The Addison Independent is shifting quickly to adapt

THE ADDISON INDEPENDENT is modeling best practices for avoiding the spread of coronavirus by nearly emptying our office and having people work from home.

MIDDLEBURY — The Addison Independent has swung into coronavirus mode. We’ve created a special Coronavirus Electronic Newsletter that we’ve sent out four times in the past two weeks and that we’ll keep running as long as needed through this current health crisis. It includes staff-written and breaking news stories on how this pandemic is affecting Addison County residents, what to do if you’re feeling sick, best practices to avoid infection, and how area residents and businesses are coping with the disruption.
We have essentially turned our newsroom in a coronavirus headquarters with daily conference calls and constant chatter among us all to keep up with the breaking news. At the same time, we have an obligation to continue reporting on the other news of the day, and not forget that there is much else to report and record about our daily lives.
Through it all, we’re also practicing social distancing and trying to model good practices for businesses.
To that end, this is a story about how one business has adapted to the new life we’ll be living in through this pandemic. We hope it may encourage others to think about how their business might adapt, as well as explain to customers what changes are needed and expected as we all move into the unchartered landscape ahead.
First, let’s recognize that Addison County won’t be ground zero for this disease. Our rural nature is somewhat of an insulating factor. We naturally live apart. We don’t have subways, trains or other forms of mass transit (except those who ride Addison County Transit Resources), and we have an excellent hospital and medical team in Middlebury. 
Even so, troubling times are coming. Based on modeling demonstrated first in China and then Europe, we’re on the edge of a wave of infections. Medical science tells us that we can’t stop the disease; it’s here and it will spread its way through the country. What we can do is contain the magnitude of the infection to a low enough degree that it doesn’t swamp our local health care system. As long as medical care providers have enough beds, ventilators and respirators, most of the population will be able to recover. 
Our collective goal in Addison County, let’s remember, is to contain the virus as tightly as possible, so we don’t overload our health care system and jeopardize those in need.

A week ago Friday we had a staff meeting to discuss our Coronavirus Plan. (If you don’t have one, start now.) As we do most Fridays at noon, we had a staff lunch (and were, admittedly, too close together sharing pizza) to discuss how each department could work from home. By then we had configured office computers for employees to take home, if needed, and work remotely, and set up internal systems to make that happen. We set that coming Tuesday as a practice day to work from home.
We had been practicing good hygiene for the past couple of weeks, and with this office meeting, we thought we had planned far enough ahead.
By soon the governor had ordered bars and restaurants to close that coming Tuesday. He limited meetings of groups of more than 250. By that Sunday, late afternoon, he ordered schools to close after Tuesday and by Monday morning changed his tune and limited group meetings to 50.
That Sunday night, I emailed all Addison Independent employees to make arrangements to work from home, if possible, and put Tuesday’s work remote practice day into full operation; that is, make it permanent until further notice. By Tuesday, all but five of our 27 employees were working from home, and it was proceeding fairly smoothly.
After a few incidents of community members coming into the office and not practicing social distancing, we realized we should have closed the front office to drop-in visitors (we’re not really a retail store and don’t have a lot of drop-in business, but enough to be of concern.) We can easily transact almost all of that business (classified ads, subscriptions, news calls and advertising transactions) over the phone or via email. We made it happen by Tuesday noon.
By Wednesday, we had set up a way for folks to still drop by to buy the paper, drop off news items, and conduct other business by keeping the front door of the office open to the front foyer, but locking the inside door to the offices. The side door to the parking lot remains locked and used by employees only.
Advertising reps will be conducting business over the phone or via email, and will make calls at their discretion — always keeping strict social distancing measures in mind. 
Within the office for the few employees who are here as a skeleton staff, we have shut down the coffee machine, asked people to clean out the refrigerator and that everyone use those common spaces (where typically several employees share lunch time together) far less frequently. 
Again, the object is to limit interaction so we don’t spread the disease.
Does this all seem extreme? It would have thought so just a week ago. Today, it seems as if it may not be enough. If Addison County sees a high rate of infections, we’ll have to do more.

One of the significant shifts the Addison Independent will make during this health care crisis is suspending the Monday newspaper after the March 23 issue. The Monday paper has a heavy focus on arts and entertainment events (usually two to four pages), plus covering all the high school weekend sports (often three to four pages.) With most entertainment events shut down and school closed, it makes sense to temporarily combine all the news into a single Thursday paper. 
The price of the paper will change as well. Today, the cost of each paper is $1.00 at the newsstand; the cost of the combined papers into the single Thursday paper will be $1.50, affective April 2.
While consolidating that news into a single weekly print issue, we’ll end up producing more news than ever. 
What readers want is more instantaneous news about the coronavirus, specifically, but about all other things as well. 
Therefore, we’ll be using the time previously spent on the Monday paper to produce timely digital news displayed on our website, and through the development of more newsletters via email. Every subscriber of the paper will receive those newsletters at no additional charge; non-subscribers will be able to access some of those newsletters for free initially, but will be asked to subscribe in due time.
As of early April, we will have launched a regular coronavirus newsletter with free content available to all readers. It will come out each Monday, and as frequently as needed throughout the week with breaking news. 
On Tuesday, we’ll have a business newsletter filled with frequent updates regarding the current health care crisis. That newsletter will include what businesses are closing or reducing hours; which are open; how they’re coping and implementing workarounds to provide the necessary services all of us need and want. 
Life will not grind to a halt, but it will be temporarily changed for a while. We’ll keep our readers up-to-date with that newsletter covering the business community. 
Plus, each Thursday, we’ll have our regular newsletter that previews what’s in that week’s newspaper.
Later (perhaps next fall) we plan to add other digital newsletters to compliment our arts and leisure news, sports, health and wellness, and opinion — all with the aim to reach more niche audiences within the county.
In the end, we believe the additional coverage will add even more value to our products and make the Addison Independent, more vibrant and ever stronger.
As it is sometimes said, in crises there is opportunity. We hope to take the lemons this pandemic is throwing our way, and make as much sweet lemonade as possible to get us through the summer ahead.
Angelo Lynn is the Editor and Publisher of the Addison Independent.

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