From the Publisher: Thanks for Everything | From the Publisher | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

News + Opinion » From the Publisher

From the Publisher: Thanks for Everything

By

DREAMSTIME
  • Dreamstime

It's unsettling to be on the hook for half a million dollars. I can say as much after Seven Days received two federal Paycheck Protection Program loans for that amount since the start of the pandemic. Adding to the anxiety: No one at our bank, which distributed the funds for the U.S. Small Business Administration, could answer my questions about loan forgiveness. All communication about the emergency cash infusions took place through a customized portal. As instructed, we uploaded payroll reports and canceled checks for rent, utilities and health insurance to prove that we were using the money as intended. If we messed anything up, an email would direct us back to the portal, where a message would attempt to spell out the problem.

No names or emails were exchanged. I wish I could have thanked a human being — U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen? — when an email arrived two weeks ago headlined "Notice of Paycheck Protection Program Forgiveness Payment." It was an official notification that Seven Days would get to keep the $443,547.50 we received in 2021 to keep everyone on our staff employed. The money, every penny of which was spent on payroll, halves this year's revenue shortfall.

I don't know a newspaper in Vermont that would be in business today without this well-timed government assistance.

The pandemic isn't over, but 21 months into it, I'm feeling tremendous gratitude: for the local advertisers who have stuck with us through it all and those who have recently returned to our pages; for the readers who picked up the paper when it was hard to find and those who volunteered to make it easier by putting racks in their front yards. Despite challenging logistics and constant stress, our reporters have produced some of the best journalism in the paper's history.

Plus, we discovered a lifeline we never knew existed: Vermonters who appreciate our free paper enough to pay for it. At the start of the pandemic, people opened their hearts and wallets. Now the recurring monthly donations of our 2,000-plus generous Super Readers are helping to pay the bills. Philanthropy has become a reliable revenue stream — and not just for Seven Days.

On November 10, I wrote about the Storm Lake Times in northwest Iowa and a documentary film about the twice-weekly newspaper's struggle to survive. On the same day, Pulitzer Prize-winning editor Art Cullen announced that the paper had received a transformative donation from a billionaire, a Chinese immigrant who had heard Cullen interviewed on NPR's "Fresh Air."

Cullen directed the "angel" donor to the Western Iowa Journalism Foundation, freshly formed to accept tax-deductible gifts that support independent, locally owned news operations in the region, including the "for-profit" Storm Lake Times. I'm working with another Vermont publisher to create something similar that would help community newspapers here.

Another bright light in this dark month of Thanksgiving: Filipino American journalist Maria Ressa won a Nobel Peace Prize. Her fearless news site, Rappler, was a favorite target of authoritarian Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who famously said: "Your premise is: Just because you're a journalist, you can't be killed. It's all wrong."

I wrote about Ressa in this column a year ago, when the Vermont International Film Festival screened a documentary about her valiant fight for press freedom. Its title, A Thousand Cuts, could work for almost any movie about journalism these days.

Here's to a thousand Band-Aids.