Note: This was written originally for the daily newsletter at the Columbia Journalism Review, where I am the chief digital writer
If it wasn’t already obvious that the media industry was in dire straits before the coronavirus came along, it has become abundantly obvious now. Every day, it seems, news outlets both large and small announce waves of furloughs, salary cuts, and layoffs for significant numbers of their employees — the Los Angeles Times, Tribune Publishing, BuzzFeed, McClatchy (which had already filed for bankruptcy before the pandemic), Conde Nast, even Fox Corp. have all implemented cuts. Protocol, the tech news startup launched by the owners of Politico in February, just laid off almost half its newsroom. Some newspapers in smaller communities have shut down completely, and may or may not be able to return once the economy picks up. So what should we be doing about this? Should there be some kind of government bailout? Should digital platforms like Google and Facebook be forced to subsidize a public fund for media? And if so, how would the recipients be chosen and by whom?
Those are just some of the questions CJR wanted answers to, so we convened a virtual panel on our Galley discussion platform this week with some of those who have thought long and hard about these issues. We spoke to Victor Pickard, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and author of the recent book “Democracy Without Journalism”; Craig Aaron, co-CEO of Free Press; Travis Waldron from HuffPost; David Chavern, director of the News Media Alliance; John Stanton from the Save Journalism Project; Sarah Alvarez from Outlier Media; Anne Nelson from Columbia University; Jonathan O’Connell, a financial reporter at the Washington Post; Steven Waldman, co-founder of Report For America; Chris Horne from The Devil Strip in Akron, Ohio; Melissa Davis from Colorado Media; Yosef Getachew from Common Cause; and John Schleuss, president of The NewsGuild-CWA. Those interviews and more are all available on the Galley featured page.
“it is now abundantly clear that there is no commercial solution for local journalism,” said Victor Pickard. “Local journalism was in shambles even before the pandemic struck. But now the newspaper industry – which is still our major source for original local reporting in the US – is facing existential doom. Given that context, we need immediate emergency funding.” Pickard went on to say that any funds handed out should be conditional on news outlets either becoming nonprofits or working towards that status. “Otherwise, we risk propping up failed commercial models,” he said. Craig Aaron of Free Press talked about the letter that his group, along with PEN America and Common Cause, sent to Congress, calling on the House and Senate to take immediate action to help journalists. The letter asked for emergency funds for newsrooms and increased federal appropriations for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to support public and community media of all kinds, especially in smaller communities.Continue reading