As I write this month’s editorial, I’m sitting in my new home office—my bedroom. You may be reading this in your new home office too. Maybe it’s your living room or the dining room table. Maybe it’s in between home schooling your children. Maybe it’s before your next Zoom call. Wherever you are— even during this time of self-quarantine—you’re not alone.
The coronavirus pandemic has uprooted all of us, forcing businesses to close and hundreds of layoffs. In the first week of April, more than 6 million Americans filed for unemployment, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
Large media corporations like Gannett, Tribune, McClatchy and Lee have implemented companywide furloughs, pay cuts, and layoffs in order to save on costs. Smaller community papers have reduced or stopped their print production, or they’ve shut down all together. The news industry was already struggling with a decline in revenue and resources when the pandemic hit, so this just feels like someone kicking us when we’re down.
In this month’s cover story (check our website on Monday for the story), I spoke with several news leaders about this fallout. This is what they shared.
“Our industry will never look like what it used to be,” said Leonard Woolsey, publisher of the Galveston County (Texas) Daily News and president of Southern Newspapers. “In this case, those who survive will come out with different attitudes.” Woolsey is also concerned with how newspapers will pay good salespeople and retain them after this is over.
Bob Moore, president and CEO of El Paso Matters, is afraid of how much is still unknown. Although Moore operates a digital news operation, he spent 30 years working at the El Paso Times and he still worries about the future of newspapers especially with fewer journalists on the ground.
Like healthcare workers and first responders, news publishers are deemed essential workers during this crisis, which is why several media organizations have made a call for Congress to support local news in its next stimulus package. One of the organizations, the News Media Alliance, reported that “according to an industry survey, despite record audience, most publishers who saw an increase in subscriptions from February saw growth of under 10 percent. Additionally, advertising and other sources of revenue are projected to fall by at least 25 percent, with many expecting declines of over 50 percent.”
One way to combat this fallout is to remind readers about the importance of journalism.
America’s Newspapers recently released a new marketing campaign called “Newspapers have your back.” Newspapers can download this series of print and social media ads at no cost.
“In the stillness of communities under stay-at-home orders, the local newspaper advises on how to keep homes safe and prepared, and how to keep families entertained and learning,” America’s Newspapers CEO Dean Ridings wrote in an editorial. “Newspapers let their communities know how they can help the medical, public safety and service workers who heed the call of duty even among the din of uncertainty. And local newspapers respond to their own call of duty in this crisis.”
As we navigate this new normal, I’m reminded about how tough and resilient our industry is. For so long, we’ve heard the criticism that newspapers are like dinosaurs, but over the past few months, we’ve seen the exact opposite. Media companies transformed literally overnight to operate like a start-up. They’re making faster decisions on how to handle news coverage and advertising campaigns. They haven’t lost sight of what their roles are in their communities during these uncertain times.
Which begs the question: If newspapers have your back, who has theirs?