Our Opinion: Wilson Times keeps you informed during coronavirus crisis

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When Barton College paused classes and on-campus activities March 12 and announced that several members of its campus community had been screened for the coronavirus, The Wilson Times was there to inform the public.

Our story reached nearly 12,000 people on Facebook, racking up 950 shares. Thousands visited WilsonTimes.com to learn the details — we posted the story online shortly after Barton’s announcement, nearly 12 hours before the next day’s newspaper was distributed.

When the local health department confirmed Wilson County’s first case of COVID-19 on Sunday, the Times was there. Our story posted that afternoon reached more than 10,000 people on WilsonTimes.com. Facebook users shared the story 1,200 times.

When Wilson County’s second COVID-19 case was announced Wednesday, the Times was there. Our breaking news alert was emailed to more than 25,000 people who signed up to have Wilson news delivered to their inbox.

Just as The Wilson Times is here to report on city council meetings, crime in your neighborhood, growth and development and high school athletes’ exploits, the Times is here to keep you in the know about the coronavirus and the impact it’s having on our community.

“Day in and day out, newspapers bind communities together, enhancing civic life and informing, entertaining and educating their local audiences,” writes Dean Ridings, CEO of the trade group America’s Newspapers. “But it is during crises that newspaper prove their mettle. In hurricanes, in floods, in tornadoes and wildfires, newspapers have provided the information, the background, the warnings and the directions to financial and psychological aid that help communities prepare, survive and rebuild in emergencies.”

Government agencies understand that the local press is an indispensable partner when it comes to reaching the constituents they serve. In San Francisco and six Bay Area counties, journalists have been exempted from shelter in place orders that prohibit most daily travel. Media outlets received the same “essential services” designation as first responders.

We oppose curfews, travel bans and other infringements on Americans’ civil liberties, but we agree that reporting the news is an essential service. Our journalists are in direct communication with the public officials in charge of responding to the coronavirus pandemic. It’s our job to separate fact from fiction and tell Wilson County residents what they can do to help stop the virus from spreading.

To ensure that all Wilsonians can stay informed, we’ve temporarily removed the login page that required users to create an account and enter an email address and password in order to read our stories on WilsonTimes.com. During this pandemic, anyone can visit our website and catch up on the news without having to login or register as a new user.

We’ve temporarily closed our office to the public, joining many local businesses and government institutions. But our reporters and editors are still working to bring you the news.

We’re also helping to rally the community behind Wilson County businesses through our #SpendLocalWilson advertising campaign. The COVID-19 crisis is causing financial strain for restaurants, stores and service providers as people hunker down and avoid gathering in large groups to contain the coronavirus.

While we all take the appropriate precautions, we encourage Wilson residents to buy, eat, play and stay local whenever possible. Gov. Roy Cooper’s executive order barring restaurants from offering dine-in service hasn’t stopped eateries from preparing meals for delivery, takeout and curbside pickup. Support our Wilson County restaurants by ordering your favorite dishes to go.

Challenged by a digital economy that’s driven down advertising revenue and shuttered a fifth of all U.S. newspapers since 2004, reporters in cities large and small continue to get the facts and report local news in the public interest.

“Newspapers are uniquely situated to provide the extensive background people need to understand as a community and as individuals,” Ridings writes. “In these weeks of crisis, they have ceaselessly delivered the best practices for individual and community hygiene. Newspapers (in print and online) continue to demonstrate their ability to tackle and explain complex issues with the necessary and important details.”

The Wilson Times is a unique resource. We’re one of only two remaining family-owned daily papers in North Carolina — the other, The Daily Record in Dunn, is our partner in the joint venture company Restoration NewsMedia. Unlike many chain-owned newspapers that answer to faraway executives, shareholders and venture capital investors, we’re a privately held local business.

Please keep reading the Times, whether you subscribe to our print edition or visit WilsonTimes.com. We’re here for Wilson County during the coronavirus crisis. And we’ll be here for you when it’s over.