The first issue of a new year is certainly an appropriate time to give a status report to the community on Downtown newsmagazine and what we see for the coming year.
It goes without saying that 2020 has been a year of challenges for everyone in the general community. In the case of those who work to bring you Downtown newsmagazine each month, we were able to weather this past year with the support of the business community that pushed ahead against all odds and continued advertising.
Some publications in this market either folded up operations or had to make the decision to publish less frequently as the impact of the pandemic took its toll on businesses we all rely upon for support. In the case of Downtown newsmagazine, we adjusted our publishing schedule to come out closer to the mid-month period and restored our normal start-of-the-month schedule late in 2020.
In late March, as we all started to grapple with the arrival months earlier of the novel coronavirus, we had to make the decision to move to a remote work situation with staff working from home.
With the exception of the one week each month when we produce physical pages of the publication, and key staff members appear for short stints at the office, most days I am the only person in our office on West Maple in downtown Birmingham. We are fortunate that we can gather news and contact businesses by email, text and phone to sell advertising space.
Early on when the pandemic was first declared, one of our key staff members contracted COVID-19 and was laid up for weeks. She now is part of the group referred to as “long-haulers” – those with long-term health issues that still linger long after the infection has supposedly subsided. There are also a couple of other staff members who are considered in the risk pool so we are not taking any chances.
Just in the last couple of weeks the decision was made to continue working remotely until the end of February, at which time we will reassess the situation based on a number of factors such as the COVID-19 positivity test ratings in Oakland, ICU capacity at local hospitals and the death rate.
Should you need assistance in coming weeks you can still reach us by email or leave a phone message at our office, which is then automatically forwarded to each person as an audio packet through our email system.
Thanks to support from the community, we have continued to publish, producing issues that number anywhere from 92 pages upwards to 156 pages in our October edition.
For the most part we have maintained our regular content during the past 10 months of the pandemic. We still produce our longform features on key topics of concern in the community, and we attend – albeit by Zoom – municipal meetings to bring you weekly coverage through our website and then our monthly printed newsmagazine. We have also been able to continue with our popular Faces personality profiles each issue and our political gossip news (Oakland Confidential).
Lost during the pandemic, however, has been our coverage of the important social circuit surrounding the critical non-profit groups hosting fundraising events in the metro area. As it stands now, it will more than likely be next fall before it's considered safe to resume gathering in larger crowds, at which time we will resume coverage.
Also falling victim during the past 10 months is our coverage (Metro Intelligencer) of the news and gossip connected with the restaurant industry which has been battered severely. At some point this spring we hope to bring that column back to the pages of Downtown newsmagazine when restaurants are allowed to resume inside dining.
We did respond early on this year when the novel coronavirus first made national headlines and we created The COVID-19 Diary, contents of which appear on our website and has served as an email newsletter to nearly 4,000 followers who have signed up for the various newsletters we produce as part of our news organization.
The COVID-19 Diary consists of the latest information on the coronavirus that we curate from about 12-18 online and print news sources each day, along with county and state health department data, as well as a couple of COVID tracking projects that operate from a national perspective. When we first launched The COVID-19 Diary, we were emailing that out on a daily basis while we now send the newsletter out once or twice each week. All told, I estimate that we have put out close to 200 editions of The COVID-19 Diary.
If you wish to receive this or any of our email newsletters, including our weekly news update each Friday, you can sign up on the home page of our website – downtownpublications.com
Lastly, we had good support for Downtown newsmagazine when we launched in late spring a funding drive to allow us to continue bringing our news product to the community at no charge and plan for some new offerings we had hoped to present before the pandemic hit. More on the funding drive in our February issue.
On balance, we are looking forward to 2021, despite the fact that the pandemic is not going away anytime soon.
FOOTNOTE: I must end this month by reminding local residents of the importance of supporting local businesses and not just during the holiday season. Of particular concern is the restaurant segment of the business community which has been singled out, justly or not, for added lockdown time in recent weeks. If nothing else, place a carry-out order or buy a gift card now which you can use later when dine-in options are allowed.
The businesses are an integral part of the fabric of our local communities and deserve our support now more than ever.
As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.