Joe Friedrichs

COVID-19 crisis creates financial threat to regional news media

News media along the North Shore, throughout northeastern Minnesota and across the state, particularly those in the print industry, are finding themselves at a crossroads for how to move forward through the financial hardships brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

On a broader scale, more than 35,000 employees of U.S. media companies have lost their jobs, been furloughed or taken pay cuts since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the New York Times recently reports.

However, particularly for weekly newspapers and other print media, many of the financial struggles were already waiting on the doorstep long before any of their readers had ever heard of COVID-19.

WTIP’s Joe Friedrichs spoke with Jennifer Moore, a journalism professor at the University of Minnesota Duluth, to find out more on trends in the print industry and financial hardships brought on by the new coronavirus.

With regard to local print media, WTIP reached out to representatives from both Northern Wilds and the Cook County News-Herald to hear how the COVID-19 crisis is impacting the financial side of their operations. Here are their responses:

–Shawn Perich, co-publisher of Northern Wilds:

We are putting out the May issue. Certainly, we are affected by business closures and the closure of the Canadian border. Our strength is that folks remain intensely devoted to the North Shore, as evidenced by all of the visitors still traveling here in spite of the stay at home order. However, we are holding back on some of our print products and a book launch.

We’ve applied to various assistance programs and have not received anything to date.

–Amber Pratt, co-publisher of Northern Wilds:

I can say, from an advertising perspective, that this is our normal time to ramp up from the winter slump and given the reality of the world today, it’s not happening. Many of our advertisers are traditionally event, food and lodging focused. There are no events, lodging has been closed and the restaurants are running bare-bones if at all. Northern Wilds magazine depends on the many businesses that support us. We are lucky to have businesses that are able and interested in getting their messages out to our audience. Of note are the real estate businesses that have been supporting us most of our publishing career.

We have devoted more effort to our online presence. Shawn is writing more news stories that we are posting online via our weekly newsletter and Facebook. Weekly giveaways, weekly newsletters, Facebook posts as ways to stay connected to our audience.

Northern Wilds has always had an online edition. We did notice a spike in views, new followers and subscribers this month.

–Brian Larsen, editor of the Cook County News-Herald:

Yes, the Cook County News-Herald is struggling. We are down about 50 percent on our ad revenue when compared to the same time last year. Some of our biggest advertisers aren’t running any ads and others have told us that they want their ads made smaller to save on costs. Advertising for bars, restaurants, special events etc., has all but dried up. We understand and appreciate all of the business that people have given the News-Herald over the years. It’s tough for everybody right now.

As far as running some special editions to cover the local impacts of COVID-19, the answer is yes. We have been gathering information and photos documenting the impacts to our local community for some time now.

Hal (publisher of the local newspaper) has applied for some federal and state financial assistance but hasn’t heard anything back from anybody. We have our fingers crossed some aid will come our way.

As far as running pages, we are keeping our paper to 16-18 pages at this time. Normally we should be running 20 (or more), but there isn’t enough ad revenue to support running that many pages at this time.

In addition, according to a recent story in the Duluth News Tribune, eight of their staff in the ad department have been laid off in recent weeks due to declining revenue. The article also references financial hardships facing the Timberjay newspaper in Ely at this time.