On Thursday evening, The World-Herald posted the most thorough examination yet of why Nebraska is among a shrinking minority of states without a shelter-in-place order in the face of growing calls for that step.
World-Herald Lincoln reporter Paul Hammel interviewed Gov. Pete Ricketts and state health chief Gary Anthone, while medical writer Julie Anderson talked with Dr. James Lawler, co-director of the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s Global Center for Health Security, an eminent specialist in biodefense and pandemic response.
The resulting story, also published on Friday’s front page of the print edition, offered a sober, nuanced explanation, on which Anderson elaborated Friday morning by posting more extensive comments from Lawler.
Lots of people disagreed with the policy in online discussions. Many agreed — and a lot of the comments were actually civil for the medium. Either way you look at it, our coverage laid out Ricketts’ reasoning, giving people the opportunity to evaluate the medical rationale for Nebraska’s efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19.
These stories were well done, important to our audience, the sort that only careful news professionals can provide. This is but one example of the essential, peerless coverage Omahans and Nebraskans are getting from Omaha.com and The World-Herald about the impact of the pandemic here.
As I wrote this Friday, two staffers were working on guidance about how to make face coverings as we awaited expected federal recommendations that people wear these in public. Other reporters were at a city news conference and chasing several big developments, including a new cluster of cases in Hall County. I believe you need this information, from policy to personal steps. I believe that you need us to navigate this long, frightening moment in human history.
And we need you. We need your support. World-Herald subscriptions are among the best information bargains going.
Nearly every person on the globe is affected in some way by the coronavirus pandemic, and most U.S. businesses are hurt. That includes The World-Herald.
You may have heard that earlier this week, Lee Enterprises, our parent company, announced a combination of temporary pay reductions and furloughs from April to June. The decision followed by a day deeper reductions announced by Gannett, the nation’s largest newspaper group.
Newspapers’ big advertisers are closed or on reduced operations. Big drivers of the U.S. economy are frozen: Auto factories around the country are shut down; sports, entertainment and travel are halted. Consumer spending, which fuels about 70% of the U.S. economy, is limited mostly to groceries, a few take-out meals and whatever hand sanitizer and toilet paper we can find.
Yet local news is ever more vital during the pandemic. We will keep doing our work. We must.
Here’s our problem: Newspapers’ business model was so successful for more than a century that it created the idea that news is free. The work of journalists created value and an environment that was desirable for advertisers. The consumer cost of thousands of words of information every day was always extremely low — the daily World-Herald cost a dime when I was an intern here in 1979.
That dime did not cover the cost of producing the news. We wanted to get the product in front of as many customers as possible both for the civic good of local news and to benefit our advertisers.
With the long-successful and highly profitable print-advertising business model dramatically disrupted since introduction of the smartphone in 2007 and the Great Recession of 2009, we’ve had to ask our customers to pay more for the product.
A key moment, candidly, passed our business by in a blink. Google, whose simple and audacious mission statement is “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful,” grasped that the Internet ultimately would be a search tool. Newspapers, so eager to share stories, put all their information on this wonderful new platform for free. Google and Facebook monetized it on a massive scale local newspapers cannot match and drove down the price of digital ads.
Now the revenue that supports reporting is stricken by a virus.
Right now, at this moment, you are reading our content. I bet that if you’ve read this far into this column, you read us a lot. If you are a paying customer, I thank you.
We’ve made all of our coronavirus coverage free from our already-limited paywall.
You pay for Internet service, cable TV, streaming services and your phone plan. Here’s how to support the local news you need: checkout.omaha.com.
Thank you, and please do all you can to stay well and help others stay well.