Fruchter is the editor-in-chief of The Scarlet & Black, Grinnell College’s independent student newspaper. She is an art history major with a concentration in Russian, Central and Eastern European studies.
We pay our editors and staff writers at The Scarlet & Black for their work. This is unusual for most college newspapers, and amidst a campus and national shutdown, we have continued to pay our staff, even as we moved out of our dorms and remain scattered across the country. I know first-hand how invaluable this income is to students who rely on this job to pay their bills. Workers of all industries must be able to support themselves in this time when everyone’s health, safety and wellbeing are at risk, and that’s what the PPP does.
I don’t, however, think that such federal assistance should become a permanent solution for news publishers suffering the effects of COVID-19 and otherwise.
Our newspaper’s budget is derived from a “student activities” fee which comes directly from those paying to attend Grinnell and is not dependent on approval from the College administration. This is a delicate balance of financial independence and journalistic integrity that we have worked with the administration to maintain over many years, a balance that I do not think is possible for the U.S. government and newspapers across the country. Look, for example, at how the current administration has threatened the funding of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and, most recently, the United States Postal Service, non-partisan institutions created to serve the public good.
There is a bigger issue, however, at the heart of this question: the viability of the news publishing industry at large. While COVID-19 has had an undeniable impact, the pandemic has exacerbated existing trends of mass layoffs, publication closures and advertiser drop off. Any college student pursuing a career in journalism knows that entering into the field is a risky decision. The old advertising model just isn’t working anymore.
Some of the greatest minds in news and journalism are at work trying to figure out how to save this industry. While forms of government funding may be involved in these future models, direct loans from Washington are not the way to revive an industry that is needed now more than ever.