The Alliance has been working over the last six weeks to enhance the ability of newspapers to get recognition and relief during the COVID-19 pandemic – making sure that newspapers are recognized as “essential” businesses; fighting restrictions that would have excluded certain newspapers under the original CARES Act; and advocating for a delay in pension payments. We have continued to work over the last couple of weeks to expand the SBA loan program to more newspaper companies and to encourage the federal government to immediately direct current spending on advertising to local media outlets.
The value of local newspapers and the journalism that you produce has never been recognized more. Yet, 50-80 percent declines in advertising revenue threaten existing operations and the public service role that you play.
That is why we are asking you for help. The Alliance and others in the industry are pursuing the following proposals, which Congress could enact to help local newspapers through this crisis and ensure they are around to cover the next one.
The best way to communicate your views to your representatives in Washington is to share your own personal stories outlining what your newspaper has been doing to serve your community during the COVID-19 crisis: explain how the crisis has negatively impacted the newspaper’s financial position; threatens the livelihood of your employees; and jeopardizes your ability to continue to provide news and information in your community.
How Can You Engage with Your Representatives and Senators?
You can deliver your personal stories and the proposed solutions below by:
- Contacting the Washington office of your representative and senators and ask to speak with their chief of staff.*
- Contacting your district office that is closest to your newspaper and ask to talk with the office director.
- Encouraging your state press association to convene a Zoom (or other platform) video conference with your senators and representatives.
- Writing an editorial in support of the legislative proposals.
- Publishing an op-ed by Alliance President & CEO David Chavern (download the op-ed here) outlining the challenges facing newspapers and what Congress can do about it.
- Ask your House Representative to sign on to a letter authored by Chairman David Cicilline (D-RI) and Ranking Member Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) supporting the SBA fix. Deadline this Friday. Congressmembers should sign on with House staff here: Joseph.VanWye@mail.house.gov.
*You can access a directory for representatives and senators to get office locations, phone numbers and e-mail addresses here.
Introduction for Your Communications:
The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that when we face our largest challenges, one of our greatest needs is access to reliable news and information. Local newspapers, with their professional journalists and production and distribution teams, are on the front lines providing critical public health information to local communities. Newspapers have continued their operations, keeping individuals and families that are isolated from one another informed and connected. Yet newspapers’ ability to serve their communities is being severely undermined by the financial harm imposed by the current crisis.
Advertising is the lifeblood of newspapers. Unfortunately, the rapid and continued decline in advertising revenue from local businesses as a result of the pandemic is having an immediate impact on newspapers’ capacity to maintain their operations. Advertising revenue has dropped by 50-80 percent, depending upon the market, and this is likely to continue in the months ahead. It has been reported that 33,000 newspaper employees have either lost their jobs, been furloughed or had their pay reduced. Some weekly newspapers have either shut down forever or suspended operations, not knowing if they will return. This trend will continue unless Congress takes action.
Proposed Solutions for Congress to Help Local Newspapers During the COVID Crisis
- Expand the SBA’s Paycheck Protection Program: Many local newspapers and broadcasters exist within larger organizations and are not able to benefit from the SBA’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). We seek an amendment to allow for an affiliation waiver for news publishers to receive funds, and only to be used for the individual newspaper, regardless of whether they are grouped with other small newspapers or owners with non-news businesses. This would allow all newspapers to benefit from the SBA loan program. All of the local media outlets that gather and report the news in their communities and have been harmed by the COVID-19 crisis should be eligible for the PPP program.
- Fund Federal Advertising Spending in Newspapers and Other Local Media: Local newspapers and broadcasters can provide the federal government with unparalleled reach to communities across the country. Congress should provide at least $5 billion for a public advertising campaign in local media to provide vital information to citizens around health, education and economic development, which should include a locally administered public education campaign on what is expected of citizens when their community “opens up” again in the months ahead. Government advertising should be distributed across local media sectors and equitably allocated across large, medium and small communities.
- Support Journalism Jobs in Local Communities: 33,000 newspaper employees have either been laid off, furloughed or seen their pay reduced. To address the layoffs and furloughs, Congress should consider additional means to support small publishers and maintain newsroom employment just when we need local journalists the most.
- Adopt Small Changes to New Pension Law: In December, Congress passed retirement security legislation – called the SECURE Act – that provided pension relief to independent newspapers. Unfortunately, the language of the new law inadvertently excludes a handful of independently controlled newspapers that have been serving their local communities, in some cases, for more than 100 years. In this time of disruption to revenues that support local journalism, Congress should make small changes to this new law that will help these news organizations.
Members of the News/Media Alliance staff have contributed to this post.