Getting accurate news and information is more important than ever, and every day approximately 28 million Americans still turn to newspapers for their primary source of news. In recent years local newspapers have felt the pinch as traditional print media declines in the face of digital media. However, situations like COVID-19 have illustrated how crucial community papers are in getting information circulated in their communities.

Newz Group knows how incredibly important community journalism is across the United States is proud to support newspapers and help them get the support and tools they need to thrive in 2020 and beyond. As the pandemic ravages on, all parts of the newspaper industry are affected: from the delivery contractors, to the newsroom and on the business side as well.

We reached out to Will Weibert, The Publisher of the Sedalia Democrat, based in Sedalia, Missouri. We wanted to see how The Sedalia Democrat and Phillips Media had been handling the challenges of COVID-19 and how they are acting to give assistance to small businesses in their backyard.

Will Weibert

Jenn Langdon, Director of Business Development of Newz Group: How has COVID-19 impacted how your business operates?

Will Weibert, Publisher, The Sedalia Democrat: COVID-19 has had a minimal effect on how our business operates.  We are an essential business so we continued to operate during the lockdown.  However, during the stay at home order, we did close the business to the public and handled all business via telephone, web-site and emails.  Before the stay at home order, we handled 62% of our business via technology, and 95% during the stay at home order.  We didn’t change our delivery of the paper during this time.  There was really no way to change up that process.  We have implemented safe practices at the office.  We required our staff to maintain their work area and supplied them with clorox wipes, hand disinfectant and our janitorial staff doubled up their cleaning on all surfaces.  We also supplied all of our staff a mask.

Jenn: Have you done anything to mitigate impact in your community?

Will: With the impact of COVID-19 on our local businesses, we wanted to make sure that we did all we could as business partners and neighbors to help them get back on their feet.  With the generosity of our parent company “Phillips Media”, we initiated our “Small Business Grant” which is to help local businesses with advertising.  This matching advertising grant allowed businesses to essentially double the advertising budget in May and June and half of their advertising expense was paid for by Phillips Media.  The grant process was simple and was handled at grants.phillipsmedia.com and to date, we have helped 14 businesses save over $14,000 in advertising expense.

Our first goal was to keep our staff healthy and safe, and our 2nd goal is to inform the public with all the information possible to keep them informed, educated and up to date with all the aspects of COVID-19.  Our staff ran public health notices; local, regional and national stats regarding infections with an emphasis on ACCURATE information.

Jenn: Have you ever dealt with anything like this before?

Will: During my career in the News Media, we have never had a pandemic like this.  Every year we talk about safe practices for our employees on the flu, but we have never been forced by local, state and federal government to close our doors or operate in a way that they saw fit.  I wanted to make sure that I drove home safety with the staff.

Jenn: What is your fears as we move forward in a post COVID landscape?

Will: My biggest fear is how this has not only affected my business financially, but how it has financially affected our customers.  We have some customers that were forced by the government to close their doors, and unfortunately there will be many that will not be able to come back to normal business.  This is very sad that small mom and pop stores had to close, but giants like Wal-Mart, Menards and Amazon saw records on sales and profits.