Not just in the Ohio Valley, but just about everywhere -- the pandemic has closed most local businesses. As a result, local newspapers, which depend primarily on local businesses for most of their revenue, are hurting badly. (For examples, see NPR’s recent coverage.) Our local Ogden papers are no exception. For instance, last Monday’s Wheeling Intelligencer had a first – there was only one section even though there was more than enough pandemic news to fill a couple of sections. But without much advertising, one section easily covered the old PR releases and limited AP wire stories that typically make up a Monday Wheeling Intelligencer.
Ogden attempts to help local businesses. Is it a grant or is it a two-for-one coupon?
At the top of today’s front page of the Wheeling News-Register we learn:
Ogden Newspapers Establishes $1M Fund to Help Local Businesses Recover From Coronavirus
The article explains:
Ohio Valley businesses can now apply for a grant to help them recover from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. Ogden Newspapers Inc., the parent company of The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register, has established a $1 million fund to help local businesses get back to full strength by subsidizing local marketing efforts through matching advertising dollars.
“These are difficult times for our Ohio Valley, and by offering this $1 million grant program, we’re hoping that we can help local businesses tell their story as they work to keep their doors open,” Perry Nardo, general manager of The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register, said. “We live here, and we work here; we know businesses and workers are hurting; we’re hurting, too. But if we can pull together as a community, we can weather this storm.
“Here at The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register, we want to do everything we can to help everyone get through the pandemic and get back to work. With these matching grants, we can help local businesses strengthen their brand as they work to rebuild.”
I checked and the “grant” is matching funds. For example, $500 from a merchant is matched by Ogden with an additional $500 so that the merchant can now buy $1000 worth of advertising. Bottom line: if you do the math, the advertising rate has been cut in half. (It’s a “two-for-one” coupon for advertisers.) Okay, why not communicate that directly to Ogden’s advertisers? No, that would miss Ogden’s opportunity to pat themselves on the back for doing what most businesses often do in a similar situation – they cut the price of the product to attract more business.
The article also features a pat-on-the-back from our local Chamber of Commerce president and WV delegate, Erika Storch. It also includes a quote from Robert Nutting, Ogden CEO.
Great Ogden minds think alike!
If you look for this article on a search engine you will find the same article with only slight variations in Ogden newspapers from coast-to-coast. They all describe the grant, most quote a local businessperson or Chamber of Commerce person, and most include a quote from the publisher or general manager. First, reread the end of Perry Nardo’s 2nd paragraph above. Then, compare it to this quote found in Ogden’s Fort Dodge paper:
“We know businesses and workers here are hurting; we’re hurting, too,” Mining Journal Publisher Ann Troutman said. “But if we can pull together as a community, we can weather this.
Or in the Steubenville Herald-Star:
“We know businesses and workers here are hurting; we’re hurting, too,” said John Hale, publisher. “But if we can pull together as a community, we can weather this.
Or in the Winchester Star:
“We know businesses and workers here are hurting; we’re hurting, too,” Winchester Star Publisher Mike Gochenour said. “But if we can pull together as a community, we can weather this.
Or in the Williamsport Sun-Gazette:
“We know businesses and workers here are hurting; we’re hurting, too,” said Bob Rolley, publisher of the Sun-Gazette. “But if we can pull together as a community, we can weather this.”
I quit after checking five Ogden papers – you get the picture. Aren’t they impressive? Apparently, if you’re upper-level management you are permitted no independent thoughts. That’s pathetic.
A final note – I truly believe that newspapers are vital to our democracy. The mostly self-serving Ogden chain truly tests that belief, however.
I wanted to call attention to this article in yesterday’s New York Times:
Bail Out Journalists. Let Newspaper Chains Die
Here is its subheading:
The coronavirus is likely to hasten the end of advertising-driven media, our columnist writes. And government should not rescue it.
The article by Ben Smith does have hope for the future of journalism – but not in its present form:
It’s a moment of deep crisis for the local news business, which could have been blown over by a light breeze and is now facing a hurricane. But it’s also a moment of great promise for a new generation of largely nonprofit local publications.
I found this paragraph to be especially promising:
And on the local level, she [Elizabeth Green] and John Thornton, the other founder of the American Journalism Project, are working on a new project: backing a nonprofit outlet in West Virginia. It will be led by Greg Moore, a former Charleston Gazette-Mail executive editor, and Ken Ward, a reporter at the paper who won a MacArthur “Genius” grant for his coverage of damage done by the coal and gas industries to people’s lives. The not-yet-named new outlet (candidates include “Mountain State Muckraker”) will begin with a staff of about 10, seven of them journalists, a news team on the same scale as the diminished local paper.