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.
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.
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.