April 21, 2020
Journalists Become Essential in a Crisis – But COVID-19 May Cost Them Their Jobs
The COVID-19 pandemic looks like a blessing and a curse for journalism.
As Donna Gordon Blankinship news and politics editor at Crosscut, a regional publication serving the Pacific Northwest, eloquently noted, “ The public seems to have an almost desperate need for information, guidance and clarity. Journalism has become essential again.”
But while journalism has never been more important, the media business has rarely been so unstable, as publishers begin to feel the impact of an economy on lockdown.
- Readers Can’t Get Enough News: The unprecedented nature of this pandemic has inspired consumers to lean on the media during this time of crisis. Pew Research Center confirmed, “around six-in-ten U.S. adults (57%) say they are following the news about the virus very closely, and an additional 35% are following it fairly closely, according to the survey of 11,537 adults who are members of the Center’s American Trends Panel.”
- Traffic Is Up: According to data from Parse.ly, a company that measures content performance for more than 3,000 high-traffic news sites, readers’ hunger for coronavirus coverage has driven record-breaking page views for several prominent news sites. The Atlantic confirmed multiple days of historic traffic, and significant subscription growth, particularly since covering the coronavirus.
- COVID-19 News Output Reaches Great Heights: The number of articles generated on COVID-19 has also exploded. According to Cision’s Global Insights team, which tracks COVID-19 media in real time, 39,596,388 total news articles have been written globally about the virus since January 1. In addition, according to social media monitoring and analytics platform Talkwalker, as of April 17, there had been 11.1 million mentions of COVID-19 on social media, blogs, news websites and forums. And that was just in the previous 24 hours!
- Cable News Riding High: We aren’t just reading the news. “As millions of Americans are in self-quarantine and practicing social distancing, a huge boost in television ratings, including cable news networks that have been providing roughly 24-hour coronavirus coverage,” Fox News reports.
The economic fallout from COVID-19 has, however, been devastating for the media business.
- Reporter Layoffs Prevalent: The New York Times reports that about 28,000 journalists have been laid off, furloughed or taken pay cuts as a result of the economic downturn.
- Alt Weeklies Face Uncertainty: As reported by The Daily Beast, “The pandemic has gutted revenue for alt weeklies, causing mass layoffs and threatening their existence.” The Associated Press also recently wrote an extensive piece on how “local newspapers are facing their own coronavirus crisis.”
- Popularity of News Podcasts Declines: According to NiemanLab, people staying at home all the time is harming podcasts. U.S. weekly podcast download growth was: -3% the week of April 6-12, -1% the week of March 30 – April 5, -4% the week of March 23-29, -2% the week of March 16-22, and -1% during the week of March 9-15, across all Podtrac measured podcasts.
- Ad Revenue Dying: The COVID-19 crisis will force media outlets to make crucial decisions, much sooner than they expected, because of their heavy reliance on ad revenues. Twenty global news publishers recently surveyed by the International News Media Association expect a median 23% decline in 2020 ad sales as a result of coronavirus fallout.
- Non-Profit Models: A Lifeline? Elizbeth Green, a founder of the nonprofit education news organization Chalkbeat and co-founder of non-profit organization, the American Journalism Project, an organization that supports social entrepreneurs in building sustainable nonprofit news organizations where they live, recently told the New York Times that her non-profit organization might offer a good solution. “The time is now to make a painful but necessary shift: Abandon most for-profit local newspapers, whose business model no longer works, and move as fast as possible to a national network of nimble new online newsrooms. That way, we can rescue the only thing worth saving about America’s gutted, largely mismanaged local newspaper companies — the journalists,” she said.
- Facebook Offers Support: While Facebook made a commitment in January of 2019 to invest $300 million in local news programs, partnerships and content over the next three years; the company recently announced an additional $100 million investment to support the news industry during the COVID-19 crisis—$25 million in emergency grant funding for local news through the Facebook Journalism Project, and $75 million in additional marketing spend to move money to news organizations around the world.
- The CARES Act Could Help: NiemanLab recently reported that media companies with fewer than 1,000 employees will turn to the $300-billion-plus allocation for the Small Business Administration for support. It’s to be determined however whether it will be the lifeline they need to stay afloat.
As news organizations across the country adapt to these new challenges and opportunities, we will continue to carefully monitor and report on the resulting data and trends. We believe the principles of journalism play a critical role in driving a smarter conversation and that true authorities have a responsibility to participate skillfully in the ongoing conversation. We know that earning opportunities to express a point of view through traditional media is an effective way for professional services firms to move audiences through the sales funnel, despite the uncertainty facing media outlets today.
What is certain from our standpoint is that in an era of smaller staffs and a 24-hour news cycle, at Greentarget we will strive to continue be empathetic to reporters. We know reporters are in dire need of authorities with perspectives that serve the rapidly evolving needs of the audiences they serve as this pandemic continues to evolve. We will continue to deliver.