Advertising dip hits local newspapers hard: Report

The coronavirus pandemic has been a catastrophe for the economy, with millions laid off in a matter of weeks.

The media is feeling the crunch, too, as newsrooms make cuts to their pay and staff, intensifying the woes of an already troubled industry, The Washington Post reported Wednesday. While The New York Times and other elite media remain resilient, a dip in advertising is reportedly hitting local newspapers hard. 

Coronavirus slams ailing media

The layoffs are a reverberation of the controversial lockdowns that now affect a majority of Americans: with millions of workers suddenly jobless and the local businesses that employ them in crisis, a contraction in economic activity has led to a drop in the advertising revenue that sustains many local newspapers. Now, local newsrooms are having to trim their payrolls, despite an increase in readers looking for coverage of the virus.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer, which laid off 22 reporters this month, is one of them, according to The Washington Post. Others, like the Dallas Morning News, are slashing pay. Some newspapers and magazines are even printing fewer editions and, in rare cases, shuttering for good.

“There’s a huge appetite for what we do right now,” Paul Tash, chairman and chief executive of the Tampa Bay Times, which laid off 11 reporters, told The Washington Post. “On the other hand, the advertisers that subsidize our business are under enormous strain… For many, many of our local businesses, [the lockdown] is a terrible reversal.”

The pandemic is indeed slamming an industry that has been getting smaller for years, largely thanks to the rise of digital advertising, dwindling readerships, and the buying up of smaller, struggling newspapers by hedge funds, as The New Republic reported. Between 2004 and 2018, about 1,800 newspapers closed, according to The Guardian.

Some of the large chains that own many papers are feeling a coronavirus crunch, too: Gannett, the biggest local newspaper owner in America, is furloughing workers to weather the crisis, according to The Washington Post. The coronavirus wasn’t the start of the trouble, though: the company lost an astronomical 94% of its value since August.

Elite media stays afloat – and controversial

While local news continues to die out, the world of digital media is also hurting: Group Nine Media, Inc., which operates NowThis, The Dodo, and Thrillist, laid off 7% of its 800 person payroll, the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday. With the economy contracting, investors are less keen on propping up trendy websites, and it shows: BuzzFeed is making pay cuts, and so is the notoriously edgy Brooklyn-based magazine Vice. The Bustle Digital Group laid off the entire staff of its site the Outline and closed the website.

Will Americans really despair at a world with less BuzzFeed in it? Maybe not, but the further contraction of the news industry will almost certainly play to the advantage of legacy media elites like The Washington Post and The New York Times, which are hanging tough thanks to support from a robust base of digital subscribers, even as their advertising dips. In the age of coronavirus, this elite media group has continued to play a controversial role, churning out vicious, often misleading coverage of President Trump’s coronavirus response. Trump, of course, isn’t keeping quiet.

As Americans discover a newfound respect for delivery drivers, doctors, and nurses, the media is likely to see the troubles of their industry as a unique catastrophe, an injustice even. But they’re not the only ones suffering: another 6.6 million people filed for unemployment last week, according to ABC News.

What will the economy look like after the coronavirus? Nobody knows, but it won’t be good. The pandemic has already created a disaster for millions and millions of people. When this is over, the media may never look the same either.

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