The coronavirus pandemic hit the news media industry hard, causing layoffs and pay cuts at some outlets while closing physical newsrooms or shutting down entire operations at others.
NewsGuild president Jon Schleuss calls it an “extinction-level event.” Many of the affected newsrooms are members of the Guild, which started a campaign, Save The News, to raise awareness of the depth of the crisis and urging Congress to pass legislation that will enable the industry to survive it.
“Since the pandemic arrived on our shores, more than 50 news outlets have closed. Roughly 36,000 journalists had lost their jobs, faced furloughs, or had their hours cut due to the crisis as of early May, and that number continues to grow,” he told TheWrap, pointing out that — as TheWrap has been reporting — the pandemic only compounded the existing financial crises in local journalism.
Moreover, many local news consumers don’t even know this is happening — or why it’s important.
“According to a Pew Research study, few news consumers realize that local news outlets are struggling financially,” Schleuss said. “And few news consumers realize the impact access to local news has on their lives. When news coverage is limited, corruption increases, governments become more careless about borrowing and spending and civic engagement declines.”
He added that “the reality is that ‘essential workers’ include journalists.”
Schleuss’ concern is that by 2025, an overwhelming majority of outlets could be owned by one of a small number of hedge funds “with virtually no commitment to community-focused journalism.”
According to the Save the News website, four out of five news outlets were not supported by federal aid because they were owned by hedge funds. The site encourages supporters to tweet #SaveTheNews to have The Local News and Emergency Information Act of 2020 passed by the Senate.