NewsPub Notes

Athens and Flagpole Struggle to Find a Way Forward

Flagpole, like all local businesses, is scrambling to stay alive. This struggle is a harsh reminder of how interdependent we all are. We drink, eat, shop and hang out in the places owned and staffed by our friends. They depend on Flagpole for information, and they advertise in Flagpole. We all have all along faced the difficulties of keeping small businesses going. And now this. 

It’s a perfect storm. Most of the things we advertise—events, concerts, restaurants, bars, clubs—are canceled or curtailed, with many of the local businesses we depend on scrambling to survive just like we are, making it difficult for them to advertise at the very time they need to let customers know they’re still serving—by pick-up, drive-through and in some cases delivery. If they don’t advertise, Flagpole cannot continue—at least not in the same old familiar ways.

We are all trying to find a way forward, a way to hang on until the horror ends, whenever that may be. And of course the horror has barely begun. Once it starts rolling, we’ll all need information more than ever, and a community newspaper becomes a lifeline. Our problem is how to keep that line attached.

Many of you have already been supporting Flagpole with your contributions. Others have stepped up just recently to contribute to Flagpole in this new crisis. Your support helps us meet expenses, and it also encourages us to figure out a way to make it through this unprecedented crisis and not lose Athens’ locally owned, independent news source.

The onslaught of the virus, like a war or a natural disaster, accelerates change. Overnight, things are not what they were before and probably never will be again. For the last decade, at least, newspapers have been trying to adjust to changes that have profoundly affected the traditional role of delivering information and advertising. All over the country, newspapers have failed to remain viable and have shut down—in many cases because they were bought and sucked dry by venture capitalists who have no interest in journalism.

In Athens, Flagpole has been lucky to have a community where people still like to get hold of the paper, no matter how much they may also read it online. And advertisers know they can reach our readers. Now, most of those advertisers have no money. Therefore, Flagpole has no money.

What can we do to survive? There are not many options, but we are carefully considering those we have. Our challenge is really the same it has always been: Increase income and cut expenses that have already been cut pretty much to the bone. (The owners are not drawing salaries.) One thing is clear: The core Flagpole staff makes us Flagpole. They are experts; they are deeply embedded in our community, they are dedicated to our newspaper. That will remain true in whatever form it is published. We may have to lay off part-time, freelance writers; we may have to stop printing and go totally online, but as long as we’ve got our core staff, you’ve got your Flagpole.

It is sort of a weird situation, really. We know people want to read Flagpole, which has always been a free paper and free online, too. But we also know, at least for now, that a lot of the businesses that we depend on for advertising are scrambling to survive, too. We will keep you informed as we try to reconfigure our operation so that it can continue. Meanwhile, we appreciate, more than even we wordsmiths can express, the loyalty of our readers (and our advertisers to the extent that they are able). You have told us how much you love Flagpole. You know how much we love Athens. Together, we can get through this crisis and come out of it with a publication better able to cope with new circumstances. While we try to figure out the best way to proceed, your support will help us keep going. Just hit the donate button. Thanks!