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COVID-19 takes a toll on local newspapers

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ELY, MN-- Ink and paper have been the lifeline of the Ely Echo since 1974.

As the town gets smaller, so does the local paper.

"Locally it's been decimating. There's no question about it. It's just been one thing after another," said editor Tom Coombe.

Local newspapers across the country are feeling the impact due to changes in the industry over the years, but COVID-19 has brought on a new wave of challenges.

Frederick Melo, a St. Paul newspaper reporter and member of the Minnesota Society of Professional Journalists is currently on furlough. A situation other reporters have found themselves in.

"We're just not doing any work, we are not really contributing at a time when its never been more important to be a journalist," said Melo.

The staff at Ely Echo are still working, they've seen a large decline in advertising because COVID has taken a toll on the weekly paper.

"There's two months of uncertainty because of the virus and it's one thing after another, all newspapers are feeling it," said Coombe.

According to the Minnesota Newspapers Association, seven newspapers across the state have closed this year alone.

Meanwhile, 16 newspapers have either limited their production days or combined with others.

One of those being the Duluth News Tribune starting next month.

In a recent column, the News Tribune's executive editor said the pandemic accelerated advertising decline.

"It's doubtless that when a business is closed, it's probably going to do less advertising and this is still an advertising-driven medium," said Melo.

Coombe said with the pandemic, local newspapers are needed now more than ever.

"If we weren't here I don't know who would watch the city council, who would cover the school board," said Coombe. "Who would let the community know of events that are going on?"

The Ely Echo has always been a weekly paper, Coombe said they have no plans to change production schedules.

The schedule change for the Duluth News Tribune is set to start Wednesday, July 8th.

Emma Quinn

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