Since 2004, before anyone knew of Covid-19, more than 2,000 mostly weekly newspapers have been lost to mergers or shutdowns in cities across the U.S. Already struggling, the industry saw a wave of consolidation and further contraction at the end of 2019. The McClaskey Group, the #2 newspaper group in the U.S. declared bankruptcy months later. And then came the corona virus pandemic, one of the biggest stories in our lifetime, leaving even more publications fighting to survive.
As businesses have been shut down and countless events cancelled, ad revenue has further declined, and many papers have canceled print editions and laid off workers. The Chicago Reader will start switching off between online and print editions, and The Isthmus, in Madison, WI, said it would “go dark” for a time. The Coast, in Halifax, Nova Scotia, is going online only and laying off nearly 20 employees. In Seattle, The Stranger laid off 18 employees and suspended print production, saying, “90 percent of our revenue [comes] from advertising, ticketing fees and our own events. The corona virus situation has virtually eliminated this income all at once.”
Euclid Media Group, which owns Detroit Metro Times and six other weeklies, has slashed nearly 80 percent of its work force. Those who stayed accepted significant pay cuts. The Sacramento News & Review posted the headline, “It could be the end,” and halted publication while The Austin Chronicle, in Texas, went from weekly print publication to an every-other-week schedule. The Monterey County Weekly, in California, laid off seven employees, reduced hours for three others.
Other publications that have either cut back or shut down include:
- Metro Weekly, in Washington, D.C.;
- First Touch, in New York;
- Gaming Today, in Las Vegas;
- The Pulse of Chattanooga, Tenn.;
- Pittsburgh City Paper; Pittsburgh, PA;
- Submerge Magazine in Sacramento, CA;
- Charleston City Paper, in South Carolina;
- Indy Week, in Durham, N.C.
The ramifications have been felt throughout the industry. The New York Times is expecting total advertising revenues to drop more than 10 percent in the current quarter, and The Advocate, which bought The Times-Picayune last year, announced it will lay off journalists who cover sports and social events in New Orleans and Baton Rouge, La.
As the crisis rolls on over the next few months, we can expect things to get worse. This will impact freelancers as well as staff writers, maybe even more. NWU will continue to keep you informed about the current stimulus package which is supposed to include extended unemployment benefits and cash payments to freelancers and the self-employed.
The recently passed PAID Leave Act (Providing Americans Insured Days of Leave Act) will provide two weeks of federally funded paid sick leave to independent contractors during the crisis. Many other local efforts are underway.
(Most facts taken from Local News Outlets Dealt a Crippling Blow by This Biggest of Stories, NYT, March 23)