Let There Be Light

Gayle R. Robbins

Going into JayC on Thursday afternoon I met a customer coming out and, such are the times in which we live, I automatically checked out her shopping bag, hoping to see a once-familiar, totally-mundane item.

And there it was! Toilet paper!

I rushed in and raced over to the aisle of desire and sure enough, a shelf now only half full of the commodity most in demand but offering me the opportunity to buy three, four-roll packages.

My heart leapt for joy.

And I grabbed two packages, making sure to leave the extra one in my allotment for the next customer, and, sensing a turn of the tide, headed a couple of aisles over to the soap, giddy of spirit — only to once again face disappointment.

No hand sanitizer.

Had I found it I'm pretty sure I would have broken into song — and created ample social-distancing space between me and my fellow shoppers.

Still, a good moment, a bright spot of hope on what was otherwise a drab day during this particularly dreary time.

• • •

Our office here at the newspaper has cleared out, but not because of my singing or even a lack of toilet paper.

As with many businesses, the staff has dispersed and is working from their homes, with at best only token visits here.

And when there are a couple of us here, it's a bit eerie — two people, standing yards apart, talking about normal work-day matters, ever conscious of the need to keep our distance, and especially our sanity.

It is different, as, for that matter, is today's edition of The Sun-Commercial.

The newspaper today doesn't contain the same number of pages as a normal Saturday edition. But these aren't normal times.

The number of pages has been greatly reduced, both in order to save money and to facilitate its production. Layout is being done by page designers also working from their homes, a process that's naturally slower; to meet deadlines and get the newspaper into readers' hands on a reasonably normal schedule means making sacrifices.

And any chance to at least preserve some semblance of normality is welcome.

But there's also a financial side. For money is always important.

We're a small business experiencing the same challenges facing other small businesses, up and down Main Street here and across the state. Advertising, which pays most of the bills of our delivering readers local news, has dried up.

This has been different from the recession of 2008-09. Then it took months for revenue to dry up, whereas with COVID-19 it drained the money out all at once.

As Lincoln said on another such dreadful occasion, the bottom is out of the tub.

We have had to make painful decisions, laying off employees (hopefully only temporarily) implementing spending cuts to pare down our expenses to at least approach the lower revenues, reduce daily page counts.

There may be other necessary steps we'll take, including possibly cutting back on the number of days a print-edition is published, to save money but also to accommodate reduced press-room schedules.

With newsroom, advertising and administrative staffs working off-site for safety reasons, it would be heartless indeed to require pressmen to continue to work regular shifts inside the building.

Printing fewer pages or on fewer days would not mean our providing less news coverage.

Online publishing would continue — and even when possible be expanded.

• • •

No one knows for sure how much longer these steps to avoid the spread of the coronavirus will be necessary — nor, for that matter, how much worse it will get.

Eventually, someone in Knox County will test positive; Vigo and Vanderburgh counties have each reported a single case, while statewide the number is up to 79 as of this writing.

Out of necessity, we learned some tricks while recovering from the recession, and in the days and weeks ahead we'll no doubt learn more while coping with COVID-19.

Remember, Lincoln (who once set the type for an edition of The Western Sun 190 years ago this month) and the Union ultimately prevailed.

So keep your distance.

Keep on reading.

And keep washing your hands!

Gayle R. Robbins is editor and publisher of The Sun-Commercial. He can be reached at grobbins@suncommercial.com.

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