Post Independent publisher discusses changes to the paper

Sunday was the last weekend edition of the Post Independent for the time being.

Starting this week, there will be no Saturday or Sunday papers as the Post Independent makes cuts to better weather the economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.

That’s just one of the difficult decisions Jerry Raehal, publisher and marketing director for the paper, has made in the past week.

“Like many businesses right now, we’re struggling with the short term and long term, and not even knowing what short term and long term really mean at this point,” Raehal said.

Along with ending weekend print editions, the inside of the weekday papers will also change.

The paper is no longer contracting for opinion pieces from national or local columnists, but will continue running letters to the editor.

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced those changes, but Raehal has been considering restructuring the opinion pages for some time.

“We’ve often debated about whether, in its current format, our opinion page was serving a purpose,” Raehal said.

There will still be some columns, Raehal said, but focused much more on local issues and less on major political talking points that don’t further constructive dialogue within the community.

There are plenty of ways people can read national political news, and “We really want to focus [the opinion page] on community-focused issues, as opposed to the national side of it,” Raehal said.

The opinion page changes, as well as reducing one print day over the weekend, were already on the table before the coronavirus, Raehal added.

Since Raehal announced the changes to the paper, the strongest reaction he’s received had to do with losing the comics section at the back of the paper.

And he gets it — he also enjoyed reading the comics.

“That was personally painful for me, not just because I enjoyed them, but my kids really enjoyed them,” Raehal said.

Dropping the comics was primarily about preserving payroll.

“It basically came down to a decision of, lose comics, keep staff, or keep comics and potentially lose a staff member. I chose keeping someone on our team. And I would do it again,” Raehal said.

No one at the Post Independent has been furloughed, although many employees will see reduced work hours.

With the countless changes and difficulties of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the response of local, state and national governments, the Post Independent has never been more widely read, Raehal said.

Even the physical papers are still getting picked up — though there are only a few racks where the paper is being distributed.

The Post Independent has taken some measures to avoid the chance of COVID-19 spreading — like removing doors on many of the newspaper racks.

The risk of COVID-19 being spread through contamination of newspapers itself is low, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“It may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads,” according to a CDC fact sheet.

Online readership is also up, and readership of the e-edition — a digital copy of the print product available online — quadrupled after the Post Independent removed the paywall on March 15.

But the reality of the Post Independent’s business model, supported entirely by advertising and not by paid subscriptions, means that when businesses are struggling, marketing budgets shrink, too.

Business partners who continue to use the paper’s marketing abilities helped prevent deeper cuts, Raehal said.

“We serve our community by providing news, we serve our business community by providing a platform to get their messaging out. It’s a symbiotic relationship,” Raehal said.

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