Coronavirus Crisis Brings Out Newspapers Importance–and Vulnerabilities

Joel Fox
Editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily

News sites have pushed most everything aside to report and explain the pandemic that has hit the planet. But despite this service, because of the economic downfall accompanying the virus, newspapers are in jeopardy.

While the image of broadcast media dominating the news-cycle is keyed by the daily televised press conferences of public officials, newspapers continue to show their importance. 

Newspapers keep readers informed online as well as in print covering the many various angles tied to the pandemic. Take a look at the comprehensive collection of coronavirus news stories that are posted every day on the California’s leading news aggregator, Rough & Tumble.

But newspapers find themselves victims of the virus as well. The Los Angeles Times informed readers that it would have to slim down its publication because the economic hit on businesses means less advertising for the paper. Other papers around the country suffering the same circumstances have laid off employees. 

Readers also worry if they should be handling the print editions during these times. The Wall Street Journal published a frontpage notice that the World Health Organization said it was safe to handle newspapers. Other papers inform their readers that machines do the production and folding of newspapers meaning there is little human contact with the product. But readers might wonder are those workers delivering papers following the health guidelines? 

While digital newspaper readership is up, it cannot make up for the lost advertising revenue. Meanwhile, the papers fulfill their important function of providing information in a time of crisis by lowering their online paywalls on stories important to members of the communities they cover.

Newspapers vulnerability at this time raises a question: Should government step in to save this core function of American democracy just as government has offered aid to other large and small businesses damaged by the Covid-19 situation? Newspapers are businesses.

Yet, offering government grants to news organizations would upset the proper balance of newspapers’ role in society.  Journalists relying on government money will find it more difficult to question those in power. 

There may be other ways for government to assist newspapers as businesses. If the business side of newspapers are taxed, they could receive tax credits.

Government must not abridge the press, neither should it pay for it. That means it is up to those who rely on and consume the news—so necessary all the time not just at times like these—to help keep newspapers afloat.

 

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