There was a time back in March and April when the future of community newspapers seemed to be truly in doubt. Businesses that provided the bulk of our advertising revenue were being hammered by first-wave pandemic shutdowns, restrictions and stay-at-home orders. Some had closed their doors and others were operating on a massively reduced scale. Whole sectors were devastated. Our fate was tied to theirs and the outlook was bleak. For some, it still is.
A number of B.C. newspapers did stop publishing at this time, or shifted to online-only publication, and layoffs were happening across the province and the country.
These were dark times and in the midst of it we put out a call to our readers, asking them to support local news and donate what they could to help keep us afloat.
Contributions started rolling in, and they kept coming. Most were online but some came in the mail, complete with hand-written notes that conveyed the gratitude these readers felt for having their own newspaper and their determination to keep it. Amounts varied from $20 to $200. Some of the messages were priceless.
“A home without print is a sad home indeed,” wrote Margaret McKenzie of Sechelt.
“Dear Staff at Coast Reporter,” wrote Gale Tyler of Halfmoon Bay. “Thank you for all you do to keep the local news coming. I love reading the paper that offers space for honouring, debating, recognizing, exploring people, places, issues and happenings on the Coast. You are an essential hub in my opinion. P.S. I love the local community columns.”
Sheila Weaver of Gibsons sent a card adorned with her photo, “Looking out to Welcome Pass,” along with a cheque and this message to everyone at the paper: “Thank you for being there. We need you! In print, not only online.” Sheila also included a postscript. She recently had to look for a new place to rent, tried the online sources and then tried an ad in the paper. “Success! The ‘old-fashioned’ way can still work.”
Martyn Wilson, a Sechelt resident of 33 years, sent in a donation “in recognition and appreciation for the introduction of daily online news and the professionalism and quality of the Coast Reporter under the editorship of John Gleeson and writing of Sean Eckford and Sophie Woodrooffe.” I went down the hall and read Martyn’s kind words to Sean and Sophie. I did that with a few of these notes. They uplifted us all.
“Thank you for your awesome reporting,” wrote Erin McKibbon of Garden Bay. “A great paper John. Thanks to you and your staff,” wrote Dot and Ed McPherson of Gibsons.
Shirley Mccaughtrie of Sechelt simply wrote, “Thanks for the newspaper,” and George and Terry Goulet of Sechelt, our favourite Métis sharpshooters, penned “Best Wishes” on the banner ad they tore out of the paper and sent in with their donation.
Sa Boothroyd of Gibsons wrote inside one of her elegant watercolour-print cards: “I wanted to thank you for being there, for providing kicks and kisses (we like the kicks best), for publishing good letters and articles. I have rarely advertised in the paper but I have always enjoyed reading it. I am hoping you will survive this tough period. Enclosed is a tea towel I recently produced to help us all deal with the upheaval.”
Yes, I took the tea towel.
Mrs. C. Mills of Gibsons sent in a portion of her B.C. climate action tax credit and thanked us “for continuing to produce the Coast Reporter in spite of the difficulties caused by COVID-19.”
Another Gibsons reader, whose signature I couldn’t decipher, thanked us “for continuing your commitment to us. You are much appreciated.”
The foregoing was just a sample. At last count we had 235 contributors who answered our plea. It helped us keep our heads above water when cash flow had slowed to a trickle and there was no government relief for any businesses in sight.
On a deeper level, it boosted our morale by reminding us that what we do every day and what we produce every week are important to a great many people out there. I think I can speak for all of us when I say we felt it in our hearts, and it touched us.
To all of you, our dear readers, Merry Christmas.