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Thursday, April 9, 2020

News Media Get Good Reviews But Face Grim Challenges

John Gramlich at Pew:
Many U.S. news organizations are covering the coronavirus pandemic while themselves facing financial pressure from it. A growing number have announced layoffs, furloughs and other cost-cutting measures as the virus inflicts widespread pain on the economy, and these cuts come on top of years of earlier reductions in newsroom staffing, especially at newspapers.
Amid the financial challenges facing newsrooms, 54% of U.S. adults say the news media have done an excellent or good job responding to the coronavirus outbreak, according to a survey conducted March 19-24 as part of Pew Research Center’s Election News Pathways project. A slightly smaller share (46%) says the media’s response has been only fair or poor.
From LAist:
Citing plummeting advertising revenue as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, the Southern California News Group (SCNG), which operates 11 local newspapers in the region, has furloughed roughly 50 employees across its newsrooms and laid off several others, according to sources familiar with the decision. The furloughed workers include the organization’s sports and features staff, according to four current SCNG employees, who spoke with me on the condition that their names not be used. At least three of the people laid off were from the editorial team, and freelancers have also been cut, the sources said. Additional furloughs and job losses took place in the company’s other departments, including about 20 layoffs in advertising, according to one source.
From Poynter:
Bucking the newspaper industry trend, Hearst Corporation has told its newsrooms there will be no layoffs, no furloughs and no pay cuts during the course of coronavirus coverage. In fact, Hearst CEO Steven Swartz told publishers and editors in a conference call this week, the company is giving a 1% bonus to all employees, will create an added bonus merit pool later and is waiving the budget targets that determine executive bonuses. In addition, the company is taking out six-figure TV ad buys in some markets to promote the papers and their pandemic coverage. The conference call was internal, but summarized for Poynter from several sources who requested anonymity. Hearst’s 24 dailies include the San Francisco Chronicle, Houston Chronicle, San Antonio Express-News, Times Union of Albany, New York, and a Connecticut group. Other chains and individual newspapers have been making a series of disheartening cuts in response to an abrupt print advertising downturn as my colleagues Kristen Hare and Tom Jones have been reporting. And at most places, print advertising had been sinking fast even earlier in the year.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Created Equal: Coronavirus and Disability Discrimination

At Crux, Robert P. George speaks to Charles Camosy about the current COVID-19 pandemic.
Some protocols for rationing limited health care resources focus on the relative need of patients and their relative chances for getting better. Others focus on things like age, cognitive ability, and physical capacity. What sorts of ethical considerations should guide hospitals, medical groups, and other institutions who are trying to decide how they will distribute their limited medical resources?
At the core or foundation of the answer to just about every important ethical question is the principle of the profound, inherent, and equal dignity of each and every member of the human family. In making decisions — including hard, even tragic, decisions about distributing limited medical resources — it is critical that we treat every person as equal in inherent worth and dignity to every other person.
We must avoid the temptation to treat some as superior (and others as inferior) because, for example, they are young and strong (rather than old and frail) or able-bodied (rather than physically disabled or cognitively impaired). The temptation to discriminate invidiously will present itself — about that I’ll give you a money-back guarantee.
Some people will want to throw over the radical egalitarianism (all human beings are “created in the image and likeness of God”; “all men are created equal”) of the sanctity of life ethic and replace it with a “quality of life” ethic that is amenable to decision-making by utilitarian calculation. We must be firm in our resistance to anything of the sort.
If some institutions decide to ration health based purely on age or disability, might they face lawsuits for violations US civil rights law?
Yes, our federal civil rights laws (as well as many state statutes) forbid discrimination based on age or disability. To its credit, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’s Office of Civil Rights, under Roger Severino, has already spoken forcefully about the applicability of these laws when it comes to the care of patients and the allocation of health care resources. I’m glad they are getting out ahead on these issues, because, as I noted, the temptation to discriminate invidiously will come.
Some people will say, “why should that Down Syndrome person be given a ventilator when it could be given to someone who’s not ‘retarded’ and who can contribute more to society?” A fully sufficient answer should be: “because in fundamental worth and dignity, the Down Syndrome person is every bit the equal of any other person.”
But for some people, that will cut no ice. But here is an answer that will: “Because federal law forbids discrimination based on disability and you or your institution will be sued or prosecuted if you engage in such discrimination.”

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Income and Coronavirus

AP reports:
The majority of Americans remain optimistic about their own financial situation, with 62% saying that their personal finances are in good condition. Wealthier Americans are more positive about their current finances than less affluent Americans.
Thirty-nine percent think their personal finances will continue to improve over the next year, and another 42% think they will stay about the same. Just 19% think they will get worse. This remains relatively unchanged since January.

