Federal stimulus loans aimed at reducing economic fallout from the pandemic begin expiring this month, which means you can expect U.S. newsrooms to announce even more furloughs, layoffs and pay cuts in coming weeks.
Congressional leaders have announced they have no intention to fund another round of the Paycheck Protection Program loans, which were aimed at small businesses.
Although traffic to newspaper websites and subscription revenue have both surged during the pandemic, that has not been adequate to replace advertising revenue losses, which have been sharp.
Following up on earlier warnings about uncertainty once The Seattle Times Company’s $9.9 million loan expired, Times President Alan Fisco on Thursday told employees their managers will by June 8 give them the details of how some of their pay – and hours – will be reduced. He said the company will avoid layoffs as long as it can, but that some staff will see pay cuts of up to 20%.
Here’s a quick summary of other recent news about the local journalism crisis and efforts to save the free press system:
• In case you missed it, The McClatchy Company, which is in bankruptcy and headed for a July assets auction, has shaken up management of its four Washington papers.
Stephanie Pedersen, Executive Editor and General Manager of The Sun News in Myrtle Beach, S.C., will succeed Rebecca Poynter as President and Editor of The News Tribune in Tacoma.
Dale Phelps, Editor of The News Tribune announced his retirement at the same time. Pedersen has also been named Washington State regional editor of The News Tribune, The Olympian, The Bellingham Herald and the Tri-City Herald in Kennewick. Pedersen will also serve as president of The Olympian when she relocates later this month. McClatchy owns a minority interest in The Seattle Times.
• The first daily newspaper in the U.S. to turn itself into a non-profit charity organization has set a big bold goal: building a $100 million endowment to give the paper independence from market shocks and from powerful interests. Just six months into its first year, The Salt Lake Tribune says fundraising efforts have been encouraging.
• Hundreds of U.S. newspapers that have begun seeking donations to keep themselves afloat have also had to think about how aggressively they should campaign when so many people are out of work or even ill with COVID-19. Is there a respectable way to raise money for your newspaper’s survival during a pandemic that has killed more than 100,000 Americans?
• The Minneapolis Star Tribune recently hit a big milestone: 100,000 digital subscribers, which makes it a success story in the industry’s shift from reliance on advertising revenue to subscriber fees.
• If you’re just tuning in now to the efforts of publishers to force Google and Facebook to pay for republication of news headlines and snippets of stories, Columbia Journalism Review has this detailed survey of the controversy.
• Even a billionaire majority owner, Laurene Powell Jobs, hasn’t shielded one of America’s oldest magazines, The Atlantic Monthly, from effects of the economic freeze. The Atlantic had to make major staff reductions in the face of the economic downturn.
• The share price of once-vibrant Lee Enterprises, owner of the Longview Daily News, 45 other daily newspapers and more than 300 weekly and specialty publications, fell below the New York Stock Exchange’s minimum $1, prompting the Exchange to notify Lee it could be de-listed. Trading of de-listed shares is less convenient and often signals major changes in a company’s fortunes. Lee says it’s just a hiccup and soon to be fixed. At market’s close on Monday, the price had rebounded to $1.34.
• Research worth quoting when people wonder why the Seattle Times is investing in the Save the Free Press initiative: In cities where local newspapers cut staff, mayoral races become less competitive, meaning voters have fewer choices.
• Why does local journalism matter? Here are highlights from Local Matters, a weekly newsletter that links readers to the best of local watchdog journalism each week:
Chicago’s former mayor invested in a venture that buys public land and flips it for double, triple and even 50 times the amount that officials sold it for, a Chicago Sun-Times team reported.
Texas hospitals that received bailout money continue to sue patients for unpaid medical bills, the Houston Chronicle’s Jenny Deam and John Tedesco reported.
A Tennessee congressman got ahead of the virus outbreak by dumping risky stock and investing in Zoom and companies now working on a vaccine, Nashville Tennessean reporter Joel Ebert found after reviewing federal financial records.
If there’s a question you’d like us to answer about the work of the Save the Free Press initiative, ask it in the box below and we’ll research some questions and print answers.