Business of News

The journalism crisis across the world

March 31, 2021

Early in the pandemic, media closures, layoffs, furloughs and salary cuts spread across the globe, encompassing the US, Canada, Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, Panama, Brazil, Nigeria, Liberia, South Africa, Germany, New Zealand, The Philippines, and many others. While the media business in each country operates within its own unique norms and economic systems—and the ramifications of the pandemic are felt differently in each place—the world-wide media crisis lingers on. 

More than a year after COVID-19 spread across the globe, researchers and media reporters in some countries have been carefully tracking media industry cutbacks in the pandemic’s wake; in others, specific data is more scarce. Reporting on industry decline is a complicated matter, with “cutbacks” encompassing a broad range of changes within newsrooms, in addition to drawing some worthy attention away from the good news: the innovative and determined journalism practitioners working to fill the gaps. Still, on the whole, it’s not a pretty picture. 

The Tow Center for Digital Journalism has mapped cutbacks across the US, reporting sixty-five permanent closures and thousands of journalists experiencing pay cuts, furloughs, or lost jobs. Researchers verified cutbacks across more than three hundred newspapers, though—with chain-wide cuts being reported from the top rather than by individual outlets—there may have been cutbacks at as many as a thousand more. 

Outside the US, the Canadian Journalism Project has been tracking country-wide media cutbacks in a similar project, beginning with cuts in early March and stretching to the present. As of March 11, J-Source reported the permanent closure of forty-four news outlets, the suspension of print at forty-nine outlets, and a thousand permanent layoffs across as many as 182 outlets. “The story of the pandemic’s impact on media in Canada is about the continued loss of community newspapers, fewer jobs across divisions in the media industry and the cancellation of print editions by both daily and weekly newspapers,” Steph Wechsler writes. The J-source report also notes its own limited data on the state of ethnic media or the pandemic’s effects on the state of freelance journalists, which, Wechsler notes, “make up a growing proportion of media workers in Canada.”

The Australia Newsroom Mapping Project reports a somewhat different picture in its own country, indicating most recently that the condition of the industry differs from state to state. “Queensland has been the worst affected by news closures, reflecting particularly News Corp’s historically strong presence there and the impact of its decision to close many of its regional titles,” the Public Interest Journalism Initiative’s February report says. “Queensland is also the only state that has had more news outlets close over the studied period than open. This is partially a reflection of the moment: when News Corp closed most of its regional titles in the state, many communities responded by launching new independent titles.” Since mid-March of 2020, the project’s map reports 175 country-wide “contractions”—defined as “negative changes to news production and availability”—and 77 “expansions”—positive changes, such as newsroom openings or increases in service. The project also makes a few notes of caution in interpreting its data: its data makes no assessments of the outlets it tracks, nor does it account for existing news deserts nor hypothetical situations like high rates of closure in healthy entrepreneurial markets or low rates of closure in monolithic or monopolistic media markets. 

In December, the European Journalism Observatory reported that the pandemic had taken a significant toll on Europe’s media industry, chronicling cutbacks across Germany, Italy, the UK, Poland, Portugal, Latvia, Georgia, and Spain. In Italy, many newsstands declared bankruptcy, with 1,410 newsstands closed in the first half of 2020 alone. In Poland, some regional newspaper publishers reported revenue loss up to eighty percent; local independent publications reported similar losses in Ukraine. For the PressGazette, Charlotte Tobitt reported a list of media companies in the UK that filed claims for government support under a recent furlough payment plan; regional publishers JPI Media, Archant, and Midland News association topped the list in January, after the country went back into lockdown. 

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In India, journalist Cyril Sam has documented significant numbers of media cutbacks across India for his News@COVID19 Project, which reports cutbacks through August of 2020. “The business of news in India has been struggling, for at least a year, prior to the outbreak of COVID19,” Sam writes. “Each lay-off and closure signals our information ecosystem becoming poorer and our information sources becoming fewer. Post COVID19 news media landscape might be very different from the one we have today.”

For many countries, there is no available or easily-accessible data on the comprehensive effects of the pandemic on the media market. Though the economic consequences of a tumultuous year have impeded journalism’s facility the world over, the importance of journalism has never been more clear. 

The Journalism Crisis Project aims to train our focus on the present crisis, tallying lost jobs and outlets and fostering a conversation about what comes next. We hope you’ll join us (click to subscribe).

EXPLORE THE TOW CENTER’S COVID-19 CUTBACK TRACKER: Over the past year, researchers at the Tow Center have collected reports of a wide range of cutbacks amid the pandemic. Now there’s an interactive map and searchable database. You can find it here.

CONTRIBUTE TO OUR DATABASE: If you’re aware of a newsroom experiencing layoffs, cutbacks, furloughs, print reductions, or any fundamental change as a result of covid-19, let us know by submitting information here. (Personal information will be kept secure by the Tow Center and will not be shared.)

