Editor's Note: This story was published in the Desert Sun in Palm Springs, Calif.
California newspapers are asking the state to help rescue their industry, as the economic crisis from the coronavirus slashes print advertising revenues, causing layoffs in an already battered industry, even as reporters are deemed essential workers during the pandemic.
In a dire request this week from the California News Publishers Association to the governor and state lawmakers, the newspapers asked for tailored grants and loans, sales tax exemptions for local papers and tax deductions for subscribers and advertisers.
“The COVID-19 virus has left the newspaper industry, already struggling financially, gasping for air,” wrote the group’s president, Simon Grieve, the publisher of Gazette Newspapers in Long Beach.
It comes after 33 daily newspapers reported losing an average of $1 million in print ads in March. That has forced several papers to cut printing schedules and staff. Nationwide, readers have been turning to local news sites for information about coronavirus in their communities. But hundreds of journalists have already been laid off or furloughed.
Ken Doctor, a news media analyst, said that other outlets nationwide are considering seeking help from governments and Congress, but legislators already have their hands full.
“It’s a tsunami. You can’t really lobby for specific benefits right now in the peak of the crisis, but they are looking for a range of proposals,” Doctor said.
The California News Publishers Association has not yet heard back from officials, said its general counsel, Jim Ewert. He said replies from lawmakers’ staff have been “mostly empathy, but nothing in detail yet.”
“We are looking at their request,” said Lizelda Lopez, a spokeswoman for Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins, in an email.
The Legislature suspended work on March 16. Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, a Los Angeles Democrat, announced Friday that lawmakers will host their first hearing focused on the state’s spending on April 20. Rendon is “still reviewing this letter, and has not yet made any decisions,” spokeswoman Katie Talbot said.
The governor’s office didn’t immediately comment.