COVID-19 has killed many people, and it is being blamed for killing the economy (even though the economy was already dead and had been for years). Now the LA Times reports by way of Yahoo! News it is being blamed for killing newspapers, as many local newspapers, which run on tight budgets, are being forced to close down due to the economic complications caused by the virus.
More than 1,800 newspapers have folded since the internet became a prime source for news. In 2000, at least 55 million American homes subscribed to a daily paper, about double what it is today, according to Pew Research Center.
During the last two decades, newspaper chains, including McClatchy, which owns the Sacramento Bee and Miami Herald, and the former Tribune Co., owner of the Chicago Tribune, have tumbled into bankruptcy. Leveraged buyouts and consolidations have left companies mired in debt. The nation’s largest chain, Gannett Co., which owns USA Today and 250 daily newspapers, including the Arizona Republic in Phoenix and the Desert Sun in Palm Springs, merged with another large company in November. It now reaches 1 in 4 daily newspaper subscribers, but its stock has dropped 85% this year.
Newsrooms have been hollowed, print pages slashed. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, for example, prints just three days a week. Billionaire Warren Buffett, who had owned the Buffalo News since 1977 and was hailed as a savior of local journalism, in January unloaded his chain, which includes the Omaha World-Herald, to Lee Enterprises, which owns the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Buffett previously conceded that newspapers were “toast.”
Since the Great Recession, nearly half of U.S. newspaper journalism jobs have disappeared, leaving fewer than 38,000 reporters, photographers and editors.
“It’s bad and it’s going to get worse,” news industry analyst Ken Doctor said, predicting the COVID-19 crisis will further strain local news: “It’s going to be the 2009 recession on steroids.” (source)
As with most crises, those entities who tend to survive any serious recession are the largest ones. This means that many legitimate sources of local news will not only die, but their “replacements” will be large corporate news that does not care at all about communities, and will likely ignore local stories and create further control over the media industry into the hands of a few.
The media is not “the enemy”, for while there are good and bad reporters, it is just that- an outlet that reports, and while they have their biases connected to who owns the outlet, this is not a question of “the media” being “the enemy”, but rather a contest of wills between people who want to use their media companies to influence society.
It is not impossible to envision a time when it becomes so difficult to run a media outlet, with so many perils, that all media is just in a few state or state-connected corporations. This is would not be unique, as it is such for many countries around the world that the US would regularly criticize as not being “free”, and yet she is now on the path to becoming like such as it concerns herself.