Will changes to print outlast the pandemic?
By Lauren Harris
Print editions have taken significant hits at newspapers and magazines across the world as financial setbacks caused by covid-19 rip through newsrooms. As part of the Journalism Crisis Project, The Tow Center continues to tabulate an increasingly grim number of cutbacks in the field; reduced, suspended or aborted print runs make up a notable portion of the list. Tow found that more than a hundred outlets scaled down their print production since the beginning of the pandemic. Many of these publications announced a suspension of print publishing—noting temporary economic constraints or logistical limitations. Others altered their print run from daily to weekly, or consolidated sections in the print edition. Some outlets announced their intention to stop print production entirely.
Last week, The Guardian laid off 180 staffers—70 in editorial positions. In addition to the layoffs, the Press Gazette reported that several sections of the Guardian’s Saturday print edition would be cut to save costs: The Review—a culture and literature section; The Guide—a television, music, and arts section; The Weekend—a section focused on features; and the travel section. Choices made during a crisis are difficult, but indicate certain priorities.
In a memo to staff, Guardian editor in chief Katharine Viner wrote, “We propose reducing some aspects of sport and lifestyle journalism, and we are also proposing a reorganisation in the ways we produce our journalism so that our editorial processes are truly digital-first,” Telegraph reporter Chris Williams noted on Twitter.
Joshua Benton reported for Nieman Lab last week that, in Wyoming, the last true “daily” newspaper, the Casper Star-Tribune, stopped printing seven days a week, eliminating its Monday and Tuesday editions. The subhead of the piece announced that “It could be the first time a U.S. state will publish no newspapers on Monday mornings…ever.” The president of the Star-Tribune said that the paper’s decision to cut a day of print reflected changes in readers’ news consumption, saying “This is a shift many news organizations are making as more and more readers already consume their news online.”
Still, there are some readers who depend on print. As recently as 2016, the Pew Research Center reported that around half of newspaper readers relied exclusively on the print edition. Last month, ABC News in Australia reported that News Corp’s decision to end print production at a number of Australian newspapers left older readers feeling isolated and under-informed.
As business models and consumer habits continue to change, journalism outlets wrestle to balance business interests, accessibility, and keeping up with a changing world—and choices made during a crisis will ripple into the future.
The Journalism Crisis Project aims to train our focus on the present crisis, tallying lost jobs and outlets and fostering a conversation about what comes next. (Share this link to invite others to follow along).
CONTRIBUTE TO OUR DATABASE: If you’re aware of a newsroom experiencing layoffs, cutbacks, furloughs, print reductions, or any fundamental change as a result of covid-19, let us know by submitting information here. (Personal information will be kept secure by the Tow Center and will not be shared.)
Below, more on recent changes in newsrooms across the world:
- MEDIA LAYOFFS SURGE AGAIN: Max Willens noted for DigiDay that the number of recent layoffs by large publishers like The Guardian, Vox, and the BBC signal a “second wave” of layoffs in the media industry. Willens reported 11,000 media jobs lost in the first half of 2020—on track to surpass the 14,000 media jobs lost during the 2008 economic crisis, writing that “as the virus’s infection rate continues to rise across the country, particularly in large states including Texas, California, Florida and Arizona, the optimism that had crept into some executives’ thinking has evaporated.” (Nieman Lab reported that McClatchy’s finances illustrate the industry’s devastation, the news company having lost a quarter of their finances in just a few weeks’ time).
- BROADCAST RATINGS DROP: David Folkenflik reported for NPR last week that though a record number of people are following NPR’s reporting, broadcast ratings have dropped significantly in the wake of the covid-19 pandemic, as the loss of daily commutes limits the number of people tuning in to the radio on their way to work. In contrast, podcast revenues are looking up, though not enough to offset the significant loss of sponsorship funding. “People who listened to NPR shows on the radio at home before the pandemic by and large still do. But many of those who listened on their commute have not rejoined from home. And that threatens to alter the terrain for NPR for years to come,” Folkenflik wrote. And last week, 50 organizations representing local broadcasters wrote a letter to Congress, requesting access to funding from the Paycheck Protection Program and federal support for advertising.
- NEXSTAR AND THE PUBLIC INTEREST: For CJR, Meaghan Winter wrote about Nexstar Media Group, the largest television news company in the United States, which owns—or operates—196 local TV news stations. “Nexstar doesn’t fit neatly into popular story lines about media barons destroying local journalism,” Winter writes, noting that company leaders, largely veterans of local broadcasting themselves, don’t push partisan content like some rivals. “Those distinctions, and Nexstar’s enormous reach across the country, make the company a unique bellwether of whether consolidation can be in the public interest.”
- “AN IDEA TO STEAL AND ADAPT”: In June, Caitlin Hernandez reported for NiemanLab that KPCC, a Southern California NPR member station, has personally answered thousands of reader questions about covid-19 using the engagement platform Hearken. For Better News, Larry Graham reported that KPCC/LAist’s individualized audience engagement had led to a significant increase in newsletter subscriptions. His Q&A has more on the benefits and challenges of KPCC’s model.
- SUBSTACK PILOTS LEGAL SUPPORT PROGRAM: As the covid-19 pandemic and the shifting foundations of the media industry reconfigure the traditional structures of reporting, Substack is piloting a legal support program for its writers, many of whom report independently and take on legal risks without institutional safeguards. “We are committed to creating the conditions that allow independent writers to flourish, which means helping to restore the infrastructure that has been eroded by the continued dismantling of models and institutions that once supported a healthy free press,” the Substack team wrote. Interested writers can apply here.
- SUCCESS IN THE TRANSITION TO NONPROFIT: In November of last year, six months after the Salt Lake Tribune announced that it was planning to become a nonprofit entity, Jon Allsop wrote for CJR’s daily newsletter that “the Tribune’s nonprofit conversion represents inventive new thinking in a local-news landscape that desperately needs it.” Eight months after receiving approval from the IRS, the Tribune is reporting increased traffic to its digital site, substantial numbers of individual gifts, and increasing subscriptions.
- INNOVATION IN IDAHO: Local Idaho business publication BoiseDev has built a strong relationship with 800 members using unique strategies like the timewall, a temporary paywall that offers members first access to stories that are invisible to non-members until the paywall is removed. Don Day, BoiseDev’s editor and publisher, reports a 70% open rate for the publication’s afternoon newsletter, which includes links to all of the day’s stories in addition to a brief introductory note. The outlet also depends exclusively on local advertising.
- CALL YOUR CONGRESSPERSON: Several local papers, including The Lufkin Daily News and The Gainesville Daily News—both located in Texas—recently published editorials urging readers to reach out to legislators in support of bills intended to bolster local news. The first bill, introduced in May, would expand Paycheck Protection Program funding to be more inclusive of local newsrooms. The second bill, to be introduced next week, would provide various tax incentives to subscribers, news providers, and advertisers.
- MORE LAYOFFS: The BBC announced 520 layoffs, including 400 that had been previously announced and then delayed (Elsewhere, BBC Radio discussed various initiatives to support local journalism). At Vox, furloughs turned to layoffs for many staffers who did not take buyouts, culminating in 72 lost jobs. And Kristen Hare noted for Poynter that McClatchy laid off 84 previously furloughed staffers.
JOURNALISM JOBS AND OPPORTUNITIES: MediaGazer has been maintaining a list of media companies that are currently hiring. You can find it here. The Deez Links newsletter, in partnership with Study Hall, offers media classifieds for both job seekers (at no cost) and job providers. The Ida B. Wells Society announced that its micro-loan program for journalists would no longer require recipients to repay their loans—you can apply here and donate here.