The coronavirus pandemic known as COVID-19 appears to be an equal-opportunity misery-maker. With ad revenue down and a glitch in the CARES Act passed by Congress intended to provide some economic cover for small businesses, news media are being hit by the economic fallout too. With revenue threatened in addition to our own health, how can journalists continue to do our jobs and be responsible to our mission to speak truth; providing information you need to make decisions affecting your families and businesses?
Ours is the only profession protected by the First Amendment. But how do journalists tell the story of how COVID-19 is affecting communities, assure government transparency, or act as watchdogs on the actions that will be taken as more than $2 trillion of federal aid begin to flow — if no longer paid to do their jobs?
Ad revenue is a critical component of news media budgets, and it is down – way down – across all media, across the entire state. A week ago The Denver Post laid off four members of its newsroom, and this week announced that the remaining members of its newsroom have been told to each take three weeks of furlough by the end of June, 2020.
The BusinesDen reported today that a Twitter post by Denver Post reporter Jon Murray said reporters are challenging the request and consider it subject to negotiations with their union, but “our backs are probably against the wall.”
Post reporters say that people have been signing up in the past few weeks for the news organization’s online and print versions. But ad revenue is still a base of news operation budgets (including at AVV). While there are some nonprofit newsrooms that employ membership drives and grants to keep afloat, most major news organizations are “for-profit” (term used loosely even in good times) organizations.
The furlough action doesn’t just include The Denver Post. News giant Gannett Publishing owns The Coloradan in Ft. Collins,and the Pueblo Chieftain. This week it has also ordered most of its editorial staffs to take three weeks of furlough prior to the end of June as well.
While many mainstream media employ journalists on a full-time or part-time basis, news organizations work with high levels of what are called “stringers”. These are writers with specific knowledge of industry categories, providing expertise in important subject areas. They work as what is called “1099 contractors*”. But the new $2 trillion federal stimulus package, known as the CARES Act, at the moment appears to exclude 1099 workers.
This means that many workers with news organizations (just like so many other service industry workers) can’t get economic help from the federal stimulus package. Many news organization structures appear to be prevented from even applying for the current stimulus package, and their valued contractors are at risk. What are news organizations to do?
Well, for starters, Ark Valley Voice and its readers can make those in charge of administering the CARES ACT, the Small Business Administration, and the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) aware of this gap in economic relief.
Residents and business owners can urge those small businesses and 1099 contractors to speak up on social media, and to your local SBDC office. Reach out to the offices of our state elected officials: Colorado’s U.S. Senators Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner, and Congressman Doug Lamborn’s offices to tell them ” We need more help”.
Editor’s note: *”1099″ refers to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) 1099-MISC form that independent contractors receive, detailing how much they were paid each year.