The print industry’s demise has larger implications, Doctor and others say. Without reporters keeping tabs on city halls, state agencies and community organizations, there would be little accountability. Researchers have found that newspapers remain the nation’s most comprehensive, fact-based source of information.
The industry’s collapse has been driven by the exodus of longtime advertisers, who have shifted their money to internet giants Facebook and Google, leading to a precipitous revenue decline. Ad revenue to U.S. newspapers peaked in 2005 at $49.4 billion; it’s now less than a third of that amount, according to Pew Research Center.
Responding to the crisis, Facebook in late March announced $25 million in emergency funding for local news through its Facebook Journalism Project. “The news industry is working under extraordinary conditions to keep people informed during the COVID-19 pandemic. At a time when journalism is needed more than ever, ad revenues are declining,” Facebook said, adding that it would also spend $75 million to buy newspaper ads.
On Wednesday, Google Inc. announced its own $100-million journalism fund “to deliver urgent aid to thousands of small, medium and local news publishers globally.”
The need is great. Small dailies and alternative weeklies are among the most threatened. They rely on local businesses for advertising, rather than big-dollar national advertisers.
In Southern California, the alternative OC Weekly shut down in December and the LA Weekly has absorbed deep cuts and management turmoil. The Orange County Register’s parent, Southern California News Group, furloughed newsroom employees. And the Feather River Bulletin in Quincy, Calif., stopped printing this month — after 153 years.
The Los Angeles Times, which was thrown a lifeline in 2018 when biomedical billionaire Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong purchased the paper along with the San Diego Union-Tribune, also is feeling financial pain. The paper has spent 18 months rebuilding its newsroom and expanding its online offering only to be walloped by the virus.
On Thursday, the company folded three of its community newspapers — the Burbank Leader, the Glendale News-Press and the La Cañada Valley Sun — because they were losing money. The Glendale paper was a pioneer, publishing since 1905. The Valley Sun popped up in 1946 as the postwar building and population boom began to reshape California.