By Monica Nieporte, OMNA President and Executive Director
Looking around the state at the coverage our members are providing, I have to say I am proud of the job all of you are doing.
These have to be some of the most extreme circumstances we’ve ever dealt with for such a prolonged period of time.
You all have families to worry about, you’re out in the community without any extra protection and taking a risk in order to bring vital local information to your readers.
In a strange way, this is an opportunity to shine. A time to remind the residents in your coverage area that your paper is the vital link between them and the information they need to keep themselves and their families safe.
Never before have there been so few distractions – no youth sports games to run off to, no professional sports to watch (that aren’t reruns) and all of the events planned for late March, April and possibly into May are postponed.
People actually now have time to read. Maybe for the first time in a very long time. When they pick up your paper or access it online, this is an opportunity to impress. To remind them what they’ve missed or taken for granted would always be there to keep the residents of the area all connected through local information.
If you have not already made your top COVID-19 stories available free online, please consider doing so. I’ve always been an advocate for pay walls. I don’t believe journalists should work for free. However, I do believe there are certain stories – life or death stories – where you are doing a service to make sure everyone in the community has the information regardless of whether they paid to read it or not. In other words, if someone’s life could be lost by not knowing the information, it needs to be shared in the interest of public safety.
You don’t have to make it all available – just the main story. And by doing so, you’ll remind people that you can be counted upon to deliver the thing they can’t get anywhere else- what’s happening in their community. They can get the Columbus-level view at 2 p.m. from Governor DeWine or the national view all day long on broadcast. In most cases, they cannot get the information about their community from anyone else but you. Hopefully by offering them a small bit of your coverage for free, they’ll discover other headlines they will then pay to read. Or they will start to like a certain writer’s style and want to read more from that person. Please consider doing this. It is time to show off our relevance to people and we have a captive audience – whether any of us like that fact or not – we are all captives in our homes right now.
As staff, reward advertisers who are spending money with your paper right now if you can. If it is a restaurant, considering getting some take-out from them. If it is a professional tradesman or contractor, remember them the next time your water heater needs replaced or your faucet leaks. Don’t forget to do something extra for your carriers too. Is there something you can provide to them when they pick up their papers? A $10-15 gift card to the local grocery to help pay for their Easter ham? Something to let them know the fact they’re still showing up every day is noticed and appreciated?
Stay safe and be proud – you’re all providing a huge public service at one of the most critical moments of our time.