And Just Like That: There Goes The News

Originally reported in the Washington Post and shared on Facebook by Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter Daniel Bice…Gannet is going to furlough workers at their 100 newspapers.

Certain employees making more than $38,000 must take one week of unpaid leave in April, May and June.

According to Mr. Bice, that will include Milwaukee Journal Sentinel political reporters: Bill Glauber, Molly Beck, Patrick Marley, Mary Spicuzza, Craig Gilbert and Mr. Bice. Just as we head into a maelstrom of virtual campaigns, cancelled conventions, and misplaced primary and general elections, the news people watchdogs will be working with reduced forces. This is a new and wholly dangerous situation we find ourselves in.

Certain employees paid more than $38,000 a year at the company’s more than 100 newspapers, including USA Today, will be required to take one week of unpaid leave in April, May and June, according to a memo obtained by The Washington Post from USA Today Network President Maribel Wadsworth.

In a separate memo, Gannett chief executive Paul Bascobert told staff on Monday that while subscriptions and audience engagement was up, the company expects revenue to “decline considerably” in the second quarter and that involuntary leave would address the difficulties “head on.”

This isn’t totally unsurprising, but totally unexpected. All media is experiencing significant drops in their revenue stream as businesses that are closed or running reduced services cut back on or eliminate their advertising. We talked about that a bit ago.

“Direct sold advertising has already slowed and many businesses have paused their scheduled marketing campaigns,” Bascobert wrote.

Noted Wadsworth: “As businesses close and live events cancel across the globe for the next few months, we are seeing many advertisers and sponsors reducing or even eliminating their marketing spend. With the current pressures and so much uncertainty, it’s difficult to chart our next steps for more than the next few months.”

I am not sure what the immediate effects will be in the local market. As a long time subscriber to MJS, I have a vested interest in their continued success…despite watching them continue to shrink the print edition. And it is impossible to foresee the long term effects no matter when our current shelter at home programs come to an end. Certainly small businesses won’t have the wherewithal to immediately renew their media campaigns. And with all of the media consolidations and cost cutting they won’t have the means to turn around quickly either.

Local news is a critical point in American democracy. The national media will never cover local government, school boards, small business, or even state governments the way the local press does. COVID-19 may leave behind some pretty significant collateral damage.


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