The Vashon-Maury Island Beachcomber will have a newsroom staff of two reporters working part-time for the foreseeable future after parent company Sound Publishing laid off two of the paper’s editorial staff members last week.
Following a second round of cuts, Beachcomber Editor Kevin Opsahl and Reporter and Calendar Editor Kate Dowling, who were furloughed in March as part of a company-wide reduction in staffing, will not return to work.
Arts Editor Elizabeth Shepherd will be reinstated at 15 hours a week beginning May 18. Publisher Daralyn Anderson and Reporter Paul Rowley will continue working reduced hours.
The news comes as Sound Publishing further eliminated 20% of its workforce across publications in Washington and Alaska, citing the impacts to advertising revenue amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which has annihilated a crucial stream of income for community newspapers.
“If not for the talented, tireless and enthusiastic editorial staff — and community members — who have written for The Beachcomber throughout the years, the paper would not be what it is today,” Anderson said. “In The Beachcomber’s history there has never been a time such as this, and it is devastating to lose colleagues due to this crisis. We are disheartened that these difficult circumstances have led to a staff reduction at the paper, but we are as devoted as ever to bringing readers the best in community news we can.”
The paper has avoided transitioning to digital-only in recent weeks in large part because of support from readers who have continued to purchase print advertising space. But in a sign of the uncertainty facing The Beachcomber’s future, last week the paper ran an appeal on the front page for additional print and digital subscribers and requested additional support by donations payable online at vashonbeachcomber.com/support. Similar messages appeared in all print publications owned by Sound that remain in circulation.
Sound Publishing, a subsidiary of Black Press, Ltd. of Canada, is not alone in the dramatically changing landscape of print and broadcast journalism. The nonprofit Poynter Institute is currently tracking the number of layoffs, furloughs, and closures in newsrooms of all sizes nationwide wrought by the novel coronavirus pandemic and said it is struggling to keep up with the latest. Looking ahead, President of Sound Publishing Josh O’Connor told The Everett Herald, a sister paper of The Beachcomber, that he expects it will be some time before revenue rebounds for Sound newspapers affected by the crisis even after current restrictions are lifted and the broader economy reopens.
O’Connor said he is hopeful that Gov. Jay Inslee will continue to prioritize public health while shifting gears to jump-start the economy. But if the pace is too slow, he said, “we will continue to be in trouble.”
The company will seek federal assistance via a small business loan through the federal Small Business Association’s Paycheck Protection Program, O’Connor said, noting that it is unclear whether Sound will be eligible for loan forgiveness.
“It’s just been a heart-wrenching month. This past week was so difficult, saying goodbye to so many wonderful people,” O’Connor said.
Beachcomber readers are encouraged to submit letters, op-eds and story tips by email to email@example.com or call directly at 206-504-1878. The office remains closed to the public in the interest of recommendations about social distancing from Public Health – Seattle & King County, but readers can deposit correspondence through the door slot at 17141 Vashon Hwy SW, STE B, next to the Vashon-Maury Island Chamber of Commerce.