Need to Know: March 31, 2020


You might have heard: “If it’s a couple of months, we’ll make it through. If it’s six months, all bets are off”: News publishers grapple with worst-case scenarios as massive advertising losses take hold (Nieman Lab)

But did you know: Gannett, responding to the coronavirus-related downturn, announces a series of cuts (Poynter)

Gannett announced yesterday that it would be implementing staff furloughs and pay reductions, including a 25% reduction for executives, to sustain the company through the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic. Reporters and editors who earn more than $38,000 annually will be scheduled to take an unpaid week off on a rotating basis. “Everyone will be touched by these changes in some form,” operating CEO Paul Bascobert in a memo to staff. “For some it will be economic, for others it will mean covering the work of a colleague on furlough, for many it will be both.”

+ Reactions: “Today, we got furloughed. In the midst of that, I got an email from someone wondering why we’re not reporting enough on COVID-19.” (Twitter, @rachelleingang); “We’re … already thinking about what we can pre-write in case X, Y or Z happens when we’re not allowed to work.” (Twitter, @ArikaHerron); “I’ve never been more grateful that my newsroom colleagues unionized … Now, united as @azrepublicguild, we have the power to push back.” (Twitter, @RebekahLSanders)

+ Noted: The Local Media Association has launched the COVID-19 Local News Fund to funnel support to independent, family-owned newsrooms covering the pandemic (LMA); International Women’s Media Foundation launches relief fund for women journalists facing severe financial hardship as a result of the coronavirus crisis (IWMF)


One way the Chicago Reader is tackling its coronavirus revenue problems: a coloring book (Nieman Lab)

After a social-distancing mandate forced the closure of Chicago’s bars, nightclubs, restaurants and concert halls, the alt-weekly Chicago Reader was facing the loss of 90% of its advertising revenue. To make up for some of that loss, it made a coloring book. The Reader collaborated with 50 local artists for the illustrations, with both sides sharing the revenue and helping to promote it. While the coloring book isn’t likely to change the Reader’s financial future, writes Joshua Benton, it’s one creative way to deal with the crisis.

+ A free service that connects journalists on deadline with health experts, and other science-writing resources for those that have been reassigned from other beats (Twitter, @laurahelmuth)


COVID-19 is spawning a global press-freedom crackdown (Columbia Journalism Review)

The World Health Organization has labeled the coronavirus an “infodemic” because of the amount of false information — much of it dangerous — that is swirling around the virus. Yet despite the need for accurate, timely information, governments around the world are cracking down on journalists in an effort to downplay the virus in their countries and suppress criticism over their response. Many are doing so through new “fake news” restrictions that give governments power to censor what they deem is disinformation about the pandemic.


People prefer female voices and local accents over male voices and the ‘NPR’ accent (Medill Local News Initiative)

A survey conducted by Northwestern professor Candy Lee found that participants rated female news readers and readers with local accents as more credible than male voices that sounded “proper” and “professional.” While Lee only surveyed residents of Nashville, and her findings need to be backed by wider research to reach any definitive conclusions, the initial results suggest that local news outlets “want to be more open-minded about what accents they feature in audio reports, rather than requiring the news reader to meet a generic national standard,” writes Mark Jacob.


‘Bail out journalists. Let newspaper chains die.’ (New York Times)

With ad revenue in free fall and many local news outlets teetering on the brink of failure, New York Times columnist Ben Smith argues that we should “Abandon most for-profit local newspapers, whose business model no longer works, and move as fast as possible to a national network of nimble new online newsrooms.” Smith says that many of the suggestions for sustaining local news through the pandemic don’t confront the reality that once it’s over, the revenue from print advertising and aging print subscribers is unlikely to come back. Therefore, he says, support should be channeled toward innovative new models, like those of some nonprofit and member-supported news outlets.

+ Reaction: Smith’s argument doesn’t account for the 100% name recognition most local newspapers have in their communities, Boston Globe reporter Dan McGowan writes. “It would take years (decades, maybe) for new news organizations to build true brands in communities. In the meantime, people will continue to lose faith in news orgs. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t embrace innovation … But there has to be another solution than letting important institutions fail.” (Twitter, @DanMcGowan)


‘With advertising revenues down by half, we have to make difficult choices’ (Poynter)

The Tampa Bay Times announced Monday that it is suspending print publication except on Sundays and Wednesdays. The cost savings from the print reduction, as well as staff furloughs, should sustain the Times for a few months, said Tampa Bay Times chairman and CEO Paul Tash in a Q&A with Poynter. He added that they are viewing it as a good time to “gently guide our readers toward the electronic formats.” They are not reducing subscription costs for those who receive the print and digital package, Tash said; they’re hoping that readers understand “these are extraordinary and, one hopes, temporary circumstances.”

+ Earlier: Our report on cutting print days covers deciding which days to cut, the financial and logistical planning that must happen, and how to communicate with subscribers about the change