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It now makes more revenue from digital than from print and continues to add new subscribers at a record pace. But its brutal COVID-driven drop in advertising will be echoed all across the industry.
When McClatchy declared bankruptcy in February, its debts were crushing, but its operating numbers weren’t so bad. But the coronavirus ripped away more than a quarter of its revenue in just a few weeks.
The vulture fund may be just fine with waiting a bit longer to make its next move to consolidate the local newspaper industry. Meanwhile, newsrooms wait.
By gutting local advertising overnight, COVID-19 has accelerated strategies — like cutting print days, corporate consolidation, or even closing down offices — that publishers had hoped could wait a while longer.
The coronavirus pandemic is proving the value of local news to millions of readers, driving up subscriptions. But the advertising collapse is knee-buckling. “If it’s a couple of months, we’ll make it through. If it’s six months, all bets are off.”
Declines in ad revenue and all those canceled events might prove manageable. But the real risk would come with a virus-inspired recession — and how the industry’s hedge-fund owners might respond to it.
By selling Berkshire Hathaway’s newspapers to Lee Enterprises, the world’s most successful investor is acknowledging the industry’s downhill slide is not near an end.
The news industry’s own Doctor Octopus has stuck its tentacles deep into another newspaper chain — and it’s unlikely to be dislodged anytime soon.