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Coronavirus’ impact on economy could devastate news business

For the Portland Mercury, the early warning of impending disaster came from its sister paper in the Pacific Northwest. 

The Stranger, which was distributed for free every other week in Seattle, was at ground zero of the first full-blown U.S. coronavirus outbreak. Almost overnight, the community paper’s advertising business collapsed as the pandemic emptied movie theaters, music clubs, concert halls and arts venues.

“That’s when we knew we were in trouble and that we had to make moves fast. We knew it was coming to Portland,” Portland Mercury editor in chief Wm. Steven Humphrey told USA TODAY. “We took drastic measures right away to stay in business and hopefully ride it out.”

Nearly every advertiser that might place an ad and every spot readers might pick up a copy – bars, restaurants or theaters – had gone dark. The small but feisty paper, which had been distributed for two decades as reliably as the Oregon rain, stopped publishing its print edition. The final gut punch for Humphrey was letting go 10 of 18 staffers as the ban on public gatherings choked advertising sales. 

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