We need your help in keeping local journalism in our community

Until a few weeks ago — something that now feels like a lifetime — on Thursday mornings you could see the front page of The Sentinel suspended in front of faces in coffee shops, restaurants and markets around the Cottage Grove area as people informed themselves about what’s happening in our community —upcoming festivals and events, recaps of the latest board meetings and features on local issues and community members.

So much has changed. Events have been cancelled, local government meetings are now “virtual,” and the issues and topics that were once so regionally specific have expanded to both the state and national level as everyone — across the county, state and nation — is grappling to keep up with information coming to us from so many different levels and impacting communities both large and small.

When I became editor here nearly two years ago, I’d had the good fortune of working with three terrific editors over the past 21 years as a journalist. While each brought their own style and focus, there has been one important understanding that I believe defines a great community newspaper:

To our readers, we are not just “the” newspaper; we are their newspaper.

That commitment and focus on community reporting has never been more important than now. A month ago, when news of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) began to galvanize much of the conversation, from new social distancing requirements to economic and educational impacts, The Sentinel  were among the first newspapers in the state to establish a free coronavirus updates and information page available to everyone — subscriber or not — so that everyone in the communities we serve has access to the same information.

We also reinvented how we do things, essentially becoming a daily newspaper online so that we can keep up with the amount of new information we are receiving from local, county, state and national agencies on a near hourly basis — and keep the Cottage Grove region informed and updated.

And while our office is closed to the public, our phones have been transferred to our personal devices so that the community has access to us at any time, in addition to email and online messaging.

From the beginning of this crisis, we’ve provided almost moment-to-moment coverage of every local facet of the story: Who in our government is lobbying for tax payment delays? What area restaurants are open for business? Where can the hungry turn to for food? When or will our schools be closing? Why isn’t the county reporting on locations of confirmed cases of the virus outside of Eugene/Springfield? How can the public participate in virtual meetings of local government? How are student-athletes dealing with the loss of their final season? How are segments of our community — individuals, businesses  and organizations — collaborating to help one another?

These and hundreds of other questions are being asked and reported on.

However, as our coverage and amount of reporting has increased, like many businesses our revenue has decreased as — understandably — advertising dollars have dwindled.

From restaurants and local entertainment to community events like Easter services and Bohemia Mining Days, advertising — which accounts for 75 percent of our revenue — has been reduced by more than 50 percent.

To save money, we’ve made a number of changes, including cutting the number of pages in each edition from an average of 24 to 20. Beginning this month, each of us at The Sentinel — from the newsroom to sales and management —agreed to take an across-the-board 10 percent pay reduction to help reduce costs in order to continue our current level of reporting online and in print.

The reality is, it’s not enough.

For the first time in our 131-year history, we are asking for the community’s direct support in keeping local journalism alive through a Tax Deductible donation to The Sentinel.

This isn’t easy to ask for, particularly in a time where fellow community members and business owners are struggling as well. As managing editor, it’s not something I ever anticipated having to reach out to the community for. But our belief in the need for local news and a commitment to fact-checked, professionally reported newspaper journalism supersedes any thoughts of personal pride or stubbornness. 

The fact is, community newspapers like this one are folding across the nation at this vulnerable moment — at a time when community newspapers are more important than ever.

No type of media outlet does more to provide vital, locally relevant information while also chronicling the moments that define our community than your local newspaper. And, at this fragile time, we need your help.

We’ve partnered with a wonderful nonprofit, the Local Media Foundation, which is a Section 501(c)(3) organization, to provide our community members with an opportunity to support The Sentinel while also receiving the Tax Benefit of contributing to a charity.

Your contribution will go directly to support The Sentinel and the The Sentinel alone. Every bit helps, and for those who have already contributed through the link that was launched on our Facebook page, our sincere and heartfelt Thank You for your support and kind words.

To make a tax-deductible donation, visit https://givebutter.com/cottagegrovesentinel.

It’s quick, easy and you can make your donation openly or anonymously. You can even leave us a message if you’d like.

We’d like to thank you, Our Readers, for supporting your local newspaper, whether it be through your subscription renewal, donation or simply through the emails, phone calls and letters of support over the last several weeks.

We also want to thank the local businesses that have been able to offer their continued support through advertising.

We are committed to do whatever we can to weather the storm and continue our mission of providing the News and Views That Define Our Community into our 132nd year.

—Ned Hickson,

Managing editor