By Carla Bumstead
This week’s editions of The County Journal (TCJ) and the Flashes Advertising and News (FAN) were not produced using newsprint and ink. As a direct result of the financial fallout from the current COVID-19 (coronavirus) restrictions, the March 28, 2020 issues are being published online only.
“This was a very difficult decision, but it was a matter of simply having no other choice,” said publisher Cindy Gaedert-Gearhart. “With the COVID-19 restrictions and the governor’s stay at home order, our advertising revenue has dropped so significantly that we simply can’t afford to pay for the cost of printing and delivery at this time.”
TCJ is a weekly publication serving much of Eaton County — including the communities of Charlotte, Potterville, Bellevue, Olivet, Mulliken and Sunfield. FAN covers the communities of Eaton Rapids and Dimondale and portions of Mason and Springport. Both have always had online versions but, up until this week, have had a weekly print run of over 24,000 copies.
Gaedert-Gearhart stressed the switch to online only is expected to be temporary. The change was announced on Tuesday and will begin with this week’s publication date of Saturday, March 28.
“We want to assure all of our loyal readers and advertisers that nothing is changing aside from a temporary stop to printing,” Gaedert-Gearhart said. “The paper will still have the local news content, legal notices, classifieds and display advertising that the community relies upon.
“The only difference will be that people will have to do their reading on their phones, tablets or computers.”
The vast majority of the newspapers’ weekly operating budgets come from display advertising. The bulk of those ads are from local small businesses. With so many area businesses shut down due to Gov. Whitmer’s stay at home order, those businesses are simply unable to advertise as usual, leaving the paper with no incoming funds to pay the weekly printing and delivery costs.
“As our local small businesses go, so we go,” explained Gaedert-Gearhart. “If they are struggling, we struggle; it is a direct correlation.
“But neither they nor we think the current situation will last long-term. We have every expectation to be back in print just as soon as our fellow small businesses are back in business.”
Other independent, weekly newspapers across the state are taking similar cost-saving measures in order to keep themselves viable during the current economic situation.
Joe Pray, a prominent Charlotte businessman and long-time Charlotte resident, said he thinks TCJ is an important part of the community and is glad to hear the move is only temporary.
“It’s very important to have a local newspaper for many reasons,” Pray said. “It is local people, telling local stories.
“I am much more apt to trust a local reporter that I see regularly than a person from a big newspaper sitting in some office in a big city.”
He added that local small businesses need to work together to support each other and encourage the community to shop local.
“Rather than shopping from a big store in some other city, or online, we need to keep our dollars here, to support the local economy.”
The two newspapers employ a staff of 12. There are also over 40 carriers, who deliver the paper to thousands of homes each week.
The newspapers’ business office, located in downtown Charlotte, is still open to the public, as newspapers are considered “essential businesses.” However, Gaedert-Gearhart encourages the public to call with any editorial or advertising needs, rather than coming in. Business hours are Monday through Thursday from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. The office will be closed on Fridays until April 13.
“We are definitely not closed and have every intention of continuing to provide our communities with the local news coverage and business information they have always depended on.”
The business phone number is 517-543-1099. The weekly deadline of Wednesday at 5 p.m. remains unchanged. Both The County Journal and the Flashes can be accessed at county-journal.com. Simply click the appropriate “digital edition” link on the right.