This report has been made available twice to all Kentucky newspapers in word format and with artwork. A project idea from 2020 KPA President Jeff Jobe, the Executive Committee is asking all Kentucky newspapers to publish this report.
By Al Cross
Director and professor, Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, University of Kentucky
In December, as the first coronavirus vaccines were being approved, the Commonwealth of Kentucky bought advertising in most Kentucky newspapers to get Kentuckians ready for the vaccination process. The $281,184 expense was a modest one, among billions in federal relief money, but it was a timely boon for the newspapers. They were suffering from the double whammy of social-media competition followed by a pandemic that eroded even more of their ad revenue.
That ad order was a recognition: that newspapers are still a good way to reach a large number of people with a broadly important message. But it could also be seen as a reward: for the newspapers’ performance in the pandemic. In perhaps the most challenging year for newspapers in their history, the community papers of Kentucky came through for Kentuckians.
They published special editions devoted to the pandemic. They told the stories of people affected and anguished by it. They published tributes to front-line local heroes. They served as trusted sources of information about a subject that became scientifically confusing and politically contentious. They helped readers separate fact from fiction, and they held public officials accountable.
Despite their financial squeeze, the newspapers took down paywalls, gave discounts to seniors and businesses, and kept sending papers to people who couldn’t pay their subscription bill, said Jeff Jobe, outgoing president of the Kentucky Press Association and publisher of seven weeklies in Southern Kentucky. His papers also made their body type larger to help seniors spending more time at home.
This report is based on responses to a request for comments and documentation from KPA members, a random examination of Kentucky newspapers at the University of Kentucky library, and continuing research of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues.
Read the entire project here with a request that all Kentucky newspapers publish this report.