted other kinds of support as well. People are buying ads thanking the newspaper for what it does. A local law firm has bought a series of six ads, each of which will contain information on topics such as the value of a free press.
McClory doubts the campaign can covert into a long-term sustaining revenue stream for his paper. But it has made him think about changing his revenue model going forward. “What this is really telling us is that people do respect and value what you’re doing,” he said.
Newspapers have traditionally looked askance at seeking this kind of help. The damage being done by COVID-19 “has just taken everybody out at the knees,” McClory said.
The Valley News is family-owned, part of the Newspapers of New England group of media companies.