A letter from our owner

Mar 26, 2020

Dear readers of The Free Press, Rockland Courier-Gazette, Camden Herald, Belfast Republican Journal and Knox & Waldo County Village Soup online,

As owner, I wanted to reach out.

First, I wanted to let you know how the coronavirus (COVID-19) is affecting our workers and our papers.

Second, I want you to understand how we see our job and ask for your support and ideas so we can be a team ― there is not much I am certain of in our world right now, but the one thing I know is we need to stay together in this battle, and we want to do this together; physical separation is one thing, emotionally we need to come together like no time in our lifetime, as did generations before us during World War II after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

Third, I want to give assurance we will be here to do our part in not only ending this pandemic, but working with our business community to put things back together after COVID-19 is under control. We will work with our government and state in whatever capacity needed. We’re all Mainers and though we weren’t all born here, we have all inherited the Maine trait of perseverance that will guide us as we rebuild our economy.

Let’s start with how we see our job. Main stream media is here to sort out what is happening and to vet the information to present to you, with as little bias as humanly possible. Unlike social media, what you’ll read in here is not “off the cuff” and goes through a process that is meant to codify the story in a way you can trust. We are the watchdog and for that reason, we have detractors who want to discredit us and demonize what we do. Reporters have an oath to give you balanced accounts of the information they collect. Columnists are here to provide you with conversation starters; nothing moves forward without civilized discussion.

How can we help; that has been the central issue as we wade through troubling times. The first thing we did was remove the pay wall at Village Soup; while our print newspapers continue to be sold and provide the week’s wrap-up of what is happening, the fast pace of this virus makes it essential our community has access to the information, regardless of their ability to pay. Consumer revenue, now more important than ever to a struggling newspaper industry, is not as important as the value of being connected and we felt we needed to step up and do that.

Then there is our business community; with so many businesses shuttered we are grappling with ways to help. They have provided me the ability to operate by buying advertising since 1985. I hope they know how grateful I am to them. Now it’s my turn to give back. With closures and reduced business hours we will continue to provide essential “who’s open” and “who is not” for the sake of our community businesses and the public’s need to know.

This strains our business model and you’ll notice that, in addition to asking everyone to pitch in and help the still-open restaurants and retailers, we’re asking our readers to consider investing in our staff (how do we keep all of our editors and reporters when some sections of our publications won’t exist until normalcy returns) with a “GoFundMe” type campaign that will start this week. If you’re not a paying customer, how about considering a subscription? If you are paying, consider paying for someone who can’t afford a subscription or extending your subscription with a cash payment. We know there is lots of need right now, so please give to who you can and those most in need. Most of all, take care of yourself and your family.

This is what I’m doing as the owner of this business and I share this to encourage others to do what they can, where they can. In the weeks to come, we will be forced to cut staff hours. Cutting back page counts, combining sections and papers will save only so much. Cutting our costs will be essential for us to be able to outlast COVID-19.

We know the U.S. House, the Senate and our governor and state legislators are all trying to respond quickly to pump money into our economy by relaxing unemployment rules and sending out checks to workers with lost wages. I have been trying to wait to see where this comes down, but the time for waiting is over; we must act.

I have secured a loan that will bridge the gap for my business and my most important assets, our staff. Immediately we will be making no-interest loans to any staff member who sees a cut in take-home pay. For April and May the amount available to each staff member is 100% of the difference not covered by federal checks and their state unemployment, and it will be available immediately. Payback is expected only when and if they return to their pre-COVID-19 status.

I couldn’t have done this during my first 10 years in business and no bank would have lent me money based on my signature during my first 20 years. Many restaurant and other small business owners are distraught because, outside of sharing the food or resources they have in their restaurants or shops, they don’t have the backup resources to do much else. The reason I share this is to encourage other business owners to get creative and do what they can, where they can, for their staff. I am hoping that state and federal relief packages take care of workers first, but don’t leave business owners on the curbside because they are the backbone of our economy and they will be on the front lines bringing us back to life. Right now, many of them have no income and no backup and need to take care of themselves.

In summary: Do what you can, where you can, and take care of yourself. Remember the oxygen in the plane mantra. You need to put your mask on so that you can help your child next to you. If you give them the mask, you become immobilized and unable to give assistance to others. If we stay smart, take care of each other, and work together, we will come out the other side.

