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April 7, 2020updated 07 Nov 2023 5:41am

‘Absolutely brutal’: At least 1,000 newspapers and other publications across US face cutbacks due to Covid-19

By William Turvill

US journalists working across more than 1,000 local newspapers and other publications are facing cuts due to the economic hit their employers have taken on coronavirus.

An investigation by Press Gazette found that hundreds of titles – mainly local newspapers – have already had to reduce their costs through publication suspensions, pay reductions, lay-offs or furloughs. Many more face the prospect of cutbacks as companies prepare to reduce their budgets to remain profitable – or survive – Covid-19 revenue losses.

Below, Press Gazette has mapped all of the publications found to be at risk in some way. There are likely to be even more than the 1,007 cases documented here, both across the United States and beyond.

The interactive map, which readers can explore further by zooming in to different areas, highlights more than 1,000 publications or companies that have made or face cutbacks due to coronavirus. In some cases within large companies, it is not yet clear where exactly the cuts have or will hit, but most – if not all – publications have been included in the map to indicate that they are at risk.  The largest publishers included have their own colour of pin assigned to their publications. All other publications have yellow pins.  In the vast majority of cases, publications can be found at their headquarters or postal address. In some cases it was not possible to find these details and so publications have been placed in the areas they cover. 

‘This is absolutely brutal’

Small newspaper publishers, reliant on local advertisers for their revenue, have been hit particularly badly.

One Illinois-based publisher, which had 15 local papers, has already gone out of business, according to local reports.

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Several smaller firms, which produce either one or a handful of community publications, have either laid off staff, suspended publication or pleaded with their readers for donations.

In a message to his readers, Michael Wagner, publisher of the San Antonio Current – which laid off ten members of staff in mid-March – said: “This is absolutely brutal – the worst-case scenario… Never in our wildest dreams did we anticipate this, and we are heartbroken to have to let go of these hardworking and talented people.”

At larger publishers, it is currently unclear where exactly the axe will fall, although pay and working hour cuts are being introduced widely across several of them.

Gannett, which owns USA Today and more than 260 other daily publications in North America, announced plans last Wednesday to make $100-125m of savings this year in response to the Covid-19 crisis. These cost cuts come on top of other savings that were already planned.

Gannett, which owns Newsquest in the UK, said its latest savings would be achieved through staff cuts, furloughs, “significant pay reductions for senior management”, and the cancellation of “non-essential travel and spending”.

Lee Enterprises, which owns 75 daily newspapers and is operational across 26 states, has also announced plans to introduce a series of pay reductions and furloughs.

Poynter last week reported on an internal memo revealing that there will be a 20 per cent reduction in executive pay, while all other employees will receive either a pay cut or furlough equivalent to two weeks of salary later this year.

Adams Publishing Group is forcing full-time workers to have their hours cut to 30 per week, with salaried workers taking a 25 per cent pay cut, one of its publications – the Milton Courier – reported. The company owns more than 100 newspapers across 20 states.

In addition, several smaller independent firms (yellow pins) have either suspended publication, temporarily laid off staff – or both. Many of these cuts are being documented by the Nieman Lab.

Elsewhere, cuts across MediaNews Group – which owns several large, well-known newspapers including the Denver Post and the Los Angeles Daily News – are emerging in dribs and drabs.

Away from newspapers, several magazines and consumer websites have announced cuts, including Buzzfeed, Vice, Sports Illustrated owner Maven, Bustle Digital Group and Gizmodo owner G/O Media.

‘Existential crisis’

Press Gazette reported last week how the News Media Alliance had written to President Donald Trump asking for assistance for the industry as it faces an “existential crisis”.

After being shown Press Gazette’s research for this article, NMA head David Chavern renewed his call for assistance from the government. 

“Covid-19 has caused a sharp contraction in advertising markets generally, which is putting a huge strain on news publishers,” he said.  “And this is just at the moment when their journalism is more critical than ever.

“We need to look at government advertising programs and other forms of short-term support for the industry.

“However, once the Covid-19 crisis subsides, we also need to return to the larger questions of how news content is distributed and valued. With other forms of content (music, cable TV), the distributors pay for some of the cost. Our distributors are Google and Facebook are there won’t be a long-term answer until they return more value back to journalism.”

Can you help? If you can improve our map in any way – e.g. by providing further details of cuts or updating any information we have gathered – please let us know.

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