It's Essential | Private Eye | Salt Lake City Weekly

It's Essential 

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Newspapers are deemed an essential business during this Coronavirus crisis. Who knew? That simply feels good to type since it's been quite too long that so many people have taken newspapers--and all media generally--for granted let alone considered them essential. I can only shrug, since we've known all along that persons were still reading newspapers, but that in the age of social media it's far easier to excuse stupidity and to not be accountable for understanding how free societies really work.

Because after all, social media has really excelled at one thing: taking the funding once dedicated to traditional media, creating about a million billionaires in so doing, but replacing the core of what traditional media is--a resource for all citizens to measure the merits of any topic in depth--with trending brain cell erasers like #Kardashian, #Prince Albert and #TongueOutTuesday. You don't need to Google these things, I've done that for you: Only one will make you smarter.

Trust me. I'm not feeling so smart right now. To expect being smart is useful against this virus is to similarly expect that ketchup can repel a boot-sniffing liger.

It's come to this: essential or not, smart, educated or coveted or not, we've had to furlough well over half of our staff. Somehow, those who remain--less than a dozen persons where there once sat 40--are working like thieves in the night to produce weekly editions of City Weekly, plus online versions of Devour and Vamoose Magazines. City Guide is on hold, as is Best of Utah Body and Mind. All events through June have been cancelled, including Utah Cann in April and our first PressBackers fundraiser in June. As long as masses cannot gather, there can be no mass gatherings. Funny how that works.

Our revenues are nearly fully dependent on the health of the hospitality industry, clubs, cafes and events. To their credit (and because they are smart), some businesses still buy ads at a time when it is antithetical to do so. If I can implore anything right now to our readers, it would be that you all take a look at the pages that follow this one and make mental logs of those businesses. They need and deserve your full support when the virus veils are lifted. Remember them, because they have not forgotten you now. They are the reason you have held this free newspaper for 35 years.

We can all only hope that they are all still in business next month, or the next or the one after that. It will not be easy. Some of them are not getting debt, rent or mortgage relief from their landlords, lenders or creditors. In that respect, they are way ahead of where all of you can be if the virus closures continue and if the disaster relief funding mostly lands on Wall Street. It is only a secret to our elected officials that most Americans really do live paycheck to paycheck no matter their pay strata. It should be no secret that many small businesses live month to month in the best of times.

Salt Lake City has enacted a disaster relief fund, the first local government entity to do so that we've seen. It will be a welcome relief of up to $20,000 to local businesses. But let's math a little. The fund only has one million dollars in it so far. It will need many millions more because a million dollars doesn't cover two weeks' worth of payroll for Salt Lake City's club or restaurant industry which is basically shut down, let alone pay rent, inventory costs and every other operating cost. Let alone businesses not in the hospitality category. It's a drop in the bucket. God bless those who are getting city relief.

At least the city is ahead of the county, however, which so far has not released a funding relief plan that we've seen--and it was the county that shut down the clubs and restaurants. No matter, it had to happen and that's not the bitch; public health wins. But I'm gonna bet everything in my left pocket that not a single person in county government thought a whit about what was to come. I'm also betting that such situation will change only when county tax coffers dip.

When the closures occured there was a mad dash on trending social media of persons swearing up and down they were rushing right over to their nearest eatery to show their support with a take-out order. Great. However only a fraction of those could switch to dependency on take-out, and those may cease as well if Utah enters a total, stay in home shutdown.

Meanwhile, clubs must still must pay their dram shop and other insurance policies despite not selling alcohol. If not, they might not be able to re-open at all, but how do you pay for it without revenue? Where are government rent protections? It's clear one category of business is paying more than their share in this crisis--the hospitality industry. All the operators, the workers, the staff, the suppliers, the cleaners--all of that lot. Right behind them are the small services--the hair salons, the tattoo shops, the massage parlors. They don't have great friends in the halls of government. This is the time to be their friend.

We hope the government is the friend they need, but this is going to cost lots of money--and that's where governments suddenly get short memories and run out for movie popcorn. It will be interesting to see who our real leaders are and what they do.

It's essential they do so.

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About The Author

John Saltas

John Saltas

John Saltas, Utah native and journalism/mass communication graduate from the University of Utah, founded City Weekly as a small newsletter in 1984. He served as the newspaper's first editor and publisher and now, as founder and executive editor, he contributes a column under the banner of Private Eye, (the original... more

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