News

In Helena, Arkansas, population 10,300 people, money from the federal Paycheck Protection Program was a “godsend” for the weekly Helena World newspaper, publisher Andrew Bagley said. The paper’s staff consists of Bagley, a bookkeeper and two freelance writers. 

The Post-Tribune of Northwest Indiana covers Lake and Porter counties, with a total population of 656,000 people, with a staff of seven people — two news reporters, a metro columnist, two sportswriters and two editors.

The newsroom staff of the paper, owned by Tribune Publishing, totaled about 50 people in 2010, according to sportswriter Mike Hutton, the Post-Tribune’s Guild unit chairman.

The Journal Star of Peoria, Illinois, has seen its newsroom staff dwindle from 32 people just two years ago to 11 journalists, mostly through layoffs by GateHouse and the current owner, Gannett.

“The constricted staff means much less of the newspapering that readers want, such as in-depth and investigative pieces,” said Phil Luciano, a reporter and columnist at the Journal Star since 1988 who is the newsroom’s longtime Guild unit chairman. 

Despite the limitations, the staff is “rich with experience and thus excels, especially when there is big, breaking news,” Luciano said.

SINCE EARLY APRIL, Kristen Hare—a reporter who typically covers local news innovations for the Poynter Institute—has been compiling a list of newsroom layoffs, cutbacks, closures, and furloughs, reporting most recently that the covid-19 pandemic has closed more than fifty local newsrooms across the United States. The Journalism Crisis Project—a joint venture between the Tow Center and the Columbia Journalism Review—depends on the work of important collaborators like Hare.

Thousands of journalists have lost jobs since the pandemic. (Roughly 36,000 workers at news companies in the U.S. have been laid off, been furloughed or had their pay reduced since the pandemic struck, estimates The New York Times.)
“Local small businesses and Main Streets employing locals are critical to the quality of life, health and well-being of this country,” he added, noting that local advertising tax credits would let local merchants “come out swinging to try to rebuild market share and the health and vibrancy of the local economy.”

Hedge fund ownership of newspaper groups typically spells doom for the newsrooms. Just ask some of the former employees at the Denver Post who famously revolted against owner Alden Global Capital's order to cut staff.

But Chatham Asset Management's takeover of McClatchy — scheduled to be finalized on Tuesday — is actually inspiring some cautious optimism among its journalists. That's because Chatham has agreed to allow all employees to keep their jobs while honoring existing union contracts under the hedge fund's plan to pay $312 million for the newspaper conglomerate.