BACK BAY — I try to be direct about the health of this newspaper, and I want to do that again because this edition and the one last both discuss The Virginian-Pilot, which has seen continued staff reductions and is simply doing less local news.
What has happened at The Pilot, a gutting of a once great paper, is truly gutting to me. I used to work there, and, despite the obvious decline of the paper, I repeatedly have advocated for supporting it because of its importance as an institution in Hampton Roads — and as what has been the largest news organization covering Virginia Beach.
The recent staffing losses there, including one discussed in this edition of The Independent News, have diminished it to the point it seems hard to defend The Pilot now without feeling foolish. On Tuesday, July 13, the state of The Pilot drew comments from the dais during a City Council meeting. Mayor Bobby Dyer noted, “The Pilot is on life support.” City Councilmember John Moss, who holds an at-large seat, said hardly anyone gets the paper these days.
As I’ve noted more than once in this space, local leaders could do something about the state of local journalism by simply having a conversation about the need for local news. That would be a constructive use of their power and influence.
There are still good people at The Pilot, but The Pilot management and the union representing its remaining journalists can try to make that case for you, if they care to do so. I’ve reached out for comment.
I’m in a tough spot. I’ve advocated for a longtime community institution when that institution’s ownership does not seem to give much of a hoot about the community. And I can tell you what is happening at The Pilot hurts The Independent News, too.
Last year, in the middle of Covid, we lost advertising, but The Pilot’s decision to close its press in Virginia Beach was a bigger deal to my bottom line. It meant our printing costs grew a lot at the worst possible time. And this past week – not long after I set our advertising rates through the end of next year – I learned our printing bill will again grow significantly in August.
That means I am in less of a position to add needed reporting resources than I was just a week ago. It also means I need to find significant advertising revenue in the coming year to continue to publish The Indy as it is now. I need, essentially, for at least two larger businesses or institutions that dig the paper to come in and advertise. And that is just to maintain, not to grow.
I am incredibly grateful for the people who have responded to our sponsorship ads. I am overwhelmed by the generosity. I’ll continue to run those ads as long as people are willing to buy them and I have awesome hats to send as a thank you. The ads help. Almost out of red hats, though. Just saying.
But I also need to take a hard look at whether this paper realistically can fill some of the holes The Pilot has left in local journalism. This could include partnerships with local nonprofits. Frankly, I’m open to any and all ideas. My cell is (757) 502-5393. Email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
A major short-term concern is how I can pay for the voter guide this year. I’m tentatively planning to run the guide across two editions in late September and early October because the cost of adding pages has become a real concern and there are so many races. There are state legislative contests, constitutional offices, a possible City Council special election and a stormwater bond referendum to cover. I welcome feedback about reader priorities.
I’m trying to be upfront about where this newspaper is headed because I want you to understand our journalism, be it covering a 4-H show or a City Council meeting, costs money to make and deliver, and it needs support to continue.
I think the fact this little paper is still around speaks to the desire to see meaningful stories in our communities get some attention along with meat-and-potatoes city government and agricultural news coverage.
My goal is to keep doing it and maybe grow a little bit along the way, if possible. Thanks for reading.
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