The four-page edition was printed on thicker, whiter paper for easier handling and retention.
By Al Cross
Kentucky Health News
A weekly newspaper in Kentucky is setting a great example for the rest of the nation of how to deliver reliable information about the new coronavirus.
After working through the weekend, The Cynthiana Democrat sent a special edition today to every postal patron in Harrison County, where the first case of covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, was confirmed Saturday. Another was announced Sunday.
The idea arose as Editor Becky Barnes rode with Cynthiana Mayor James Smith and County Judge-Executive Alex Barnett from a state Capitol press conference Gov. Andy Beshear held Saturday to announce the first case.
“I said, there’s just so much information that needs to get out there,” Barnes recalled, “because there’s so much misinformation.”
Barnett said he told Barnes and Smith, “Let’s get it in every mailbox in the county and we’ll come up with a way to pay for it.”
Smith said, “We talked about what should be in there, and decided how it should go to every household in the county,” which has 18,000 people and “probably 6,000 households.”
Smith said he thought it was a good idea because “Not everyone, especially in a rural county like Harrison County, has internet connection; not everybody is on Facebook; not everybody listens to the local radio,” and some watch TV stations based in Cincinnati, not Lexington. “Some people in the county didn’t even know we had a case in the county.”
Newspapers can reach everyone in their home counties quickly because postal regulations allow them mail up to 10 percent of their annual circulation in their home county to non-subscribers at subscriber rates. It’s a way to build and maintain print circulation, but many papers don’t take advantage of it.
Barnes was familiar with the idea, because The Cynthiana Democrat published a sample-copy edition after a 1997 flood in Harrison County. Her paper is owned by Landmark Community Newspapers, which regularly uses sample copying, and has a press in Cynthiana. That made it easier to print on Sunday and mail as soon as possible.
This is an example for the whole country. Printed community newspapers have a high level of trust with their readers, and are ideal vehicles to circulate reliable information on a topic that has become the subject of false or misleading online information and political talking points.
To make sure it reached everyone in the county, Barnes said, the paper went beyond the usual sample copying, sending (at extra cost) papers to patrons of post offices that are in other counties but serve Harrison County residents. It also provided copies to Harrison Memorial Hospital, which first treated the first patient found to have the disease and draws patients from adjoining counties.
So, who’s paying for the printing and mailing of the special edition? Local officials are looking into funding sources, but say they will come up with the money if they have to. “We asked the postmaster if he could bill us later,” Smith said. “We told Becky that, as a city, if the money doesn’t come from other sources, the county and the city would figure out how to pay.”
Smith concluded, “Hopefully, we’re setting some examples for other communities.”