During a recent conversation with a very wise and most respected judicial member of our community, I was asked how the current COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic was impacting our business.

The question, to be sure, was asked of true concern and from a long and good friendship.

The short answer is this: Like many other family-owned businesses – without a corporate or governmental war chest – it is a new and difficult struggle. And a struggle unlike any other I've witnessed.

I can only imagine what our friends in the restaurant business, salon business, movie theater business and others requiring close human proximity or group settings are going through.

In a few months, I will mark 30 consecutive years in the newspaper business and 40 consecutive years in the print industry. The current economic situation due to this virus has already inflicted great financial damage to many small businesses in southern Ohio and across the nation. Without question, it is going to get worse before it gets better.

Meanwhile, members of Congress (save Kentucky Rep. Thomas Massie, who stood up for the Constitution at his own political peril) and the Trump administration are pledging to buy our way out of this economy gone viral. I hope they know what they are doing.

The multi-trillion bipartisan (always beware the word "bipartisan") Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act reportedly "puts needed cash directly into the hands of American workers and families, provides rapid relief to small businesses, helps stabilize markets and the economy and sends a massive new infusion of resources to the front lines of the medical response."

What's not to like?

There's a famous Latin phrase in Chicago politics: Ubi est mea?

Translated, it means "Where's mine?"

Other than Congressman Massie from the commonwealth, virtually all politicians – liberal and pseudo-conservative alike – have been championing this huge, so-called stimulus package. Frankly, it's probably not a stimulus package. That's a misnomer that no one wants to talk about.

This is Roosevelt-esque relief. And when the first $2 trillion is spent, then what? House talker Nancy Baltimore is already hinting at Phase 4 with even more pork, er, stimulus, er, relief. Whatever.

Didn't someone once say that any government big enough to give you everything you think you need is also big enough to take it away?

Of course, I digress.

As written here last week, The Highland County Press certainly recognizes the seriousness of the issue. We empathize with our friends and neighbors. We are allowing staff to work from home when possible and limiting the office to just a few of us at a time. We are using Lysol spray and Clorox disinfectant wipes at least twice a day from front door to back door. Personally, I'm spraying Lysol like it's going out of style – and I think it is due to lack of availability.

We are publishing as usual – a free newspaper and a free website. In fact, we are publishing more than usual, given the president's and governor's daily COVID briefings. (Talk about Groundhog Day.)

I had to laugh the other day when a national media company announced that due to the virus, its websites would no longer charge readers. Our free website was 11 years ahead of them.

Not being a big fan of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, I doubt that I've quoted him very often in the last three decades. Today, I'll make an exception: “There’s never been a more important time to receive accurate, real-time information, and the role of the media has never been more essential.”

I agree.

When the American people lose a free, fair and accurate press and must rely only on overpaid politicians to disseminate the news as they see fit, we are all in big trouble.

President Thomas Jefferson famously said: "The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter."

Granted, President Trump may have popularized the term "fake news" on the national level, but I will guarantee you one thing: The Highland County Press' reporting is accurate. If we weren't, our detractors would be filing lawsuits quicker than you can blow your nose or cover an unexpected sneeze. But then again, Trump is no Thomas Jefferson.

Sadly, many good newspapers will have a hard time surviving the coronavirus crisis. Many will not survive. That's a shame. It really is.

For generations, newspaper people have been told they were a dying breed. First, it was the radio that spelled their ultimate demise a century ago. Then, it was television more than a half-century ago. Then, it was Al Gore's internet a quarter of a century ago that was all doom and gloom for newspapers.

Through it all, newspapers have provided high school academic and athletic coverage of your sons and daughters and grandsons and granddaughters, coverage of your school board, your city council, your county commission and your state and federal government.

I can't remember the last time a radio or television station covered the Highland County Board of Commissioners. It's probably been a while. Meanwhile, we have covered more than 500 of their meetings alone in the last decade-plus.

Of course, that doesn't really matter. Voters and taxpayers are probably much more informed without a free press. You know, like the citizens in communist China, where this damned virus originated.

From coast to coast, newspapers are announcing layoffs and furloughs or closing altogether. It's understandable. It will no doubt extend to other media. That, too, is a shame. I like TV and radio, too. (Hi, Pat!)

Where we go from here, time will tell. Without a doubt, it's going to be a struggle for all of us. We certainly are not immune to the social and economic impact of this pandemic.

To those wonderful small business owners and contributors who continue to support our community journalism, we cannot thank you enough. Please know that. To others, we look forward to the day your businesses reopen to serve our community.

Right now, everything is a bit of a struggle, especially for an industry that was supposed to die along with the father of radio, Guglielmo Marconi, in 1937.

Funny thing about that report as Mark Twain may have said: The news of our death is greatly exaggerated.

By the way, the Man of the last Millennium wasn't Marconi. It was Johannes Gutenberg, a German printer who was the first in the West to print by using movable type.

He used his printing press to produce the Gutenberg Bible.

How about that.


Rory Ryan is publisher and owner of The Highland County Press, Highland County's only locally owned and operated newspaper.