With continued assistance, we hope latest challenges will only make us stronger

By Michael Mischke

Dear Villager reader:
Beginning this month, and continuing for the foreseeable future, the Villager is giving our readers an opportunity to invest in the neighborhood news, opinions and other local information that have been the hallmark of our editorial coverage for the past 67 years. In a nutshell, we’re hoping that many readers who value that content will respond to our invitation by voluntarily subscribing—i.e., making a donation—to the newspaper so that we might continue to publish and enhance the kind of local journalism that is becoming increasingly rare in this age of media constriction, consolidation and outright closure.

Our appeal in the last edition for financial support from our readers prompted more than 260 of you to call in, mail in or stop in our office to give us your credit card information, checks or, in some instances, cash to the total tune of about $17,500. We had requested donations in any amount, large or small, and our readers responded with contributions ranging from $6 to $500, with the average amount coming in at about $65. We can’t thank you enough for your generosity.

Equally heartening were the many, many expressions of appreciation and encouragement that we received with those contributions. I was especially struck by the phone call I took from a Macalester-Groveland woman who told me that she and her wife annually budget $400 each for discretionary expenses. She chose to spend her entire $400 budget on a donation to the Villager.

It’s no secret that the Internet and all the forms of mass communication it has spawned have wreaked havoc with the business model the Villager has operated under since its first edition was published in March of 1953. Frankly, producing a quality newspaper today and delivering it for free to 50,000 households, plus another 7,500 copies to newsstands, can no longer be supported solely by the advertisers, who up to this point have footed the entire bill. There are just too many other forms of communication at those advertisers’ disposal to make the Villager the first—and in some cases the only—vehicle for those advertisers’ messages. The result has been a slowly eroding advertising base and a slowly shrinking Villager. The damage to the local economy wreaked by the coronavirus pandemic has only sped up that erosion and shrinkage, and at a breathtaking pace.

We think we can go bigger and better with the help of our readers. However, to put it in perspective, that $17,500 in donations will cover the cost of printing, delivery and compensation of our freelancers—for only a single edition of this newspaper.

What form that bigger and better Villager takes is still an open question, and one we’re working feverishly to answer over the next eight weeks. That’s the time frame that the federal Small Business Administration has given us with its Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). We applied and have been approved for a loan that will be forgivable so long as we continue to employ the staff that we have now and at the same salary they have been earning. The SBA determines the PPP loan amount by adding up a business’ monthly payroll, the cost of the health benefits it provides, its utility bills, and its rent or mortgage payments. It then multiplies that sum by 2.5 to reach the final loan figure. Obviously, for a company like ours, that short list of expenses doesn’t begin to exhaust all the costs of doing business, including most conspicuously the cost of printing and delivering the newspaper—our biggest cost after staff salaries—and the every-other-week payments we make to our independent contractors.

 

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We’re grateful for the help of BankCherokee in navigating what turned out to be a frustrating process as the rules and regulations laid down by the SBA kept shifting. However, after eight weeks that loan money goes away. By then, we have to have a plan in place that will sustain our ongoing operation.

The Villager is quickly pivoting to greatly enhance the value of our website by distributing our editorial content online. We envision our online content to be further enhanced with an archive of past editions and a separate gallery of historical photos and accompanying historical feature stories.

To further bolster the revenue needed to support the newspaper, that online content will be available to readers by paid subscription only. It’s our intention to continue to distribute a printed product should our financial resources allow it, but in the current depleted advertising environment those resources will have to come largely from our readers.

If you haven’t already taken the opportunity to support our work with a financial contribution, please do so by clicking here.

I again want to thank our readers and advertisers for the support they have shown us over the years. It’s our fervent hope to be able to serve both of those constituencies for many years to come, in whatever form it takes.

Michael Mischke is the publisher of the Villager.

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