Emily Burt: How do you survive a pandemic? By adapting – and staying hopeful

Third Sector’s experience of Covid-19 has played out in parallel with those of the charities we write for. We have to believe that we can survive, and thrive, through the challenges

In a recent conversation with our features writer Rebecca, she warned me not to start thinking of myself as an “editorial harbinger of doom”. 

The image stuck with me – I imagined myself sitting at my desk shrouded in a cowl, with a raven perched on my shoulder that routinely croaked “decline in print advertising”. 

There is also a certain truth to it. When I took on the editorship of Third Sector in early March, the magazine, and our audience, was living in a different world – and my first six months in post have been bruising to say the least. 

In many ways, our experience has played out in an almost exact parallel with those of the charities we exist to support. The onset of lockdown saw Third Sector take a financial hit: particularly in cancelled live events, which contribute a significant proportion of our income. 

At a time when our freelance budget was frozen and our small editorial team was a third down, thanks to a combination of furloughing and external moves, the demand for news, analysis and insights reached an all-time high. 

Third Sector’s reporters worked harder than I have ever seen to keep pace with the news cycle, as mass-participation fundraising events were postponed, the emergency funding bailout was campaigned for, and the sector stared down the barrel of a £12.4bn income deficit.

Our web traffic has broken records every month since the pandemic began. 

The team also delivered two phenomenal digital magazine issues, showcasing the incredible work of charities in the early weeks of the pandemic, and looking ahead to how the sector could change in a post-covid future

I am frequently blown away by the stamina and resilience of my colleagues, and prouder of them than I can say. 

We have acutely felt the highs and lows our readers have gone through, in part because we have experienced them ourselves.

As income continues to suffer and charities are forced to turn to cost-cutting measures to survive, Third Sector has gone through the same processes, including a programme of redundancies that saw us lose three much-loved members of our team.

And in light of the ongoing challenges faced by so many working in media, our printed magazine will now be published on a quarterly basis, instead of six issues a year. 

Any charity under pressure to make changes to their services will understand what a tough and painful decision this has been for the editorial team – particularly given the huge amount of work we put into our 2019 rebrand

Print holds immense value for us, and remains at the beating heart of Third Sector. But with a challenging media landscape ahead, and a greater need for sector-specific reporting than ever, we have to protect the future of the title. 

We must also believe that Third Sector will thrive and reach new heights despite the challenges. Through the magazine, we will continue to tell your stories and champion those making a difference. 

We will evolve and adapt to fulfil our new circulation, assisted by the creative flair of our new art director, Chris Barker. Our next issue, published in October, will see us return to print for the first time since February, and promises to be a brilliant read. 

With our freed-up editorial time, we will be driving our efforts into a new raft of high-quality editorial content, including bringing subscribers a greater number of in-depth, longform features and specialist reports. 

We are also planning to expand our digital offerings with more audio content, data-led analysis and sector-specific insights, always focusing on the greatest need of our audience. 

I know this pandemic is the toughest experience many of our readers have ever faced – and that it has never been more important for charities to have a sector-specific press to shine a spotlight on their challenges, and showcase their extraordinary achievements.

Third Sector will continue tirelessly working to be that voice. 

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