Both New and Old Media in Battle to Survive
Local print and digital news industries have been in a fragile state for the past decade or so. As print journalism becomes outdated, digital news grows oversaturated, and Facebook and Google dominate the online advertising market, newspapers—both young and old, established and local—have been downsizing, reprogramming, and, in some cases, abandoning operations. Now, with the COVID-19 pandemic tanking the economy, these papers are getting yet another potentially fatal blow, this time at a moment when we need them the most.
While subscriptions to various outlets could certainly be higher, the real culprit behind the industry’s recent setback has been a lack in ads. With businesses are closing their doors and the stock market chronically sinking amidst orders for most consumers to stay at home. Temporarily shut down businesses with no active customers naturally have no purpose in increasing or continuing advertising campaigns. People are steadfastly living in isolation, pausing the conventional market flow and thus rendering most ads futile or impotent at best.
Unfortunately for many news media outlets, ads are where most of the revenue comes from. Advertisements fund nearly all of the journalism that makes these publications worthwhile. While actual subscription sales do a part of the job, their contributions are meager compared to the ads. Therefore, while isolation might actually yield increased readership, the ad supported outlets still face financial losses and sink further into debt during this crisis.
While Journalism Struggles America Needs Professional Reporting more than Ever
“Crisis” is the apt word for the present situation, which should speak volumes to the current necessity for quality journalism. Fear, half-truths, political discord, and downright uncertainty grips the nation. The Press has a longstanding Democratic obligation to keep Americans informed and feed them the whole truth. If it ceases to operate—especially in these unstable times—then people may turn to unreliable sources, court misinformation, and render the already scary situation even more dangerous.
In previous periods when journalism hit roadblocks, such as during the Great Recession in 2008, most papers found ways around the situation by increasing pay walls on digital services or seeking private funding. These options might still be available for major publications like The New York Times or The Washington Post. However, smaller, local and regional news outlets are unlikely to find similar rescue options.
A Huge Need For Local and Regional Reporting Exists
Local news organizations are the most vulnerable outlets during the COVID-19 pandemic, as they have tighter readerships, rely on smaller business ads, and don’t share the same major connections that some of the bigger publications boast. They are no less important, though, as they cater to parts of the country removed from urban hubs and spread localized information to contained populations.
Consequentially, the News Media Alliance and America’s Newspapers—two trade associations representing over 2000 newspapers both big and small—are turning to the federal government for help. On March 30th, NMA President David Chavern and America’s Newspapers CEO H. Dean Ridings penned a letter to President Donald Trump, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. In the letter, they beseech the feds for relief funding, making a case for journalists as essential workers and crucial parts of the current fight against COVID-19.
Given Trump’s reputation for badmouthing journalists and attacking news sources, the outcome of this plea is unclear. Nevertheless, these are unconventional circumstances, and with the more likely support of Democrat Nancy Pelosi, perhaps the newspapers stand a fighting chance.
In the meantime, however, things are sadly only getting worse for America’s newspapers. According to PressGazette on April 1st, newspaper ad revenues have dropped by 50% since the corona virus shutdowns began. With newsrooms clearing out and many journalists working from home, papers are growing pickier about who and what is essential, cutting costs by laying off personnel and printing fewer stories.
And all of this happening at a time when the Press perseveres as a last line of defense between truth and hysteria.
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