Report from the General Manager:
The DP in the coronavirus crisis

One month.

It’s hard to believe it’s only been one month since the world suddenly changed. I started to write this report from the Home Office (see what I did there?) to the DP alumni community almost as soon as Penn shut down, but we were all being inundated with emails from CEOs of every company we’ve ever done business with and adjusting to life unlike anything we’ve ever experienced, so I figured you didn’t need to hear from me right away.

But a month into our collective isolation seemed like a good time to reach out, to say hello, to extend my best wishes that you and your family are doing well, and to give you a brief update on how your favorite college newspaper is faring during this crisis.

What the DP has been doing.

When Penn announced on March 11 it was sending students home and requiring all-but-essential staff to work from home, it was immediately apparent that the DP was also in for radical change. The DP’s Board of Directors, in a conference call that night, affirmed the obvious: there would be no purpose in continuing to produce and deliver a printed edition of the DP to a locked-down and mostly empty campus.

But before stilling the presses, we decided to produce a final print edition — only the third (non-Homecoming) Saturday edition of the DP in the past 50+ years — as students and some faculty and staff visited campus to retreive their possessions for the work-at-home period to follow. Being an observer on the sidelines as that historic issue came into being was exciting and exhilarating, and I think would have brought a smile to the face of every DP alum. There was only one student in the DP office; everyone else was scattered around the country. Design editors built pages on their computers while about 30 editors, associate editors and reporters communicated via Slack on everything from story ideas to headline writing to fact checking to copy editing to reviewing page proofs in a race to meet an early press deadline. In the best of DP traditions, we missed the deadline… but only by a little bit, and the “Last DP” hit campus early that Saturday morning. 

With DP print editions gone, no one took their foot off the gas. Over the past four weeks, the DP has continued publishing content on its website every day. The news department has been busy covering multiple changes to grading for online courses, cancellation of on-campus summer courses, students losing summer internships and research positions, ups and downs of online courses, Penn’s role in COVID-19 treatment and drug research, payment for Penn and sub-contracted employees, and myriad other aspects of the impact of coronavirus crisis on the Penn community. The DP’s free “Dear Penn” email newsletter has continued to publish to 10,000 subscribers every weekday morning, along with the paid parent- and alumni-focused Weekly Roundup newsletter every Sunday. 

On the business side, the combination of no print editions, all University events being cancelled, and many local businesses being closed or struggling, has led to a sharp dropoff in revenue. Digital ads on the website, in the email newsletters, and in social media channels keeps some money coming in, but the loss of revenue from March through May, typically our strongest advertising months, will likely hit $100,000.

How you can help.

I can’t deny it’s been a challenge setting up a virtual newsroom in bedrooms and dens across the country. But the DP is strong, and we’ll get through this — with your help.

While we’re not currently paying for pizza in the newsroom every night, we have significant fixed expenses including rent, payroll, insurance, website and other digital services, and student scholarships, and I am reaching out to ask DP alumni to help us weather this storm by making a contribution to the DP.  

Through our 135 years, we’ve managed to deliver the news; through the intolerable and impossible, adjusting our operations when needed, but never compromising our commitment to serve the Penn community. Today’s uncertain world is no different and neither are we. The role that we play as a news organization is even more crucial than ever, as is our mission to successfully prepare and provide for the students who are the future of journalism, media and business. The need to support our organization is great, because the need for our organization has never been greater.

Can I count on your contribution today? Click here to make a donation to support the DP.

Thank you, and be well. 

Eric Jacobs ’80
DP General Manager

P.S. To those of you wondering, “haven’t you retired?”, as you can see, I’m still here! Like everything else in our lives, finding my replacement has been put on hold during this crisis. (We were just a few days away from interviews of our finalist candidates when our part of the world locked down.) As the restrictions on what we can do start to ease in the months ahead, we’ll get back to the task of selecting a new General Manager and beginning a transition process which will span many months. So you’ll still be hearing from me for a while longer!

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