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In response to financial strain from the coronavirus pandemic, The Wilson Times will shift its daily news coverage online and print two editions a week on Tuesdays and Fridays.
Reductions in advertising revenue due to public health restrictions on local businesses and a statewide stay-at-home order required the newspaper to cut expenses, explained Keven Zepezauer, publisher of the Times and president and CEO of Restoration NewsMedia.
"COVID-19 and the necessary precautions it's brought into our lives have challenged small businesses, and your Wilson Times is no exception," Zepezauer said. "The Tuesday and Friday publication schedule will allow us to save money on printing and distribution costs, but we'll continue to function as a daily news outlet on WilsonTimes.com, where news is reported as it happens each day."
Taking effect next week in concert with the reduction in print frequency, the Times will be delivered exclusively by U.S. mail. Carrier delivery in the city of Wilson is being phased out, and rural routes have already been switched to mail delivery.
The changes begin following publication of Saturday's newspaper. The Times' first biweekly edition will be published on Tuesday, April 14.
WilsonTimes.com will feature new local stories each day. Users will pay $8.99 per month for full access to the website, with a limited-time offer reducing the price to $5.99 with a monthly EZ Pay subscription. Home delivery customers will receive website access at no additional charge.
"Our reporters work hard to cover Wilson County, and we're asking our loyal online readers to support us so we can continue our mission of providing timely news that informs, enlightens and entertains," said Corey Friedman, editor of the Times and executive editor for Restoration NewsMedia. "Our coverage of COVID-19 will remain free to read on WilsonTimes.com. We consider that an essential public service, and we hope those who rely on our coverage will consider subscribing."
The novel coronavirus has temporarily closed retail stores and personal services businesses like hair salons and barbershops, along with entertainment venues like theaters and bowling alleys. Restaurants are limited to providing carryout, curbside pickup and delivery service, bars have been shut down and even essential businesses like grocery stores have reduced their hours and limited customer occupancy.
Those changes have brought steep declines in advertising and triggered cost-saving measures throughout the news publishing industry. Gannett Co., the nation's largest newspaper company, announced layoffs, pay cuts, furloughs and spending freezes in an effort to save up to $125 million. The Tampa Bay Times, owned by nonprofit journalism school The Poynter Institute, reduced its seven-day newspaper to a two-day publication in response to COVID-19.
"While we regret that a reduction in publication days is necessary, our first responsibility to our subscribers and community stakeholders is to stay in business so we can continue serving as Wilson County's newspaper of record," Zepezauer said. "These changes allow us to do that, and they reflect a generational shift from print to online that we're already seeing. WilsonTimes.com will continue to provide the daily coverage our readers are accustomed to."
Established in 1896 as a weekly newspaper, the Times began daily publication in 1902. It traces its roots to Zion's Landmark, a Primitive Baptist Church publication started in 1867 by Elder P.D. Gold. The Times will celebrate its 125th anniversary next February.
In April 2019, the Times and The Daily Record of Dunn formed Restoration NewsMedia, a joint venture company that publishes eight community newspapers in eastern and central North Carolina.
The Daily Record will also shift to a Tuesday and Friday print schedule and The Courier-Times of Roxboro will reduce print frequency from twice weekly to once per week.
Restoration's other newspapers, the Wake Weekly of Wake Forest, the Johnstonian News of Smithfield, the Mount Olive Tribune, The Enterprise of Spring Hope and the Butner-Creedmoor News, will continue publishing weekly with regular news updates on their respective websites.
For questions about the Times' changes in response to COVID-19, call 252-243-5151 or email email@example.com. The newspaper's office at 126 Nash St. in downtown Wilson remains temporarily closed to walk-in customers due to public health guidelines designed to reduce potential coronavirus exposure.