Media union launches campaign urging Congress to provide stimulus for newsrooms

Media union launches campaign urging Congress to provide stimulus for newsrooms

The NewsGuild-CWA, the largest union for journalists in North America, on Monday launched a new advocacy campaign to compel Congress to assist local news organizations financially strained by the coronavirus outbreak. 

The union, which represents more than 24,000 journalists and other communications professionals, said in a press release that the "Save The News" campaign will push for local news outlets to be included in future federal recovery efforts. 

Specifically, the group is urging Congress to direct grants to employees of news outlets and to ensure that all local publishers are included in the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), including those that are members of larger news companies. 

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The campaign also wants federal spending to go toward community outreach advertising for local newspapers to help them recover lost revenue. 

“I am humbled to see so many members of our industry unite under one cause: protecting local journalism,” NewsGuild President Jon Schleuss said. “Americans need access to information about their local communities more than ever, and yet layoffs and furloughs are only increasing as this pandemic continues. Congress needs to act to save the news before it’s too late.”

The efforts will include a six-figure digital ad campaign, lobbying on Capitol Hill and a website where laid off and furloughed journalists will portray the industry's struggles, the Daily Beast first reported. The ad campaign is being funded by a grant from the parent union, Communications Workers for America.

In an interview with The Hill, Schleuss called the campaign “historic,” noting that the union hasn’t “engaged in a lot of political advocacy, especially at this level.”

He said that he has already been in talks with Republican and Democratic strategists about how the efforts can gain bipartisan backing and that he's been encouraged by the amount of lawmakers who have voiced support for aiding the industry. 

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In its announcement, NewsGuild pointed to the continued struggles that the journalism industry has experienced over time as they see critical ad revenue siphoned away by tech platforms like Facebook and Google. Those struggles were exacerbated by the coronavirus outbreak, as scores of businesses closed and pulled back advertising spending. 

Approximately 36,000 employees of U.S. news companies have been laid off, furloughed or had their pay reduced since the coronavirus first emerged in the country, according to a tally maintained by The New York Times

The plight of the journalism industry has led to calls for greater assistance inside Congress. A group of nearly 20 senators in early April called for a future stimulus package to include a provision that is "tailored to benefit aid recipients who make a long-term commitment to high quality local news."

A group of bipartisan senators last week introduced legislation to make local newspapers and local radio and TV stations eligible for PPP assistance as long as the physical location of the outlet meets the SBA requirements.

Schleuss said that the digital campaign also includes a plan to build a communications apparatus that tracks layoffs and conducts research on the state of the industry as well as alternative ownership possibilities. He said the union will focus some of that research on new business models, such as public financing for publications. 

The campaign comes as news organizations and trade associations express openness to more government assistance. The News Media Alliance, National Association of Broadcasters, National Newspaper Association and America’s Newspapers have also asked for the federal government to fund local media through advertising campaigns and to ensure that local news outlets can receive PPP assistance, regardless of ownership.

UPDATED 4:18 p.m.