Let me end with a note about the team of people working on our behalf for the people of Knox, Lincoln and Waldo counties to keep you informed about what is happening. Many of us have known why community newspapers, like the one you’re reading, are so much a fabric of where we live, but this is our time to shine. Like teachers and social workers (noble professions in their own right), we aren’t in this for the money; we are in this because this is what we do and times like this remind us of why we do it.

That’s it, thank you for reading this. For those who want more and want to know how this fits me personally, my story follows.

*****

My newspaper career started in 1977. After spending a semester abroad (well Hawaii seemed abroad to me), I landed back at UMass in Amherst, broker than broke, to begin the second semester of my junior year of college. I had a job hocking unsold pizzas five nights a week where I walked up and down the corridors of the 22 floor dorms in Southwest in the densest part of the campus, where I would “yell and sell” 60 cheese pizzas on a good night, netting this budding entrepreneur about $25 in cash money, free snacking all night long (good for someone on the five-meal plan) and a free pizza from my Greek papa Johnny Bell at the end of the night. “Bell’s Pizza, Bell’s Pizza” still rings in my ears.

Sounds good but after Hawaii I needed a day job, too; one that would work around my class schedule (I tried not to forget I was there to go to school). The “UMass Daily Collegian” was my answer. I got paid a 15% commission and could work my own hours; the harder/longer I worked, the more money I could make. The selling was easy; after selling cookware door-to-door the previous summer, this was a stroll in the park. I loved that business owners were happy to see me because I was their link to the students. In 1977 the drinking age was 18 and UMass had the well-deserved nickname “Zoo-Mass”; need I say more?

In any case, never playing athletics in school, this became my first involvement with a team, each department with its own skill set, each an important cog in getting a paper out every day of the week.

The epiphany came one weekend in early May when I would hitchhike with one of the reporters to Kent State University in Ohio to cover a story ― a 1,168-mile roundtrip whirlwind four-day weekend where we would cover the university beginning construction of a gym where shootings had taken place seven years earlier on May 4, 1970. The original protest seven years earlier inspired Joni Mitchell to coin a famous musical phrase “put up a parking lot” that symbolized forgetting rather than remembering.

I will never forget a woman chained to a tree and a huge crane coming inches from her head as a game of “chicken” played out in front of my reporter friend, me, and hundreds of protestors.

People screaming, family members sobbing, National Guard on rooftops armed with rifles, the crane would dig out the tree, with the women chained to it.

It climaxed when National Guard cut her chains and hauled her away to jail. We spent the night at the dorm of some Kent State newspaper staffers, the drinking intoxicating, the camaraderie palpable ― we felt we were all in this together.

That weekend was about adventure, that’s what a college kid lives for. Never did I expect it to be a career and the reason it did, a story for another day.

I was not born to this, rather having fallen into this career path 40 years ago because of the day the Camden Snow Bowl told me I didn’t have enough experience to shovel the T-bar path of snow. That is how I ended up here, with my co-workers, and proud to be here for my community in these uncertain times, hopefully bringing you the information you need, and the hope and glue that comes by being part of a community that cares about each other.

Bless you; live in peace, together we can do this.

Sincerely,

Reade Brower, Owner

Comments (3)
Posted by: Jane Karker | Mar 28, 2020 17:35

Thank you Reade for writing this. Excellent. I liked reading about the road that leaf you to where you are.  Btw I “fell into” what I do too. One thing just lead to another. In the same spirit that you have offered free news during the crisis, my publishing company is launching a new program on Tuesday  to support (get money to) locally owned, Maine bookstores. We are donating the labor to make it happen. I’ll send in a press release Monday. We are all in this together. Btw real news is more important than ever at this time. You are a hero. Keep up the good fight, Jane Karker.



Posted by: Richard McKusic, Sr. | Mar 26, 2020 06:18

Yes, Reade: "Bless you; live in peace, together we can do this."

When we come through the other side of this Covid 19 we are going to be able to look back in pride at how we dealt with it; not our federal government, but our ordinary, everyday people.

Our faith communities, our recovery communities, our hometowns; both big and small; have shown their metal. They have been willing to come together and get the job done.



Posted by: Valerie Wass | Mar 26, 2020 06:13

Very well said.  Thank you.



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