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Local Newspapers FaceTheir Own Coronavirus Crisis


    What Americans need most right now, is news about their towns, cities and states. But as coronavirus spreads throughout the country, local newspapers are having a difficult time.

    Readers want local information. They want to know about cases in their neighborhoods, how to get tested if necessary, and which businesses are open and which are closed. Newspaper companies say online readers and subscriptions have increased. Many newspapers have removed their paywall for coronavirus stories.

    FILE - The logos of Gannett Co and its flagship newspaper, USA Today, are seen outside their corporate headquarters in McLean, Virginia, July 23, 2013.
    FILE - The logos of Gannett Co and its flagship newspaper, USA Today, are seen outside their corporate headquarters in McLean, Virginia, July 23, 2013.

    But newspapers and other publications are under financial pressure as money from advertising falls sharply. They are cutting jobs, hours and pay. Some have shut down.

    Readers are increasing at the Sun Chronicle, a daily newspaper in Attleboro, Massachusetts. It is working hard to cover the spread of the coronavirus. It’s “all we do,” said Craig Borges, who runs the paper. But, he has been forced to let go of several workers because so many local businesses are closed. The paper has about 12 people still working.

    “Hopefully we can work this out and make it through,” Borges said.

    Small newspapers are hurting

    More than 2,100 cities and towns have lost a local newspaper in the past 15 years. The Pew Research Center says that jobs in the industry have decreased by 50 percent since 2004. Many failed as readers turned to the internet for news. Then came the Great Recession of 2007-2009. In the online market, they cannot compete with Google and Facebook for advertising money.

    More recently, big national newspapers like The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal have made money by asking readers to pay to read their online stories. But smaller newspapers still need money from advertising.

    Twenty worldwide news publishers recently told International News Media Association (INMA) they expect a decrease of about 23 percent in advertising sales. The INMA says money from advertisements has fallen 20 to 30 percent in the last few weeks.

    On Monday, the largest U.S. newspaper group, Gannett, announced 15-day furloughs and pay cuts for many employees. On Tuesday, Lee Enterprises, did the same. The Tampa Bay Times cut five days of its print newspaper and announced furloughs for non-newsroom staff.

    It is even more difficult for smaller newspapers.

    In Nevada, Battle Born Media has six weekly newspapers that serve rural areas. It is decreasing or ending publication of them all. The weekly Reno News & Review has stopped operations. All the employees lost their jobs.

    Report for America is a group that gives money to reporters in local newsrooms and also to The Associated Press. It says some local newspapers have lost so much money that they may not be able to pay their reporters.

    The $2.2 trillion coronavirus aid and relief act signed last month by President Donald Trump could give money to smaller local publishers who keep their employees.

    A newspaper industry group recently sent a letter to President Trump and congressional leaders. The News Media Alliance said it is discussing future government bailout requests to ensure that news organizations remain independent.

    I’m Jill Robbins.

    The Associated Press reported this story. Susan Shand adapted it for Learning English. Mario Ritter, Jr. was the editor.


    Words in This Story

    subscription– agreement to pay a company to get a publication or service regularly

    paywall– n.having to pay to see an online article

    furlough– n.a period when an employee is told not to come to work and is not paid

    relief– or aid

    bailout– n.the act of saving or rescuing a business from financial problems