This annual letter to you, our readers, is at least a week late.
But I simply could not place this past year in context without knowing which future our nation faces.
My joy at the result of last week's presidential election is tempered by the fact that more than 70 million people were willing to vote for the incumbent, despite all we know about the damage he has wreaked on our country.
I've never been so relieved to have an election behind us (despite what he may think). This nation urgently needs to heal.
Nowhere more so than in this city, which has been torn apart by unemployment and unrest for the past six months, and no place more than downtown, Portland's most important neighborhood, which faces enormous challenges if it is to restore its vitality.
And with that, here is WW's annual status report on how we are doing. As with most of you, it has been a year like no other.
On March 13, our entire staff moved out of the office to work remotely, and we expect to continue to do so well into next year. On March 23, when Gov. Kate Brown ordered the shuttering of theaters, clubs, museums, bars and restaurants, our advertising revenue vanished. We responded by cutting the number of printed copies of the paper, reducing our workforce by a few non-editorial employees, and reducing the hours of some others. In June, we qualified for a federal loan under the CARES Act.
In response to the recession, we put renewed emphasis on Friends of Willamette Week, a voluntary membership program (similar to what has long provided support for Oregon Public Broadcasting). Our appeal is simple—the new normal will simply not sustain a journalistic enterprise without reader revenue. Thankfully, more than 6,300 of you responded! The consequence of your support and the federal loan (a portion of which will be forgiven) means that, with a bit of luck, we will break even in 2020.
Like many organizations, we put all of our live events on hold this year. No Best of Portland party, no Cultivation Classic event at Revolution Hall. But the team at WW pivoted impressively. We turned Cultivation Classic—our annual competition for the best organically grown Oregon cannabis—into Willamette Weed, a week of virtual events, from a 420 social hosted by a local comedian to an "Ask the Budtender" evening to a virtual Cultivation Classic awards show.
We've also been doing a number of smaller virtual events, such as an hour with Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Nigel Jaquiss, another with Dr. Know and, just last week, a livestream hosted by news editor Aaron Mesh with one of the country's leading experts on elections law, former Oregon Secretary of State Phil Keisling. We will continue to try and use virtual platforms for our events as this pandemic continues.
Among WW's many endeavors, few make us prouder than Give!Guide, our annual campaign to raise money for almost 200 local nonprofits. Last year, we raised more than $4.7 million. This year, we have a new executive director, Toni Tringolo. Despite the recession and our need to cancel the traditional kickoff party, Tringolo hopes to raise $5 million for 174 local nonprofits. Let this be my encouragement for you to visit our G!G website and break out your credit card. And don't miss any of our Big Give Days, which carry with them tremendous incentives.
In a year when many local newspapers slashed newsrooms and some even ceased publication, we felt we had to do the opposite. 2020 may have been the most important year for journalism in Portland in several decades. The public health crisis of COVID; the protests and violence and seeming inability of city officials to demonstrate leadership; the recession that has shuttered some of the very essence of Portland; and the election itself—this was a year when journalism needed to step up, not take a back seat. And we tried to do our part.
Some of our standout work included:
• Our revealing the location of the largest workplace outbreak of COVID-19 in Oregon, after state health officials wouldn't release the information. Our reporting led to a statewide policy change—requiring the disclosure of all workplace outbreaks that sicken five or more people—and illustrated the plight of migrant farmworkers exposed to the virus while the state remained silent.
In April and again in October, we endorsed candidates and positions on measures in every race on Portland-area ballots. Endorsements rarely win us any friends, but they are a cornerstone of our civic responsibility to weigh in on the future of the state. We hope you agree that we fulfilled that duty during extraordinary times.
WW's staff responded to the challenges of this year in ways that even surprised me. In June, we added to our newsroom with the hiring of reporter Latisha Jensen, who amid her coverage of Portland east of 82nd Avenue, has documented the disparate experiences of being Black and white in Portland.
Next week, Finder, typically our annual guide to Portland, has been reformatted and focuses on businesses owned and operated by people of color across this city. It will be included in every issue of the paper, and will be available at New Seasons and Powell's Books.
And not long after social distancing began, our staff began shooting daily 10-minute video interviews with prominent and little-known Portlanders. Called Distant Voices, it has become a way to tell the human stories that continue even as Portlanders remain in their homes.
The result of all this is that WW has grown its audience significantly. While our print readership has declined a bit because we are printing fewer newspapers (and hope to increase circulation when the city opens up), our readership online has grown 65% year over year. And more than 40,000 of you subscribe to the Daily Primer, our digital version of the newspaper that arrives in your email every morning.
For more than 30 years, my business partner Richard Meeker and I have been enormously grateful that we get to work in a city and state that, more than most, appreciates the importance of locally owned and genuinely independent journalism. We've never felt more strongly about that then we do this year, nor more aware of the responsibility we have to do an even better job next year. And we've never been prouder of a staff of people who are committed to the idea that democracy will not survive without robust, fearless and caring local journalism.
With your help, we will continue to fulfill this role. It is only because of your engagement and support that we play our part in this wonderful city.
Mark L. Zusman, Publisher