Stop the presses.
For one newspaper, it’s more than an expression. It could’ve been a reality.
“We literally lost all of our business overnight,” said Linda Lawson, head writer with the East St. Louis Monitor, recalling the jarring economic punch the pandemic delivered in 2020. “In the beginning, we asked ourselves, ‘What’s going to happen to us?’”
The Monitor’s 6,000-plus readers were asking the same. They’d relied on the Monitor for nearly 60 years.
“People tell us we’re the communication lifeline of this community,” said Lawson. “We’re a community newspaper … the only community newspaper. I was stopped in the grocery and asked, ‘How will we get our news?’”
Days in the newsroom for Lawson and the Monitor’s 15 team members are filled with pressures like meeting deadlines. But this was different. A kind the Monitor had never faced. One requiring a financial lifeline.
The Monitor already had a credit card relationship with Regions Bank. So, when it became clear the newspaper needed to consider applying for a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan from the Small Business Administration (SBA), Lawson turned to someone she knew.
“I met Eric Madkins five years ago,” said Lawson. “We’ve remained in touch since.”
Madkins is a community development manager for Regions in St. Louis. He connected Lawson with Norma Boozer, an SBA banker for Regions who was, and is, helping businesses address the financial impacts of the pandemic.
“Introducing Ms. Lawson to my teammate offered the chance to uphold our values of doing what is right and putting people first,” said Madkins. “Ms. Lawson is a pillar of our community, and so is the Monitor.”
The connection offered Lawson immediate peace of mind.
“It speaks to the relationship,” Lawson said, describing the warm introduction Madkins provided and the support Boozer delivered. “I could tell that Norma cared. I wasn’t as scared.”
In addition to that care, Boozer and her team provided the Monitor with financial advice and guidance tailored to their unique needs.
“We’ve worked with businesses like the Monitor on an individual basis to help them understand specific aspects of the PPP application process,” said Boozer. “That includes making sure clients are aware of incentives the SBA is offering for new debt if needed, as well as advising them on ways to minimize costs and obtain payment relief options for their existing debt.”
For Lawson, caring relationships have been key since she began her journalism career at age 16. She discovered her passion for writing during a summer English class. Soon after, she started at the Monitor. Again, relationships were key, as her late father and newspaper founder Clyde Jordan were friends.
Her first assignment? Interviewing Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman elected to Congress.
“Mr. Jordan let me do assignments like this,” Lawson said. “He encouraged me to do assignments like this.”
Jordan then presented the next opportunity.
“He said, ‘Jesse Jackson is coming to town. Go do a story,’” recounted Lawson. It didn’t faze her.
“I’ve always been a go-getter,” Lawson said. “I was always curious.”
That ambition led to her earning a degree in Broadcast Journalism at Howard University. Jordan passed away while Lawson was in college. Frazier Garner, Sr., son of Mrs. Jordan and publisher of The Monitor, left his job to ensure the paper’s work continued.
“He’s been the quiet wheel that has kept this tradition going since Mr. Jordan died,” said Lawson.
For Lawson, years passed and new successes were reached, but she remained in touch with Garner and Mrs. Jordan. Once again, long-standing relationships played a role in what came next.
“I reached out to Frazier and told him, ‘If you need anything, I will do it as a gift,’” Lawson recalled. That led to a return as a freelance writer for the paper, with Mrs. Jordan insisting on paying Lawson for her work. Three years ago, she went back full-time to where it all began.
“The Monitor has always held a place for me,” said Lawson. “The Monitor was a gift then, and it’s a gift now.”
And it’s one that continues to fill its essential role. The newspaper was approved for PPP funding from the SBA.
The presses never stopped.
“We’re starting to rebuild,” said Lawson. “We probably would’ve made it a month without help. That would’ve been a shame because the Monitor reflects the history of this community.”
For Boozer, providing that help is one of the most rewarding aspects of serving as a banker.
“Working with the Monitor has been a great opportunity to see a small business receive PPP funds to continue operating and keep their team members employed throughout the pandemic,” she said.
Lawson is especially reflective and grateful after last year’s challenges.
“To have people who care,” she said, “we’re so glad someone was there for us. What this means is that you will have a forever client. We will always remember Regions because Regions remembered us.”