WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Four groups representing local newspapers and broadcast media outlets on Thursday asked U.S. lawmakers to provide assistance amid rising economic woes tied to the coronavirus outbreak, including up to $10 billion in government advertising.
Local news organizations have been hard hit, especially as many companies have stopped advertising, including entertainment-relaled companies that are barred in most places from operating.
The News Media Alliance, the National Association of Broadcasters, the National Newspaper Association and America’s Newspapers called on Congress to provide federal agencies “with an additional $5 billion to $10 billion for direct funding for local media advertising that would be evenly distributed to local media in communities of all sizes.”
On Wednesday, 19 senators backed unspecified financial support for local journalism and media in any future coronavirus relief package, saying it “should be tailored to benefit aid recipients who make a long-term commitment to high-quality local news.”
They added that “without this support, communities across the country risk losing one of their key sources of accurate information about what citizens need to know and do in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
News outlets are laying off workers, cutting pay and instituting mandatory furloughs while some smaller newspapers have suspended or reduced printing papers during the crisis. Some alternative and religious newspapers have closed in recent weeks.
The trade groups said advertising and revenue is projected to fall by at least 25%, with many outlets expecting declines of over 50%.
Unlike many other businesses, news organizations were already hurting before the pandemic. Employment at U.S. newsrooms fell 25% from 2008 to 2018, Pew Research Center reported, a loss of 28,000 jobs.
News Media Alliance President and Chief Executive David Chavern told Reuters the group that represents newspapers has spent the last few weeks “herding cats in the industry to figure out what kind of government support would make sense.”
Given media’s role in independently covering the U.S. government, Chavern added: “Any discussion about government support for the industry gets complicated quickly.”
Asked about the assisting news media outlets, House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday lawmakers are being “innundated” by sectors seeking assistance and was not aware of the specifc request.
National Association of Broadcasters President and CEO Gordon Smith called on lawmakers in a statement “to preserve advertising-supported local media outlets that are so important to the fabric of daily life.”
News organizations also want Congress to rewrite the rules for Treasury’s “Paycheck Protection Program” that gives forgivable loans to small businesses that keep people on the payroll. Many outlets are owned by companies that are too large to qualify. The group asked Congress to allow those individual local newspapers and stations to participate.
Reporting by David Shepardson; editing by Jonathan Oatis