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WHATEVER IT TAKES

ANTHONY COOK: Local businesses, including your local newspaper, hit hard by COVID-19 (column)

Anthony Cook

Anthony Cook is the executive editor for Consolidated Publishing. Reach him at amcook70@gmail.com or 256-235-3540.

Edward R. Murrow was a broadcast journalist who gained prominence during World War II. He’s credited with saying: “We cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home.”

He also said, “To be persuasive we must be believable; to be believable we must be credible; to be credible we must be truthful.”

But my favorite quote from Mr. Murrow is this: “The news is more important than I am.”

The ongoing worldwide COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance and value of believable, credible, truthful and especially local news.

That has always been a focus of Consolidated Publishing and its newspapers in Calhoun, Cleburne, St. Clair and Talladega counties. But that emphasis on local coverage is all the more important during times of crises.

Since coronavirus became a household term, no one has done more than this family of newspapers to tell northeast Alabama the status of the disease, the official response to the pandemic, and what it all means to the communities we serve.

One of the residual impacts of this health emergency is how it has devastated the ability of many local businesses to function. Restaurants are particularly hard hit with initial mandates to cease dine-in service and more recently for everyone to stay home except for authorized reasons. Many have converted to curbside pickup to honor social distancing recommendations, doing whatever it takes to keep their workers employed. Others have essentially shut down, hoping to return once the experts say the pandemic has subsided enough to resume close personal interactions. Unemployment has spiked nationally to historic levels and is expected to get worse before it gets better. 

There’s no denying that local businesses are hurting, which means local newspapers are also hurting.

The greatest source of revenue for newspapers comes from businesses purchasing advertising space in the print editions, and not even the largest newspaper companies in the country are immune to the impact of COVID-19. Gannett, which owns USA Today and is the nation’s biggest newspaper company, recently announced furloughs and pay cuts due to the slowdown in advertising.

Lee Enterprises, which publishes 46 newspapers in 21 states, confirmed recently that all of its employees will face pay cuts or layoffs in an effort to minimize the long-term impact of the pandemic.

Likewise, Consolidated Publishing — the parent company of The Anniston Star, The Daily Home, The Cleburne News, The News-Journal and The St. Clair Times — is facing similar challenges and is making similar sacrifices. Among other cuts and adjustments across the company, Consolidated’s editorial department recently had to furlough three employees to help meet the financial challenges.

One of those cut was Laci Braswell, who has been a loyal and passionate part of the company for more than four years. She’s a joy to be around and is always willing to do whatever asked. Most recently, she covered Sylacauga and had shown tremendous growth over her time with the company. She has a bright future wherever she goes, but her bubbly personality and affinity for all things Crimson Tide will be greatly missed.

John Alred valiantly took the opportunity to voluntarily retire after 47 years in journalism, 13 of which were spent overseeing the weekly newspapers that cover Jacksonville and Piedmont in north Calhoun County, and The Cleburne News. John's pleasant and fun-loving presence will also leave a gaping hole in the newsroom. I consider him a great journalist, a true gentleman and a dear friend.

And, as of Friday, I am no longer at the helm of Consolidated Publishing’s editorial department.

My departure also means the end of The Star’s nationally recognized, award-winning Editorial page, and the editorial page for The Daily Home. The goal is to allow the remaining news staff to focus on just that — the news. 

Up until Friday, journalism had been my very rewarding career for almost 27 years, and I'm thankful to the Ayers and Sanguinetti families for the opportunities I've had with Consolidated Publishing. I do not take lightly walking away from such a talented and committed team, but I step away knowing that the mission is in good hands. Managing Editor Ben Cunningham at The Anniston Star, Managing Editor Lew Gilliland at The Daily Home and Managing Editor David Atchison at The St. Clair Times will be the points of contact for those newsrooms going forward. Copy Editor Kaitlin Fleming will take on oversight of The News-Journal and The Cleburne News. They’re all very capable journalists who won’t miss a beat.

The reporters and editors of Consolidated Publishing deserve the support of the communities they serve. Not for any sentimental reason, but for the very tangible and valuable news coverage they provide that can’t be found anywhere else. They tirelessly employ their college-educated and professionally trained journalism skills to keep us all informed every day online and three days a week in print.

While Alabama’s attorney general is warning businesses against price gouging during the pandemic, we are providing all of our coronavirus coverage for free online. No subscription is required but would be greatly appreciated. We deliver that free online coverage because we care about the people we cover. Our reporters and editors are not just employees of the local newspaper; they, themselves, are local. 

When you purchase a subscription, you’re not just supporting local journalism, you’re supporting your friends, family and neighbors who live and shop right here. 

To subscribe, go to www.annistonstar.com/subscribe or call 256-235-9253. Any print subscription comes with full free access to all of our online products.

We are thankful to those of you who already subscribe, but with the decline in advertising revenue, it may become necessary to ask for even more support from our subscribers. Let’s all pray that this pandemic passes sooner than later.

Some of my colleagues were surprised that I included my own name on the furlough list. My decision, however, wasn’t as noble as it was practical. During the biggest story of our lives is no time to lose more reporters from an already-small staff. I know firsthand that no one covers northeast Alabama like Consolidated Publishing’s family of newspapers, and I firmly believe it's crucial that the residents of northeast Alabama stay informed about what’s going on in your communities, now more than ever.

In times of crisis, we have to keep our priorities straight, and, frankly, the news is more important than I am.

Anthony Cook was the executive editor for Consolidated Publishing.

Executive Editor Anthony Cook: 256-235-3540. On Twitter @AnthonyCook_DH.

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