The coronavirus pandemic has created an unusual dichotomy for the media.
People are closely reading and watching news reports as they seek information about the virus, its spread in their area, the safety recommendations of experts and updates on treatments.
They want to know how many cases have been diagnosed in the world, nation and their hometown. Reporters are doing important and impressive work to inform their fellow citizens, often at a risk to their own health.
But while this vital work is being done, newspapers and the electronic media are struggling to meet revenue goals. As businesses are closed, either by their own choice or by government mandate, fewer advertisements are purchased.
This has happened in an era when newspapers especially are dealing with tremendous upheaval. As classified ads migrated online, circulation dipped and paper costs rose, the print media has endured a rough decade.
Many have not survived, with 1,800 papers having folded since 2004 and others forced to merge with former rivals. But some newspapers — including the one you are reading — are committed to not only surviving but thriving.
They are investing in their communities and covering them closely and well. The owners and staff at these papers honestly believe if they serve their readers and advertisers properly, they will be rewarded for their efforts.
Still, the pandemic has been hard on the industry. That’s why we are glad there have been journalism backers who have put their money where their passion is, supporting local media with cash grants.
The Google News Initiative was launched with a $300 million investment. This year, Google created the Journalism Emergency Relief Fund to assist papers struggling to keep the lights on in this challenging time. It has sent thousands of dollars to media outlets.
“Local news is a vital resource for keeping people and communities connected in the best of times,” said Google vice president of News Richard Gingras. “Today, it plays an even greater function in reporting on local lockdowns or shelter-at-home orders, school and park closures, and data about how COVID-19 is affecting daily life. But that role is being challenged as the news industry deals with job cuts, furloughs and cutbacks as a result of the economic downturn prompted by COVID-19.”
Facebook, which has pulled readers and dollars away from newsrooms while spreading false and misleading information every second, is pledging some assistance for the companies and reporters it relies on for much of its accurate and responsible content.
“Facebook is grateful to all journalists and newsrooms working under unprecedented conditions to cover the coronavirus health crisis and keep the world informed,” it announced. “We’re investing $100 million to support the news industry during the COVID-19 pandemic in addition to our previous $300 million commitment to serve journalists around the world through diverse and inclusive programs and partnerships.”
That will not absolve Facebook for its many sins, but it is a sign it understands the vital role honest reporters and newsrooms play in our culture.
Reporters who cover city council and school board meetings, report the crime news and tell the stories we want and need to know are more valuable than ever. Editors who put in long hours and use their experience and insights to guide and shape that work are key gatekeepers of information. Publishers who supervise and approve the process are needed to ensure it continues. Honest, fair reporting encourages people to run for office and serve in a responsible manner. It provides the information that nations, states, cities and towns need.
U.S. Sens. Joni Ernst and Charles Grassley understand the issue.
The Iowa senators, along with 72 colleagues from both parties, signed a letter sent to Russell Vought, acting director of the federal Office of Management and Budget, urging him to support local media.
“Our radio and television broadcasters and rural newspapers provide local and national news, emergency alerts, educational programs, and more to all corners of the United States. In many rural areas, broadcast stations are the predominant or only form of local information,” the letter states. “It is important that local media are able to continue to provide their services during the COVID-19 pandemic so that Americans are able to stay up to date with the latest news and information.”
It is a challenge that we have accepted and do with no complaints. This is the path we have chosen and one we are honored to follow. Like all people and companies, we long for this crisis to pass, for life and business to resume as before. But we won’t stop doing our jobs while we wait.
The work is just too important.