In a small win for the journalism industry, the Seattle Times and Tampa Bay Times were each granted a loan that would ensure the publications could avoid layoffs and pay cuts for its staff. The collapse in advertising revenue during the pandemic exacerbated the already perilous financial position of news outlets, who have been decimated by Google and Facebook’s monopolistic actions. The Tampa Bay Times was even forced to cut back to two days a week of printed copies. The forgivable loans will allow these newsrooms to obtain some sense of normalcy but won’t nearly restore the damage done during this crisis.
Seattle Times Co. President Alan Fisco noted that “at least for now, we are putting on the back burner any plans for broad scale layoffs, or cuts to hours worked. There still may be some targeted reductions, but nothing to the extent of cuts we would have had to make without this support.” And while this is an essential step to help news media survive this crisis, thousands of local outlets have been unable to get these specific loans. Despite being deemed an essential service, newsrooms again have been left out of the recent round of federal relief that doesn’t provide direct assistance for news outlets.
Unlike other industry rescue packages, there is real potential that the government could recoup all or most of the support it provides to news outlets. Australian regulators recently forced Google to pay licensing fees to news outlets. U.S. federal and state antitrust regulators are pursuing both Google and Facebook in a major investigation. Google and Facebook have siphoned off tens of billions in ad revenue from news publishers through their exploitation of the digital advertising market. That revenue used to sustain the journalism industry and part of any antitrust settlement can be used to repay the relief package.
John Stanton, laid-off former D.C. Bureau Chief at BuzzFeed and co-founder of the Save Journalism Project,
Access to these loans is helpful to keep these outlets afloat, but a drop in the bucket for an industry that has already been crushed by Google and Facebook, and now the coronavirus. More than 33,000 reporters and staff at news outlets have been forced out of their jobs or subjected to pay cuts during this crisis. What we need is a specific funding pool for news outlets to ensure that the money goes directly to the local outlets that need it, rather than the private equity vultures who are preying on the industry. News publishers have already been bled dry by big tech. What they need now is the government to help them survive this crisis or else the local news business may be completely wiped out.