A Side Effect of COVID-19: Media At Risk As Advertising Revenue Dries Up

I was listening to NPR yesterday while getting prepared to head into the Blogging Blue office. I realized that I was hearing a sponsor announcement from a business that is currently closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. And I wondered how long before those types of announcements and ads in other media would continue. Obviously businesses don’t want to advertise while they are closed and even if they wanted to run ‘brand advertising’ probably can’t afford to.

And then the flip side of that coin came to mind. How long can the media survive without a continued flow of advertising revenue. Most outlets are already suffering under the assault from social media and online business.

Well, this is the first casualty that I am aware of, but there will most likely be more.

After a 44-year run as Madison’s alternative weekly newspaper, Isthmus is shutting down operations with the hope of reinventing itself after the COVID-19 crisis comes to some sort of resolution.

“The problem is the revenue spigot has been turned off,” said Jeff Haupt, who’s owned the publications for the past 5 1/2 years. “There is no revenue. We live and die by where to go, what to do.”

This could be the canary in a coal mine of a trend that will cause irreparable harm to the free press and America’s access to news and commentary…particularly at the local level.

Although not down for the count, between its own revenue shortfalls and the loss of outlets for distribution of its print edition, Milwaukee’s Shepherd Express is suspending its print edition.

Unfortunately, the COVID-19 crisis is having a real impact on our newspaper. We are not alone in this. Most of the weekly alternative newspapers across the country like the Shepherd have temporarily shifted from both a printed newspaper and a news website to just focusing on the website. The Shepherd has tried to continue to do both, but that is proving too difficult as many places, including venues where you pick up your Shepherd each week, have temporarily closed their doors. People are also nervous about going out. Many of our advertisers are being forced to temporarily cut back their activities or completely close them down for the next month or two.

As a result, for the next several weeks, the Shepherd Express will shift its focus to our website and temporarily suspend our print edition. This is the first time the Shepherd newspaper has temporarily suspended publication in its 38 year history.

Starting next week, we will temporarily suspend our printed newspaper and focus exclusively on our news website and our various e-newsletters. We will continue to serve our readers and advertisers exclusively through our website and the e-newsletters until the current health crisis gets under control, people can comfortably resume their public recreational activities and Milwaukee’s small businesses can resume serving their customers. We must continue to support our small businesses through this tough period because they have earned our loyalty and respect.

So kids! Support your local papers anyway that you can…we will still need them when we finally come out of our bunkers!


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