July 27, 2020 – As pressure on Congress intensifies to renew emergency funding for individuals and industries whose finances have been devastated by COVID-19, NewsGuild-CWA President Jon Schleuss is urging Senate leaders to support the Local News and Emergency Information Act of 2020 (S. 3718). The bipartisan bill would expand eligibility under the Paycheck Protection Program so that individual publications that are part of large chains would qualify for assistance.
“The importance of small- and mid-sized news outlets has never been more starkly apparent than in the past few months, as our country fights through a pandemic and an economic downturn,” Schleuss wrote to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) on July 22.
“That downturn has hit the news industry hard, with many outlets reporting losses of up to 40% of advertising revenue this spring. That decline in ad revenue has led to layoffs, furloughs and reduced publication of news at a time when readers are looking for information that can save lives: where to go to be tested; infection rates and hospital capacities; and stories of heroism, self-sacrifice and hope.
“Many of the smallest news organizations have found a lifeline in the form of the Paycheck Protection Program, with more than 450 news organizations in each of the 50 states receiving PPP loans under the CARES Act. But many small-town papers and broadcasters are part of national chains, which have too many employees nationwide to be eligible for PPP loans.”
“To put it in terms that will matter to your constituents,” he told Sen. McConnell, “many of Kentucky’s largest newspapers are owned by national chains. Since April, Gannett, the nation’s largest newspaper chain, has furloughed its journalists at all 261 newspapers it owns an average of one week per month—meaning on any given day, 25% of the reporters are at home, not working, not getting paid and not covering issues important to Kentuckians. The situation is as bad or worse in other media outposts in communities across the country: every ‘daily’ newspaper in Wyoming has canceled at least one day of printing; more than 50 newspapers across the country have shut down permanently since the start of the pandemic…
“The essential importance of a free and vibrant press has been an acknowledged feature of American democracy enshrined in the First Amendment of the Constitution,” Schleuss said. “And from the dawn of the Republic, newspapers received preferential postal rates, government support for the vital role of the press in building an informed citizenry.
“Local voices will be diminished with each local news outlet that shutters, and the perspective that shapes opinion about a small community will come from national outlets. When journalists are not working because they are sidelined by furloughs and layoffs, news goes unreported and Americans are uninformed. The vacuum of information is filled with fear, rumor and strife, mediated by technological media platforms based thousands of miles away.
“I urge you and Senate leadership to include the provisions of the Local News and Emergency Information Act, S. 3718, into the next recovery package, and allow every news outlet in America to return its journalists to the streets of our cities and towns. This assistance can save jobs, save lives and save our democracy.”