Below, more on recent media trends and changes in newsrooms across the world:

  • NEWS OFFICES CLOSE PERMANENTLY: Several large publications in Latin America have committed to permanent remote work, the International Journalists’ Network reported, including El Observador—one of Uruguay’s most widely-read newspapers—El Espectador in Colombia, and bilingual Costa Rican investigative publication La Voz de Guanacaste. Managers at both El Observador and El Espectador told reporter Agustín Herrero that their tendency toward remote work pre-dated the pandemic, though the executive director of La Voz de Guanacaste told IJNet that the change was “to help mitigate the economic impacts of COVID-19.”

  • BILLIONAIRES ADD TO TRIBUNE BID: In the latest bit of news regarding the ongoing dealings between financial actors looking to purchase stake in Tribune Publishing—one of the largest local news publishers in the US—The New York Times reported that Swiss philanthropist Hansjörg Wyss has joined hotel magnate Stewart Bainum Jr. in an attempt to outbid Alden Global Capital, for whom a winning bid would mean full ownership of the company. A few days later, the Wall Street Journal reported that Florida investor Mason Slaine offered additional support toward Bainum Jr’s bid in hopes of later acquiring the Orlando Sentinel and the Sun Sentinel. (Elsewhere, the mystery bidder interested in purchasing Pennsylvania daily The Morning Call was revealed to be Manhattan investor Gary Lutin.)

  • KANSAS PAPER PUBLISHES EMPTY A1: Last week, Kansas weekly The Northeast News ran a blank front page to draw attention to its financial struggles, The Washington Post reported. “Like many other local newsrooms, the News has lost advertising revenue at an unprecedented rate during the coronavirus pandemic,” Meryl Kornfield writes. “So the six-member staff kept its front page empty, a warning sign to the community about what might come if it ceased publication.”

  • ARIZONA OUTLET MOVES TO NONPROFIT: The National Congress of American Indians transferred digital publication and daily broadcaster Indian Country Today—which is headquartered at Arizona State University—from a limited liability company to a newly incorporated nonprofit called IndiJ Public Media, the AP reported. “This is a new day for ICT, which has a long history as a premier source of news for and about Indigenous communities, written and produced by Indigenous journalists,” said Karen Michel, Ho Chunk, IndiJ Public Media’s president and CEO.

  • IN CONNECTICUT, LEGISLATORS GET INVOLVED: Connecticut state senator Matt Lesser has introduced a bill that would prohibit the owners of the Hartford Courant from making financial decisions pertinent to the paper that are “not in the public interest,” CT Mirror reported. “Lesser’s bill appears calculated to give Alden a reason to sell The Courant, should a white knight step forward to operate the paper as a non-profit, as has happened in Salt Lake City, Philadelphia, and is being attempted in Baltimore,” Mark Pazniokas writes.

  • CONDÉ NAST PUBLICATIONS AUTHORIZE STRIKE: The New Yorker, Ars Technica, and Pitchfork unions—all arriving at similar point in their negotiations with parent company Condé Nast—authorized a strike with a “yes” vote from 98 percent of members, Poynter reported. The unions and their supporters held a rally outside One World Trade Center on Saturday.

  • ATHLETIC AND AXIOS CONSIDER A MERGER: Digital sports publication The Athletic is in talks to merge with Axios, The Wall Street Journal reported last week. Earlier this year, Axios launched local newsletters in five markets. Should the publications merge, each will continue to be editorially independent.
  • ON NEWSLETTERS: For DeezLinks, Delia Cai interviewed Ann Friedman about her eight-year-old newsletter, which is built using MailChimp. The two discussed newsletter platforms, editorial independence, classified ads, mentorship, and growing an independent newsletter into something bigger.

  • MORE LAYOFFS: McClatchy has cut twenty-six jobs by outsourcing page design and typesetting for more than twenty newspapers, Poynter reported. (This morning, McClatchy-owned South Carolina daily The State announced a unionization effort, asking for “reasonable protections for our jobs, fairness and equity in our pay, diversity in our staff, and the tools needed to continue to provide the highest-quality journalism to the people of South Carolina.”) 

JOURNALISM JOBS AND OPPORTUNITIES: This afternoon, and the Knight Foundation are holding a virtual career fair. MediaGazer has been maintaining a list of media companies that are currently hiring. You can find it here. The Deez Links newsletter, in partnership with Study Hall, offers media classifieds for both job seekers and job providers. The Successful Pitches database offers resources for freelancers. The International Journalists Network lists international job opportunities alongside opportunities for funding and further education.

Lauren Harris is a freelance journalist. She writes CJR's weekly newsletter for the Journalism Crisis Project. Follow her on Twitter @LHarrisWrites