The Unsuspected Coronavirus Victim: Local Journalism

Photo courtesy McEnery Residential

Earlier this week, several reporters at The Times-Picayune/New Orleans Advocate posted some surprising news:

In the middle of the biggest news story of the century, a 10th of them were being furloughed. The rest were being moved to four days per week. The news came less than one year after The Advocate buyout of The Times-Picayune, leaving New Orleans with only a single local print newspaper for a population of over 390,000 people. There were layoffs during that transition as well – making this second round of layoffs all that much harder for local journalists.

Unfortunately, it’s a scene that is playing out all over the world.

With businesses closed and events canceled, local advertising has all but dried up, even in larger cities like Seattle. Even as digital traffic soars, the income local media outlets desperately need to survive is disappearing.

On Monday, media research firm Digiday posted that 88 percent of U.S. publishers say they will miss their business goals this year due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Eighty-five percent said they also expect a major decline in ad revenue.

That’s bad news for smaller, local outlets – many of whom were already struggling. In the UK, Stylist and Time Out magazines announced they were suspending print editions. In Michigan, 19 local newspapers announced the same, as did another in Rhode Island. Even the New York Times has warned that it expects a steep drop in ad revenue.

But print media aren’t the only outlets who are struggling. On Saturday, G/O Media Group CEO Jim Panfeller emailed a letter to staff titled “Brace for Impact” letting them know the company expected to “experience some pain.”

“We are indeed entering a uniquely bad environment for the revenue side of our business,” Spanfeller wrote, according to the Daily Beast. G/O Media publishes digital outlets such as Gizmodo, Jezebel, Kotaku, Lifehacker, The Root, The Onion, and more.

Even online media giant BuzzFeed is expecting a coronavirus slump.

“BuzzFeed’s leadership team is exploring a range of ways to support employees while protecting our business,” said BuzzFeed Chief Communications Officer Carole Robinson. “Our goal is to avoid layoffs, with an alternative plan that requires some sacrifice from all of us – and especially those on the executive team – ultimately allowing us to remain a strong company over the long term.”

In this time of uncertainty, people are more hungry for local news than ever. So – toss a coin to your news media, oh readers.

We need you as much as you need us.

Jenn Bentley is a freelance journalist based in New Orleans specializing in politics and social justice issues. In 2019, she was given the title of “Most Fearless” by The Bayou Brief. Follow her on Twitter: @JennBentley_

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