If you’re one of the thousands of people in Lane County who reach for a free copy of the Eugene Weekly, you will notice it feels different lately. Thinner. Like businesses everywhere, the alternative newspaper is experiencing the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic.
I reached Editor Camilla Mortensen in her empty offices to find out how the publication is faring.
"It crashed hard and fast. A soon as events began being cancelled and people started losing their own revenue, they had to cancel ads that they take out with us. Same with restaurants," Mortensen says. "So a lot of our long time advertisers are just not able—one they don’t have anything to advertise and two they can’t afford to advertise anything.”
In response, the current EW issue contains a center fold listing of all the restaurants and businesses doing take-out and delivery. Mortensen says it’s a way to help former advertisers “get back on their feet.”
“Up until when everything hit- we were actually bucking the trend for a lot of newspapers, we were doing really well, printing 39,000 copies. That of course has now suddenly changed. As you notice the paper went from our usual 28 to 32 pages down to the smallest it’s been—that I can remember.”
The latest edition of the Eugene Weekly is 16 pages. Mortensen says other alt-weeklies are turning to on-line only- but Eugene Weekly readership has always leaned heavily toward print.
“So we’re still gonna keep making sure people get their Weekly, their crossword puzzle, their Sudoku. People get very upset when they don’t have a Sudoku. And now is not a time to take that away from them.”
Mortensen says the publishers of the Eugene Weekly have never taken out profits. (She guesses that’s because owners Anita and Art Johnson and Georgia Taylor find joy in getting the “What’s Happening” calendar and local news out into communities.) Lately, they’ve cut staff hours and she says, if necessary, the owners will seek loans to keep the paper afloat through the COVID-19 crisis.
“We are really determined to keep going and keep printing. Because, I think in a time like this when the world is upside down, having the stalwarts that you’re used to, knowing the Weekly is ‘gonna come out on Thursday and be in that red box. I think it’s really important to the feel of the community and knowing that something is continuing in life when everything is so crazy.”
The Eugene Weekly has been in print since 1982 and employs 15 full time staff, interns and numerous freelance writers.