Nieman Foundation at Harvard
BREAKING: The ways people hear about big news these days; “into a million pieces,” says source
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March 26, 2020, 10:17 a.m.
LINK:  ➚   |   Posted by: Joshua Benton   |   March 26, 2020

A week ago, I wrote about the impact of coronavirus — or, more accurately, the necessary public health response to coronavirus — on the nation’s alt-weeklies, whose entertainment-and-events-driven advertising made it especially vulnerable to a policy of enforced isolation.

But: “All local print and digital media will face some version of this pain; alt-weeklies are just the first canary to feel woozy.” Next in line: city magazines, the glossy monthlies that — when they aren’t busy ranking your burg’s Best Lawyers or Best High Schools or Best Plastic Surgeons Good At Keeping Secrets — can also feature good in-depth reporting on important issues.

Their ad mix is also high on entertainment, though more upmarket than the alts — steakhouses and cigar bars instead of nightclubs and black-box theaters. But the steakhouses are just as shut down as everyone else — who wants a Porterhouse in styrofoam takeout? — and city mags are feeling the financial pressure.

The first fatality I noticed was San Diego Magazine, which shut down Monday. Though its owner holds out hope of reopening someday — “San Diego Magazine is a 72-year-old brand and I will not let it die” — the entire staff was laid off other than two financial folks to close up the books.

In Folio, Greg Dool has a good look at the larger phenomenon, which thus far hasn’t seen the same scale of closures that alt-weeklies have, but plenty of layoffs, salary cuts, and crossed fingers. (Though monthly magazines by nature operate on a slower calendar than a weekly.)

“After this has peaked, there will be plenty to report about if, when and how places are coming back,” says Margaret Seiler, managing editor at another city magazine, Portland Monthly. “But those activities that have ground to a halt include a lot of our advertisers, too. So while we’re pivoting to more immediate digital coverage and revamping plans for our sure-to-be-delayed next print issue, we’re also not sure we’ll all still be employed.”

Mike Schaffer, editor of the D.C.-based monthly Washingtonian, notes that while paid circulation and a diversity of advertisers has afforded the magazine some isolation from the financial issues faced by alt-weeklies, uncertainty remains.

“We’re heading into a really unprecedented economic environment,” he tells Folio:. “I don’t think anyone knows what the specific impact on media is going to be, but it’s very reasonable for people to be careful.”

That slower timetable of print means that the direct impact on city mags’ output has mostly been in digital — but there are some difficult decisions to make about the merits of pressing forward or staying off newsstands for an issue or two.

“Print is going to have a hell of a time with this,” [D Magazine online editor Matt] Goodman adds. “They publish six weeks out, and so much of this is changing within an hour to hour basis. That’s going to be the real challenge for city magazines, how do you explore this without being completely out of date? I don’t know if that’s a question that we’ve answered yet.”

Not long after the Folio story went up, Dallas’ D Magazine announced its own coronavirus-driven cuts: 15 people laid off (from a staff of 82) and salary cuts for all remaining staff.

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