NewsGuild to congressional leaders: News coverage must be a priority in the next stimulus package

For Immediate Release: April 9, 2020
Contact: Sally Davidow | sdavidow@cwa-union.org | 202-368-3324

‘More Americans will die’ if they cannot access critical information

The NewsGuild-CWA told congressional leaders that public funding to continue news coverage must be a priority in the next stimulus package, writing on Thursday, “More Americans will die” if they cannot access the critical information news outlets provide.

“As the nation shelters indoors, Americans are turning to local, regional and national news in record numbers for life-saving information,” NewsGuild President Jon Schleuss wrote in a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

“Many publications have lowered digital paywalls to provide COVID-19 coverage for free,” Schleuss wrote. “At the same time, the news industry is seeing plummeting ad revenue created by business closures.

“At this moment when Americans need reliable, community-focused coverage, we risk losing it all,” he warned.

Read the full letter here.

The loss of revenue is already devastating local news coverage. News outlets across the country have cut staff significantly and furloughed employees. Some have reduced publication and distribution, or stopped publishing altogether. In New Orleans, which is facing one of the most dire outbreaks of COVID-19 in the nation, the local paper has seen online readership quadruple, even as a decline in revenue led to the furlough of 10 percent of the staff.

“This is the worst possible time to eliminate or weaken crucial sources of local information, given the rapid spread of the virus, the frequently changing directives from governments and the urgent need to update information about sources of assistance,” Schleuss said. 

Funding recipients must remain independent of partisan influence, he said, but, he added, “Failing to protect our local news literally puts lives at risk.” 

To protect the news industry’s ability to continue serving the public, the NewsGuild said Congress should adopt measures that include:

  • A publicly financed fund to support newsrooms and media workers to prevent layoffs furloughs and pay cuts;
  • Requirements that news outlets receiving aid remain independent from partisan influence, demonstrate a need for the assistance, report on how funds have been spent and be prohibited from engaging in mergers and acquisitions resulting in job losses, leveraged buyouts and anti-union activity, and from using funds for executive bonuses, stock buybacks or dividends;
  • A prohibition on job cuts by participating companies;
  • Requirements that recipient companies provide ongoing information on staff diversity;
  • Ensuring that one-quarter of seats on boards of directors be held by non-management employees at recipient publications;
  • A separate mechanism to establish a Small Business Administration program of no-interest loans for the creation of news start-ups, including nonprofits and employee-owned co-ops;
  • Tax deductibility for the cost of subscriptions to any news product;
  • Incentives for local ownership to encourage chains to sell to local owners and community interests;
  • A nationwide federal advertising program to promote public health, participation in the federal census and other topics of national interest.

“Communities across the country are in dire need of assistance to preserve access to life-saving news. By enacting the support package described above, you can protect that access and keep communities connected during this crisis,” Schleuss wrote.

###

The NewsGuild-CWA represents more than 24,000 journalists and other media workers in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico. The Guild is a sector of the 700,000-member Communications Workers of America.