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Opinion: Tough times require tough decisions, but also compassion and dedication
The plaque at the entrance of The Times building on Green Street in Gainesville, dedicated with the building in 1970.

As a direct result of the economic onslaught of the coronavirus, The Times this week enacted dramatic changes in how the newspaper operates in the hope of finding ways to weather the storm of financial challenges the virus has brought with it.

The discontinuation of home delivery by carrier, elimination of some print editions and subsequent reductions in staffing likely were the most sweeping and dramatic changes undertaken at one time in the newspaper’s distinguished 73-year history. That such changes were necessary at a time when the need for accurate and unbiased information is at a peak and the journalists employed by The Times are doing some of their best and most important work ever is sadly ironic.

The newspaper’s business challenges are certainly not unique within the news industry. For the past several years newspapers have struggled financially as the advertising base that traditionally provided the majority of revenue for newspaper companies has shifted to other marketing strategies, and the willingness of individual readers to pay for quality content has declined.

The Times editorial board

Staff members

  • Norman Baggs, general manager
  • Shannon Casas, editor in chief

Community members

  • Cheryl Brown
  • David George
  • Brent Hoffman
  • J.C. Smith
  • Tom Vivelo
  • Mandy Harris

In a matter of weeks, the current health crisis has exacerbated an already bad business situation, with newspapers nationwide cutting production days, combining publications, eliminating staff, and in some cases closing their doors completely, even as the need for the service they provide is more obvious than ever.

Sadly, it isn’t just newspapers that are being forced to make difficult business decisions.

The reality of our current status worldwide is that we are forced to pit concerns for public health against the realities of economics. “Stay at home” orders and social distancing offer the best hope of surviving the coronavirus, but those same strategies have a staggeringly negative impact on businesses that suddenly find themselves unable to function.

Operational strategies that three months ago made fiscal sense are suddenly useless for many businesses. Many of those that are still operating at all aren’t covering their expenses for doing so, and others have had to close their doors completely even though bills have to be paid even when no revenues are coming in.

As a result, the unemployment numbers are growing at a pace that could never have been predicted. Nationwide there were 3.3 million unemployment claims last week; the number doubled this week. With the possible exception of a few of the most essential businesses now operating, virtually every industry has been hit hard.

With consumers isolated at home, an economy built on consumer spending has nowhere to go but down, taking employees and owners with it as it does.

This is particularly true of small independent businesses, on which our local economy is the most dependent. While corporate giants may have the financial reserves, or governmental support, needed to survive the crisis and bounce back once it comes under control, many small, locally owned businesses do not.

It has all happened so fast that the reality has yet to sink in, but our local business community may be very different once the worst of the health crisis is behind us and we cautiously resume a more normal routine.

In some cases, employees and employers are both in difficult positions. Employees who still have jobs may be reluctant to go to work out of fear of the virus; employers trying to keep the doors open are tasked with establishing stringent screening processes and enforcing social distancing, while still trying to generate enough revenue to make a payroll.

At this point it is clear that we aren’t likely to feel the full brunt of the fallout for months, maybe years, to come, but some things are obvious — many people are without a paycheck unexpectedly and at no fault of their own; many businesses will not be able to meet financial obligations and, despite potential help from the government, will fail; many families will suffer financial hardships, as some already are; and the future is uncertain for everyone.

So what do we do?

If you can safely still transact business with small local owners, please do. If you can order online from a local company rather than a huge national company, consider doing so. If you are in need of a service considered to be “essential” under the new state guidelines, look for a local small business provider.

But we also have to be aware of the human side of the economic picture and reach out to those who may suddenly have lost the only income they had when a job was eliminated. If you can help, consider a donation to a local charity with the resources to be of service, like the Georgia Mountain Food Bank. The local United Way or the Northeast Georgia Community Fund can direct you to proven nonprofits that can help in specific areas, and many local churches are doing powerful things to assist those in need.

Also, though, try to remember the more direct approach. Find out who among your neighbors is having a hard time. Use the telephone the old fashioned way and talk to people. Use social media as a tool for doing good rather than a sounding board for criticisms and complaints. If you can’t invest in local business, you can still invest in local humanity.

There is much talk now of what is essential and what is not. Kindness is always an essential commodity, and it is one we can all offer for free.

Despite our recent changes, The Times will continue to be a valuable source of information to the community we service. Our news staff is publishing an incredible amount of timely information that is being distributed to our largest audience ever through a variety of platforms.

Times are hard, but we remain committed to doing those things professional journalists are supposed to do, and doing them well. You can help by subscribing today, or by letting us help your business through advertising and marketing.

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