- Matt Douglas
Music. Sports. Traffic. Prom. There were so many signs of normal life on display last weekend, it would be reasonable to conclude that the pandemic is over — at least here in Vermont. Seizing this moment, of closure and appreciation, liberation and celebration, Seven Days rounded up a compelling roster of "Pandemic All-Stars." Almost the entirety of this week's paper is devoted to people, places and products that got us through the past 15 months, from the director of the local lab in charge of COVID-19 testing to the takeout chicken wings from Honey Road.
Reading the stories of Vermonters who have been laboring behind the scenes is a reminder of something many have already forgotten — or blocked, perhaps. In the beginning, before anyone knew how the virus was contracted, health care workers, postal carriers and grocery-store clerks lived in constant fear of getting and spreading it.
Our delivery drivers had to navigate that uncertainty, too, while our reporters and editors worked throughout the public health crisis to keep you informed. When ad revenue plummeted, we asked readers to help defray the cost of our efforts.
That's when you delivered. Nearly 3,000 readers sent us money — one-time donations and monthly recurring ones. The funds sustained us throughout the pandemic, financially and psychically. After 25 years of putting out a free-but-content-rich weekly newspaper, working at an almost unimaginable pace, we discovered that our customers appreciate what we do and are willing to pay for it.
We have the Seven Days community of Super Readers to thank for this week's issue — and the 60-plus pandemic-era papers before it.
I really want to say, "Looks like we made it," without conjuring Barry Manilow, and, more importantly, without sending the message that Seven Days can expect to survive long-term without you.
The truth is: Our business model — of selling local advertising to pay for newsgathering — was imperiled long before COVID-19 shone a light on it. We've been innovating and diversifying our revenue streams for years. By virtue of being a for-profit media company, we don't qualify for many of the grants our nonprofit competitors do.
Further, "for-profit" doesn't necessarily mean "profit-driven"; it just denotes a different kind of legal structure that permits the accrual of ownership — something that has allowed us to retain valuable workers in the very difficult, high-turnover field of local journalism.
I can say with the utmost certainty: None of our 16 employee-owners is in this for the money. For the past 10 years, we've invested most of the company's modest profits in a long-term succession plan, starting with buying the shares of my longtime partner, Pamela Polston, who is taking a first step toward retirement this summer. Some years were too lean to swing it.
The goal is to keep Seven Days forever local, in the hands of people who live and work here — not hedge-fund vultures from Wall Street. Turns out that you, dear readers, our Pandemic All-Stars, are a crucial part of that plan.