The newspaper industry continues to be among the hardest hit by the lingering COVID-19 pandemic, with the state of Iowa losing at least three of its 270 local publications over the last several days.
The Pella Chronicle and Knoxville Journal-Express are both set to merge into the Oskaloosa Herald, and the Daily Iowegian is on the verge of merging with Ottumwa Courier after citing a “financial gut punch" directly tied to all the business closures stemming from the crisis, the Des Moines Register reported.
Followers of the industry said the cuts couldn’t come at a worse time as many people seek information about the pandemic and adjust to life in the age of the virus.
“As we are witnessing in this pandemic, information, or lack thereof, is – literally – an issue of life or death,” Julie Gammack recently wrote in a column. “Were it not for local reporters, the number of cases and deaths from COVID-19 might go under-reported.”
Studies show that people in areas where there is no local newspaper, otherwise known as a “news desert,” pay a heavy price for the dearth of news.
“When no one is holding officials accountable, taxes go up, and inefficiencies abound,” Gammack added. “The cost of municipal bonds goes up.”
Gammack sees social media sites pilfering content from legitimate sources and outlets like Amazon raiding them for advertising dollars as being a big part of the problem.
In the face of such growing obstacles, she urges publishers to be more forthcoming with their readers about what is needed to them providing and producing.
“Tell them what it costs to produce and deliver the newspaper to them and what your current revenues are,” she added. “They might not know their subscription fee for the print edition usually doesn't cover the cost of delivery, for example. Report the business side of your newspaper as a powerful community news story. Next, start an ad campaign promoting your paper by listing information they would not have known had not been reported. Then, raise your subscription cost. And raise it annually at least 3%.”