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A small-town newspaper in the region that lost most of its staff due to the economic impacts of COVID–19 received a helping hand Friday. The Sandpoint Reader in North Idaho, a free weekly, was able to temporarily rehire its employees for the next six weeks using an influx of reader donations and the stimulus package's Paycheck Protection Program.
"It's crucial," says publisher Ben Olson. "I put out three issues by myself and it was brutal. My girlfriend can attest to the fact that I was not myself for the last three weeks. I'm really happy to have them back on again."
Prior to the rehiring, Olson was the sole journalist left at the paper and was covering the coronavirus epidemic in North Idaho by himself. Across the region, both large and small newspapers have struggled with declining advertising revenues due to the shuttering of restaurants, bars and other non-essential businesses. Many have laid off staff or reduced hours.
The payroll protection program is a forgivable loan meant to help small businesses like the Sandpoint Reader rehire staff. However, the program has run into a myriad of problems including technical issues and delays.
Olson says the application process has taken a long time and he still doesn't know when he'll actually receive the money from the loan. He's also uncertain whether he'll receive money for his own salary – the paper runs on thin margins.
"I'm still not 100 percent sure if we’re going to have my owner compensation covered with [the program]," he says. "We included it anyways and we may have to pay it back, which would be a major bummer."
This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
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