Like All Organizations, Beacon Copes with COVID Impacts

Inconvenience; big financial hit

By Charlie Darling

Like businesses and organizations everywhere, The Andover Beacon has been scrambling to cope with the challenging impacts of the on-going COVID-19 pandemic. We’re doing everything we can to keep everyone informed about our community’s response to the pandemic, starting with AndoverBeacon.com/COVID, the most complete source of Andover information you can find anywhere.

We closed the Beacon office in March, of course. We thought that wouldn’t be much of a hardship, as we’ve built the Beacon from the ground up as a 21st-century organization, with everything we need (except the printing press and the Post Office!) online and available from anywhere there’s an internet connection.

Publisher/Editor Shelley Geoghegan works from home in Canaan; Steve Foley lays out the ads from his new home in Utah; our ad sales team — Connie Powers in Sunapee, Sue Connor in Long Island — helps our advertisers keep their presence in the Beacon relevant and timely.

Our wonderful production volunteers, especially Beth Frost and Sue Winters on Highland Lake and Jan Brennan in Florida, keep the articles and photos flowing into our system and onto AndoverBeacon.com. Our volunteer proofreaders — Nan Kaplan in Concord, Margo Coolidge in East Andover, and Robin Powell in Andover — have foregone their usual printed proofsheets and squinted at PDFs on their computer screens in order to achieve “contact-free proofreading.”

Finally, sitting in Cilleyville, I’ve been laying out each issue and moving the final pages across the internet to our printer, Upper Valley Press, in North Haverhill.

It’s all worked pretty well … until the internet acts up and one of us loses our connection. Or “the cloud” (where we store every article, every photo, every ad, and every page layout) starts to slow down. Or the printer has to change our usual 2 AM press time until just a few hours before the paper is due at the Post Office. It’s been an exciting game of “whack a mole” for a couple of months now, but we haven’t missed a deadline yet!

Collecting Articles and Photos

Every month we deal with dozens of people throughout our community, encouraging them to send us articles and photos that will entertain and inform our readers and that will help all the organizations that make Andover work as a community — the Town Offices and all our Town committees, our schools, our local businesses, our dedicated non-profit organizations — connect with the community they serve.

Meeting face-to-face with people and businesses around town has always been an important part of the way we keep in touch with the community. COVID has changed all that, making it even more important for us to hear from Andover residents news that we might not otherwise know about.

Fortunately, we’ve always done a lot by phone and e-mail, which is now our only safe approach. But with everyone staying home and dealing with the stresses of the pandemic, it hasn’t always been easy for them to work into their new schedules the things the Beacon asks of them. We understand completely, and greatly appreciate the effort everyone’s making to keep the news and information flowing!

Big Impact on Revenue

In round numbers, it takes about $7,500 a month for the Beacon to appear “for free” in your mailbox … for AndoverBeacon.com to appear “for free” on any of your web-connected devices whenever you need it … for our news feed to appear “for free” on Facebook.com/AndoverBeacon. Well over half of that monthly amount has to come from paid advertisements from area businesses and from local organizations promoting their events.

With many businesses closed and many events simply cancelled, our revenue stream from ads was down by about 30% for the May issue. No one can really forecast, but like everyone else we’re trying to figure out how to deal with the clear possibility that the numbers could get worse, and that recovery could be a long time coming.

One COVID impact that’s peculiar to newspapers is this: revenue from newspaper advertising has been in serious decline worldwide for at least a decade. When the world recovers from this pandemic, will newspaper advertising recover as well? There’s a significant chance that the ads we’re losing today — even those from businesses that survive the downturn — may actually be gone for good. That’s a very, very sobering thought and raises grave questions for the future of the Beacon.

The rest of our revenue, even when ad sales are “normal,” has to come from donations from the community. (The Beacon is a 501(c)3 non-profit charitable trust.) We would normally have kicked off our annual community fundraising appeal in the May issue, but times were so uncertain … and the hope that things might start turning around soon was so enticing … that out of respect for the uncertainty all our potential donors were facing we decided to delay our annual appeal.

Now that it’s pretty clear that we’re in for a long haul, we’ve had no choice but to roll out our vital annual appeal this month. (See the bright red box on page 1.) We know that this is a tough time to be asking anything more of the community, but if everyone could just do whatever they can manage at this time, it will make a big difference in the Beacon’s ability to continue serving our community.

Paycheck Protection Program

Seeing the handwriting on the wall, the Beacon was one of the first to apply for a loan from the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program. With payroll making up about two-thirds of our monthly expenses and ad sales dropping, we applied for and received enough to cover payroll for eight weeks … through about mid-June. After that? Who knows! It’s a huge unknown faced by many, many local businesses and organizations across the country.

So, bottom line: the Beacon was well positioned to do the hard work to keep the news and information flowing in a world of social distancing. We have, I believe, served the community very well in that regard.

But like almost every other small business in the country, we’re extremely concerned about how we’re going to continue to cover payroll in the months to come. And like every other non-profit in the country, we understand that there are very serious limits to how much the community can do to help us cope with the financial stresses that could soon stop us in our tracks.

I guess the Beacon’s situation is just one more example of the degree to which, truly, we are all in this together.