A letter to the Martha’s Vineyard Times family of readers:
Community newspapers like The Martha’s Vineyard Times have an unusual bond with readers. We take our charge — to provide essential information about events, people, meetings; and a home for advertising where readers gather — to be the essence of the highest standard of local journalism.
All of us at The Times have spent the past two weeks flat out, determined to give our readers all the information they need in the face of an amorphous and deadly antagonist. Our entire staff is on it, reporters, designers, IT, ad sales, and circulation staff, taking phone calls and emails, running down leads, and generally working with one another and our community partners, all with good grace. And each of us has learned to do things along the workflow chain that many of us never thought possible, including making an entire newspaper from home.
The results, measured in getting content out to readers, are impressive: Since Feb. 12, we’ve run close to 100 separate stories dedicated to the virus outbreak as it twists and turns by the minute — most of those 100 in the past two weeks. We’ve updated them countless times, we’ve kept our email Minute newsletter humming along, and have even added special weekend Minute Extra editions, and we’ve flooded the zone with stories and images covering the human side of Vineyard life in the time of COVID-19. At its heart it’s all about information, a giant scaffold built of big announcements and small details.
As you might imagine, the entire Times staff is energized by the demands of the COVID-19 story. One of them observed their appreciation of the historic nature of this story, and the importance of getting it out to the community. One grizzled veteran said that getting it done and getting it right has challenged him unlike any other story in a long career. We’ve all commented on the teamwork necessary to keep turning out the latest news, which someone characterized as a great choir, all singing in harmony. And someone else, less poetically, that it made him understand what it’s like to be an air traffic controller at JFK. You get the idea.
We think what we’re doing is working for you, too. In the past two weeks, our web traffic has nearly doubled, and, interestingly, much of the traffic is coming from “faithful” readers, those with a strong Vineyard connection. They’re checking in more often (one category averaging more than 30 times per day), and staying a bit longer. Our print and web subscriptions and retail sales, a successful strategy at the outset, have jumped substantially.
What’s not working is the absence of funding. Already reeling from the assault of social media, our community news model depends on advertising: local retailers, nonprofit institutions, event venues, restaurants, movies, designers and contractors, help-wanted listings, and more. When Island life shuts down, so do these businesses. And advertising comes to a near standstill. So if all the investigating, all the reporting, and all the posting and print production is to continue, there needs to be revenue to support it. There may be some newspapers advantaged enough to hunker down, carry on, and wait for a new start. But our Times is not one of them.
What can you do?
- First of all, subscribe to The MV Times; if you already have subscribed, then think of someone who might enjoy the gift.
- Extend your subscription. Click here.
- Subscribe here or email us here: email@example.com
- Buy advertisements. Even if you know you won’t be open for a while, run branding and informational ads. Our crew will happily help you get your message out.
- Buy ads in support of first responders and healthcare workers.
- Explore running your message as an online or Minute ad, instead of or in addition to print. Our statistics make clear the huge traffic you’ll be exposed to.
- Let us help you develop innovative newsletters — we can do most of the work — that will get your plans and reopening dates in front of readers.
- Advertising and custom-publishing contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Buy Times Dollars: You’ll earn discounts on future ads, and we’ll get your help with cash flow.
- Times Dollars or other donor questions contact: email@example.com
We are grateful to our remarkable staff and our loyal readers. We’re making our way through this daily nightmare with you, and are much the stronger for it.
Barbara and Peter Oberfest, publishers