“Today, I have steady income that will allow me to weather this epidemic for now, without worrying where my next assignment is coming from,” Chang wrote. “While I was lucky enough to have money saved up from previous jobs, the slowdown in work under coronavirus could have been disastrous if I were living paycheck-to-paycheck as many freelancers do.”
Monica Castillo, a freelance film critic and writer, told CNN Business that on March 18 she started receiving emails from small and mid-size outlets she frequently contributed to about budget freezes.
“It’s weird that so many things are changing in the movie industry, and there’s nowhere for me to cover it,” Castillo said. “I’m down to my last three assignments and then once those are done, there’s nothing. I haven’t been this out of work since, I can’t remember when, since maybe the start of my career.”
Local papers furloughing
Local newsrooms continue to face constraints on their business and this especially troubling during a global pandemic with local ramifications. New Orleans is one of the fastest growing hot spots of coronavirus cases in the US. With the sharp increase in cases and hospitals running out of capacity, the community needs access to quality information more than ever.
On Monday, Editor Peter Kovacs and Publisher Judi Terzotis of the The Advocate in Baton Rouge publicly announced they would be “temporarily furloughing about a tenth of our 400-member workforce, and the rest of us will begin four-day workweeks.” The Advocate had absorbed The New Orleans’ Times-Picayune last year after the latter lost more than 150 staffers in a round of layoffs.
Kovacs and Terzotis said on Monday, “Our newsroom, with about 120 employees, is the largest in Louisiana, and the furloughs will chiefly impact people who cover sports and social events, which have been curtailed.”
In an interview with CNN Business, Kovacs emphasized the “temporarily” of that statement. Kovacs added that less than half of his newsroom’s sports department had been furloughed.
“We think we’ll do well once this is over. We just don’t know what over means,” Kovacs said. “I think this is a case of us wanting to be cautious early about not really understanding the duration of this mostly.”
Some of the remaining sports reporters have switched beats to cover other topics such as the local government.
“[Hurricane] Katrina had this quality too. We had a much bigger staff in those days, but you had some parts of the newspaper where there was no content being created and other parts where there was too much content,” Kovacs said.
What the future holds
Rick Edmonds, media business analyst at Poynter, told CNN Business that he is seeing more newsrooms furlough employees rather than lay them off.
“Furloughs are where you anticipate there’s a pretty good chance you want to bring them back. You don’t want to lose good employees,” Edmonds said. “Do what needs to be done to respond to a sharp drop but not to cripple the strategy.”
Governments in other countries are getting involved to help keep their media industries afloat. The BBC, which is supported by government-mandated fees paid for by UK citizens, is suspending a plan to cut 450 jobs.The cuts would have saved £40 million, but the BBC’s director general said it “would be inappropriate” given the need to cover the crisis. The Canadian government announced on Thursday its plan to spend $30 million on an ad campaign for coronavirus awareness.
“Right now, it is more important than ever that Canadians have access to the latest news and information,” said Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. “To ensure that journalists can continue to do this vital work, our government is announcing new measures to support them.”
Could federal or state support come to the aid of US newspapers? Not likely, said Joel Kaplan, an associate dean for professional graduate studies and professor of magazine, newspaper and digital journalism at Syracuse University.
“I definitely don’t see the federal government being involved,” Kaplan said. “They are involved to the extent that they contribute to PBS and NPR.” Both NPR and PBS are public broadcasters funded by the US government.
But Kaplan said US media couldget a subscription boost from individuals looking for reliable coronavirus news and businesses running more ads when they reopen.
“We’re in an unbelievable crisis that no one’s ever seen in anyone, who’s alive, lifetime, and guess what their lifeline is? It’s the local news media because it’s the only way they’re keeping informed,” Kaplan said.