Congress is working on Round 3 of financial relief, and this next one needs to support local news organizations, including this newspaper, whose reporters work every day to ensure the community stays informed during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Many local newspapers are suffering, in part, because their structures prevent them from enrolling in the new Payroll Protection Program, a product of Congress’ second relief package. The Gazette, Beloit Daily News and Milton Courier are examples of small operations that are part of a larger company, Adams Publishing Group, which is too large to qualify for payroll assistance via forgivable Small Business Administration loans.
Local news has rarely been in such high demand, and yet revenues have plummeted as newspapers’ main source of income, advertising, dries up. Many advertisers are brick-and-mortar operations forced to close or reduce services as a result of safer-at-home orders. Many of those companies capitalizing on this crisis, such as the e-commerce giant Amazon, don’t support local news.
The situation is as bleak as it looks, with Gazette reporters and other staff restricted to 30-hour work weeks.
Without local newspapers, residents would be left in the dark on many COVID-19 developments. News reporters not only gather information from government sources, they work to fill in the information gaps. For example, when Rock County Public Health Department Health officials refused to identify a residential facility with a COVID-19 outbreak, The Gazette alone identified this facility, believing in the public’s right to know.
And in this space, we repeatedly have called on officials—from school board to the state level—to be transparent in their dealings. Without newspapers, communities would lose one of their few advocates capable of exposing local government misdeeds and pushing for reforms.
We’re not shy about touting The Gazette’s contributions to the community, and readers shouldn’t take these contributions for granted. Gazette reporters and editors have a passion for their work, but it comes at a cost. News doesn’t just appear from the ether. It takes time and effort to produce.
Thankfully, newspapers have allies in Congress, including Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin. She is one of 19 senators to sign an April 8 letter to Senate leaders calling on them to help local news organizations. “Reliable local news and information has been critically important during the COVID-19 pandemic, yet it has become more scarce,” they wrote. “Any future stimulus must contain funding to support this industry at such a critical time.”
Along with allowing newspapers owned by larger companies to qualify for payroll assistance, the federal government should spend billions of dollars on public service advertising in local newspapers until the effects of safer-at-home orders abate.
The federal government and Federal Reserve have worked aggressively to ensure Wall Street gets everything it needs to stay afloat, even buying up Wall Street’s junk bonds. Now, the feds need to do more for Main Street, which includes aiding newspapers.
We’re encouraged by the 19 senators’ support, but newspapers need lawmakers in the House to step up, too. Leaving behind our industry in the next rescue package would be unacceptable.