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COLUMN: Support local newspapers, we need you

I’m not sure any of us realized how much our world could change in just a few weeks’ time. Three weeks ago, we were watching sports on television, shopping normally and watching from afar as China and Italy dealt with their national COVID-19 crises.

Fast-forward a month and many of us are stuck in our homes and going to the grocery store only when absolutely necessary. Dining in at a restaurant used to be one of my favorite things to do on weekends, as it meant I could sit down with my wife and kids and have a meal, but now it’s impossible, as all restaurants have closed dining rooms.

During this last month, the staff at The LaGrange Daily News has been working almost nonstop to try to bring you the latest numbers, stories from local nurses and doctors on the front line and Troup County residents who have overcome coronavirus. News never stops on the weekends or late in the evening, but the last few weeks have been filled with hundreds of important stories that the community needs to know about immediately.

Therefore, we’ve had nights where we’ve changed the stories on the front page four or five times — no exaggeration.

We were live on Facebook from the top of WellStar West Georgia for the Circle the Hospital in Prayer event that took place last weekend. In all my years in journalism, I’ve never seen a community come together in such a unique way. People couldn’t leave their cars due to social distancing, but hundreds showed up to thank our hospital with homemade signs and shouts of “thank you.” It was emotional to watch and it made me extremely proud to live in LaGrange. Other communities just wouldn’t understand.

We’ve talked to two local people who have had COVID-19, sharing their stories about how they felt and their recovery. We hope to talk to more. We appreciate them stepping forward and telling their stories. It reminds us that people are overcoming this virus.

I wrote a story on Hope Taylor, who was stuck in Peru as the coronavirus crisis started to build in the United States. Thankfully, he made it home a few days later. I would’ve been stuck in the corner of the hotel room in the fetal position, but he kept his focus, made the right calls and got home.

We’ve broken the news on local factories closing, the first COVID-19 case in Troup County, the first death in Troup County, and we’ve written features on local doctors, such as WellStar West Georgia Medical Center’s Melhim Bou Alwan, who stepped forward to treat the first handful of COVID-19 patients to prevent others from being exposed. Bou Alwan — and so many others — are local heroes.

We’ve also published a list of restaurants that are still open in our community and how they are handling business so that our community can continue to buy their food to help them through this difficult time.

Several times a day, we also publish the latest local and statewide COVID-19 statistics on our website. Those graphics have been shared thousands of times.

We live and work in this community, just like all of you, and I think everything I listed above shows that we’re doing a lot of work to keep you informed. We’ve taken down the paywall on COVID-19 articles because at the end of the day our ultimate goal is to inform the community.

However, we are still a small business, one that like others has been immensely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Many businesses that regularly advertise have closed, meaning they have nothing to advertise and insert customers have canceled their upcoming flyers because their doors are closed, or because the sales they had planned no longer make sense.

Newspapers profit on advertising and subscriptions, so our hope is that some of the people currently reading for free will purchase a subscription, either for home delivery or online access.

Our online numbers show us that more people are reading. In the last 18 days — since the COVID-19 crisis really took off — we have seen our online page views double what a normal month would regularly produce. We thank you for trusting us to report the news accurately, and we appreciate that you’re reading.

Unfortunately, all those online page views don’t really add up to much financially.

Subscriptions allow us to pay our employees, who work really hard to bring you the latest news, COVID-19 related or not. Buying a newspaper is no different than going to the store and buying a product off the shelf. You’d never expect to just walk out of the store without paying for anything, and a newspaper subscription is paying for all of the hard work that went into reporting on a story, which takes hours and sometimes days.

Unfortunately, newspaper companies all throughout the country have been announcing furloughs, closures and other changes as this worldwide pandemic affects their bottom line. This is a time when the world needs good journalists more than ever, but every day less and less of them are employed.

If you don’t already subscribe and like what the product you’ve seen over the past few weeks, we ask that you’ll consider a subscription. Our subscription options are as low as $9.63 a month for online-only access, which includes the e-edition, which is a virtual edition of the same newspaper we print every day. It’s even cheaper per month if you sign up for a year (just $96.30).

Our monthly home delivery subscriptions cost just $10.43 a month and a full year costs $125.19. Tax is included on all of the totals I’ve mentioned.

Thank you for trusting us to bring you the news.