A powerful news union is urging Congress to act to save the struggling media sector before some outlets have no choice but to close their doors.
In the same week that it emerged Gannett, Maven Media, Group Nine and Vice Media have been forced to implement a number of drastic measures such as furloughs, layoffs, and pay cuts to keep the lights on, the NewsGuild-CWA, which represents thousands of journalists in the U.S., is pushing for provisions via a stimulus from Congress that will protect news operations.
This includes a publicly financed fund to support newsrooms and media workers to prevent layoffs, as well as zero-interest loans from the Small Business Administration for news start-ups. It also called on the government to introduce job protection measures for journalists such as a prohibition against layoffs, furloughs, pay cuts and buyouts.
“Journalists are working on never-ending deadlines and risking their own health to provide life-saving information to a nation sheltering in place,” NewsGuild president Jon Schleuss said. “News is an essential service and our country can’t afford to lose it during this pandemic.
“We cannot stand by and let news organizations in our communities die,” he continued. “Public stimulus funds are the only way to ensure the long-term viability of the news organizations people rely on.”
Under the NewsGuild’s proposal, public support for news-gathering operations would come with strings attached as publications would be required to remain independent from partisan influence. Media companies would also be prohibited from using public money for executive bonuses, dividends, stock buybacks or golden parachutes.
A $2.2 trillion bailout package including $349 billion for small businesses was recently approved, but Schleuss doesn’t believe this will help enough news outlets across the country and that’s why he wants specific measures for journalists in the next one.
“It will help some businesses that are small enough to get the funding to cover payroll, but it doesn’t help some of the larger chains and it doesn’t really help the workers at some of the larger chains, who are already being furloughed. They’re going to get some benefits from the current stimulus bill, but it’s not going to be enough to keep staffing levels where they are,” he said of that package.
“My big concern is that we entered this pandemic without enough journalists and other media workers to cover this story because it’s the largest story of our lifetimes and a lot of communities need to know where can they get access to testing, how many people are dead and how many cases have happened in their neighborhoods and communities.”
The union stressed that even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, many newsrooms had been reduced to skeletal staffs and some had disappeared altogether due to declining ad revenue, corporate consolidations and asset-stripping by vulture capitalists. The crisis has only exacerbated these issues, especially that of plummeting advertising revenue.
Indeed, many media bosses, including Gannett ceo Paul Bascobert, who will waive his salary for the time being as he furloughs many staffers, have pointed to the fact that a surge in engagement, especially in COVID-19 stories, has not been matched with a rise in advertising as brands slash marketing budgets. Adding to these industrywide woes, it has been reported that some brands have blocked their ads from appearing on COVID-19 content at major news outlets’ sites, acting as a further drag on revenue.
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