By Michael Mischke
There have been a total of 10 recessions in the U.S. since the Villager began publishing in 1953, according to various economic and historical resources I’ve perused. This publication thankfully managed to weather all of them and remains today the longest continuously printed and most widely distributed neighborhood newspaper in the Twin Cities.
The Great Recession of 2007-2009 proved to be the most challenging recession of them all, but not solely because of the economic downturn brought about largely by the subprime mortgage crisis. The mass exodus of advertising dollars from print to digital platforms—primarily to tech giants Google and Facebook—and the simultaneous decline of small, local and independent businesses and the rise of regional, national and international chain operations also contributed to the erosion of local print advertising, which is the sole source of revenue for a freely distributed newspaper like the Villager.
But survive we did, albeit on a significantly reduced scale. Staff contraction and fewer printed pages was the result, even as we continued to print and distribute the same number of newspapers as we had before, while working all the harder to maintain the breadth and quality of our local news coverage. On that last score, I believe we succeeded, even as the local news provided by the Twin Cities’ daily newspapers receded.
Which brings us to the Not-So-Brave World we all find ourselves navigating today—or at least trying to. Though it seems like the landscape shifts every day, it’s virtually certain that the coronavirus pandemic has brought us to the brink of another recession with the massive spike of over 3 million unemployment claims filed nationally in just a single week.
The picture locally is equally bleak as businesses, nonprofit organizations, schools and houses of worship close their doors or significantly reduce their operations and employment rolls in an attempt to live to fight another day.
The hospitality and entertainment industries have been especially hard hit. Minnesota Governor Tim Walz’s order that all bars and restaurants close but for those that have the will and wherewithal to limp on with strictly takeout and delivery orders, and his banning of gatherings of more than 50 people at a time has brought many other businesses and organizations to a screeching halt.
The Villager offered to do our part to support the local restaurants that do business with us by providing a free ad in this edition. Half a dozen of them took us up on our offer, and we commend them to all those who would also like to support them in their time of unprecedented need.
Of course, the damage to the local economy and employment ranks goes far beyond those restaurants. Walz’s order to stay at home has frozen countless other features of public life, including those retail and service providers that have been deemed to be “nonessential.” I’m sure their employees who now find themselves out of work appreciate that descriptor. We encourage you to do anything you can to support them as well.
The Villager’s own employees and contractors would likely recoil at the notion that they are any more “essential” than those who find themselves furloughed today. But because the news media have been exempted from Walz’s directive, we continue to publish as best we can, even with many of our regular customers having temporarily begged off on their advertising agreements. Who can blame them for that if their doors are closed? We certainly can’t.
So the Villager’s doors remain open, even if it’s just two of us manning the fort—not that anyone is coming through those doors these days anyway. All the rest of our employees are now working from home, and our freelance independent contractors continue to do so.
Meanwhile, we’re exploring with our bank the provisions of the federal Small Business Administration loan package signed into law late last week. It was unclear to us and to BankCherokee last Friday what the inevitable bureaucratic maze would look like, what other costs of doing business an SBA loan could be applied to beyond employee salaries (health benefits? overhead? compensation for freelancers?), and what end result would allow for that loan to be deemed forgivable and in essence become a grant.
I mentioned that we who work for this newspaper don’t consider ourselves to be any more essential than anyone else. That’s true—with one caveat.
To continue to produce what we believe to be the best neighborhood newspaper around, we’re going to increasingly need the financial support of our advertisers and readers. I realize that in these uncertain times it’s hardly the most opportune time to be soliciting your voluntary financial support for an editorial product that has always been delivered to you free of charge. But it’s my hope and prayer that you consider the Villager essential enough that you’ll respond favorably to our request for donations.
I can’t thank our readers and advertisers enough for the support and loyalty they’ve shown us over the years. It’s our intention to serve both for many more years to come.
Michael Mischke is the publisher of the Villager.