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As they shrink, are local newspapers protecting their “iron core” of local government coverage? This paper says no
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April 15, 2020, 2:59 p.m.
LINK: www.nytimes.com  ➚   |   Posted by: Joshua Benton   |   April 15, 2020

Having seen the initial damage done to alt-weeklies and city magazines, the coronavirus’ visible impact on the news business has shifted squarely to daily newspapers. Anecdotal whispers of advertising declines of 30, 40, even 50 percent are circulating. Tuesday afternoon, via the Los Angeles Times, we got a scary look at what hath COVID-19 wrought.

“Due to the unexpected effects of Covid-19, our advertising revenue has nearly been eliminated,” said a memo to the staff on Tuesday from Chris Argentieri, the president of California Times, the publishing company that includes The Times and The San Diego Union-Tribune.

“Nearly been eliminated.” That’s quite a phrase — one that makes talk of this as an extinction-level event for much of local news seem measured.

A different memo was slightly more calming: “The Times has lost more than one-third of its advertising revenue and expects to lose more than half of its advertising revenue in the coming months.”

It’s those coming months that are the important variable here — how long local businesses are shut down will determine how long advertising in local media is depressed. As we’ve heard from publishers throughout the last month-plus of anxiety: If this is a few weeks, we can make it. If this is still happening come summer, we’re done.

The L.A. Times memos did not announce any major impacts to the newsroom beyond pay cuts for some editors and executives. The biggest cuts were on the business side, where ad sales people find themselves unable to sell ads. But remember, the L.A. Times newsroom unionized last year — meaning that any cuts there must be (or at least should be) discussed with guild leadership. That could well mean newsroom cuts are just delayed, not avoided.

For the record, L.A. Times owner Patrick Soon-Shiong is worth $6.9 billion. Any cuts to the L.A. Times newsroom will be a choice, not a necessity.

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