Monday, April 6, 2020

The Common Good, Associations, and Life After the Pandemic

Matthew Continetti at AEI:
Associations are key. Under a regime in which government is limited to secure the unalienable rights men and women possess because they each were created in the image of God, society is as important as the state. “The chief and most potent instrument of achieving the common good—in such a novus ordo—is not the state but the society at large, in its full range of social institutions,” [Michael] Novak wrote. “These include families, churches, schools, workers’ associations, private enterprises, and so forth. Whereas in some earlier systems or social orders, the government was believed to be the chief agent of the common good, in the novus ordo a larger and more various set of social institutions would rightfully become the primary agents of the common good.” Novak often cited the following line from Tocqueville: “If men are to remain civilized or to become civilized, the art of association must develop and improve among them at the same speed as equality of condition spreads.”
So, government is not the only means by which the common good can be pursued. Equally if not more important to human flourishing are the mediating structures of family, religion, community, vocation, and voluntary association. Yes, law, economy, society, and individual character are connected. But social causation does not follow a straight line. And just as the structure of our economic institutions might be traced to political decisions, so might the strength and weaknesses of our social institutions. From Burke to Tocqueville to Robert Nisbet, conservative social thought has catalogued the ways in which the expansive state pushes through the mediating structures by assuming their functions. Then the solitary individual is left to face the Leviathan alone. The common good and the art of association are not separate phenomena. They are linked.
A post-corona politics of the common good that recognizes freedom must be exercised within the constraints of a moral tradition; that encourages able-bodied men and women to work and form families; that makes it easier to enter a profession, buy a home, raise children; that preserves the independence of religious institutions from state interference and resists the separation of religion from society; that protects communities from lawlessness, epidemics, and external threats; and that builds the capacity of public institutions to promote transportation, health, education, research and development, and the defense industrial base would fit comfortably in the American political tradition of “freedom and justice for all.” A politics that pursues a sectarian definition of “the common good”; that models its ideal government after a religious bureaucracy with a decidedly imperfect history; and that imperiously and rather impishly rejects longstanding indigenous norms of liberty and conscience does not.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Bush and Pandemic Response

Matthew Mosk at ABC:
In the summer of 2005, President George W. Bush was on vacation at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, when he began flipping through an advanced copy of a new book about the 1918 flu pandemic. He couldn't put it down.
When he returned to Washington, he called his top homeland security adviser into the Oval Office and gave her the galley of historian John M. Barry's "The Great Influenza," which told the chilling tale of the mysterious plague that "would kill more people than the outbreak of any other disease in human history."

"You've got to read this," Fran Townsend remembers the president telling her. "He said, 'Look, this happens every 100 years. We need a national strategy.'"

Thus was born the nation's most comprehensive pandemic plan -- a playbook that included diagrams for a global early warning system, funding to develop new, rapid vaccine technology, and a robust national stockpile of critical supplies, such as face masks and ventilators, Townsend said.
The effort was intense over the ensuing three years, including exercises where cabinet officials gamed out their responses, but it was not sustained. Large swaths of the ambitious plan were either not fully realized or entirely shelved as other priorities and crises took hold.
But elements of that effort have formed the foundation for the national response to the coronavirus pandemic underway right now.

Saturday, April 4, 2020

"An Extinction-Level Event for Newspapers"

Researchers have long worried that the next recession — which economists say is already upon us — “could be an extinction-level event for newspapers,” said Penelope Abernathy, a University of North Carolina professor who studies the news industry.

More than 2,100 cities and towns have lost a paper in the past 15 years, mostly weeklies, and newsroom employment has shrunk by half since 2004. Many publications struggled as consumers turned to the internet for news, battered by the Great Recession of 2007-2009 and the rise of giants like Google and Facebook that dominated the market for digital ads.

More recently, big national newspapers like The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal have diversified revenue by adding millions of digital subscribers. Many others, however, remain heavily dependent on advertising.

Twenty global news publishers recently surveyed by the International News Media Association expect a median 23% decline in 2020 ad sales. In the U.S., newspaper ad revenues have dropped 20% to 30% in the last few weeks compared with a year ago, FTI Consulting’s Ken Harding wrote in another INMA report.

Friday, April 3, 2020

Teaching Patriotism

At Education Next, Frederick Hess and Matthew Rice report on series of conversations with a politically-diverse cross-section of leaders from education policy and practice.
Should schools teach “patriotism”? Not so long ago, simply asking this question would have prompted surprised looks. The answer would have been, “Of course.” Today, things are much murkier. The term “patriotism,” once innocuous, is now ideologically charged. The idea of teaching patriotism has become controversial, supported by the right (See “History, Critical and Patriotic,” in the Spring 2020 Education Next) and greeted with skepticism on the left. Both sides ultimately suggested that finding middle ground would require thinking about patriotism as something more complicated than “love of country.”
For those on the right, patriotism was a question of appreciating the sacrifices that have afforded Americans comfort and freedom and of all the things that unite us. In their view, patriotism is the foundation for civic instruction. On the left, “teaching patriotism” was seen as jingoistic and an excuse to downplay America’s failings. Referencing the current political climate, those on the left also saw “patriotism” as a term freighted with partisan meaning, tinged with xenophobia, and invoked by Republicans as a partisan rhetorical device. Indeed, some of the progressive participants argued that asking immigrant or minority students to be patriotic is immoral—that America needs to be worthy of patriotism before schools should teach it.
There were some intriguing efforts to devise middle ground on this score. On the right, one teacher acknowledged that because “patriotism” is such a loaded term, he prefers to talk about teaching students to be “invested” in their communities. He reasoned that patriotism is less important a goal than “stitching children into the public sphere,” thereby cultivating a sense of gratitude for our system of democracy and teaching student to appreciate our institutions without necessarily insisting on the kind of emotional attachment often implied by patriotism.
On the left, a participant suggested the much of the controversy surrounding patriotism could be sidestepped by distinguishing between patriotism and nationalism. He argued that American-style patriotism should be about loving the nation’s foundational values more than the nation itself. Translating that into practice, he argued teachers can teach students to love the ideals of America without insisting on a love of nation. After all, he observed, “teaching kids to love their country” is something that China or North Korea do—American “love of country” is something that should arise organically. Whether such approaches can help overcome the divide is an open question, but they open an opportunity worth exploring.