PORT ANGELES — Peninsula Daily News publisher Terry Ward discussed on Wednesday the challenges and opportunities the pandemic has offered local journalism and his pride in the generosity of readers who have contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to COVID-19 and traditional Peninsula Home Fund relief efforts.
Ward, vice president of Sound Publishing, Peninsula Daily News’ parent company, as well as publisher of the Sequim Gazette and Forks Forum, also provided information about the Sound Publishing advertising grant program for small business owners during his remarks to the Port Angeles Chamber of Commerce.
Ward said the Peninsula Daily News is a reflection of the community that it serves.
“When local businesses are struggling, it affects our business as well, and we had to make some major changes,” Ward said. “COVID hit us hard.
“Our revenues started to dry up overnight mid-March. Many of our staff went to reduced hours and are still on reduced hours. We furloughed some people and then brought them back, and we also eliminated some positions.
“In the 30 years or so I have been in the business, the last nine, 10 months have been the most difficult time,” he said. “It far exceeded the recession.”
Still, there is a positive story to tell, Ward said.
The Peninsula Daily News showed a continued commitment to local news, as evidenced by the more than 2,500 local news stories published in 2020 and the growth in new subscribers, he said.
“We saw our digital subscriptions, our only-online subscription, rise by 60 percent,” Ward said. “Our print subscriptions have remained steady, so the overall subscription rate is up this year compared to past years.
“What that tells me is people want to invest in local journalism.”
People want to invest in their neighbors, as well, as has been the case with charitable giving during two Peninsula Daily News-sponsored fundraising drives.
“We re-launched our Home Fund [as the COVID-19 Relief Fund] in April because we started seeing a need as people were starting to lose their jobs on the Olympic Peninsula,” Ward said. “We invested our resources in that, and the total of that ended up at over $392,000.
The money, a total of $392,724, “went to a lot of utilities, a lot of rent and helping people with their basic needs.”
At Thanksgiving, the PDN re-launched the annual Peninsula Home Fund and raised another record-setting amount of $300,932.
Generous donors gave a total of $693,656 to the two PDN fundraising campaigns, an amount that doesn’t take into account the other funds Peninsula residents supported during the pandemic.
“Port Angeles and Clallam County and Jefferson County are full of giving, caring individuals, and really that is what makes the communities survive and thrive through some of these changes that we are seeing,” Ward said.
Ward also discussed social media’s outsized influence on local news and possible legislation that could provide tax credits to readers and advertisers.
“Looking at Congress, they don’t want to give a bailout to the media industry, and we really don’t need a bailout,” Ward said. “What is being floated out is a $250 tax credit for those who subscribe to local media and also looking at an advertising credit for small businesses.
“What it does is two-fold. It keeps the community engaged and subscribed to the local content they need to read locally, and, on the advertising side, being able to allocate some funds to marketing their business and being able to take that as a write-off for their business.”
Ward also discussed Sound Publishing’s local business stimulus grant program, which distributed nearly $400,000 in advertising grants this summer. The program was re-launched last month.
“The nuts and bolts of it is a matching grant to allow you to put your advertising message on steroids,” Ward said.
“We are going to match that so that you can get that reach out to folks. It really helps them maximize advertising dollars. I won’t be ashamed to say that it helps us as well. We want to make sure businesses continue to advertise, to market, to continue to be able to drive business.”
The grant application deadline is Sunday and funds will be awarded through March 31.
Sports reporter Michael Carman can be contacted at 360-406-0674 or [email protected] peninsuladaily news.com.