While some executives were skeptical that COVID-19 was the threat to people and businesses that it turned out to be, the publisher in the far northwestern suburbs of Chicago quickly took action as the second week of March began.
Shaw Media President and CEO John Rung sent out a detailed memo outlining a plan with four goals:
1) Protect the well-being of employees.
2) Do whatever we can to limit the spread of the virus.
3) Ensure continuity of the business.
4) Provide reliable information about the virus to readers.
Among the most dramatic actions was the directive to employees to work from home if at all possible. “We said anyone who can work from home should work from home,” Rung said in an interview.
To make that transition to remote working, the chain may have to buy or repurpose laptops for journalists at recently acquired newspapers that hadn’t been equipped with them, he said.
Shaw is also splitting work teams, to ensure that one infected person will not infect an entire department. The copy desk, for instance, which had been centralized for several years, is now working in a few different locations.
And Shaw is assuring employees that if they get sick, they will get paid. “I’m pretty liberal in these types of situations,” Rung said. “People should not be worried that if they’re ill, they are not going to be paid. If they’re ill, they should not come to work — period. They don’t have to take (sick time) from vacation (time). No one will feel like they will have to miss any wages.”
But Rung acknowledges the company cannot plan for everything.
“As far as what’s next — we don’t know,” he said. “We expect this will have a real effect on our revenue. And on our expenses.”
The paper intends to continue to print its publications to serve its many older readers, Rung said.