Local newspapers are facing their own coronavirus crisis

A man reads a full-page advertisment on the backpage of a newspaper, in Ripon, England on March 25, 2018. (AFP)
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Updated 04 April 2020

Local newspapers are facing their own coronavirus crisis

  • More than 2,100 cities and towns have lost a paper in the past 15 years, mostly weeklies, and newsroom employment has shrunk by half since 2004

NEW YORK: Just when Americans need it most, a US newspaper industry already under stress is facing an unprecedented new challenge.
Readers desperate for information are more reliant than ever on local media as the coronavirus spreads across the US They want to know about cases in their area, where testing centers are, what the economic impact is. Papers say online traffic and subscriptions have risen — the latter even when they’ve lowered paywalls for pandemic-related stories.
But newspapers and other publications are under pressure as advertising craters. They are cutting jobs, staff hours and pay, dropping print editions — and in some cases shutting down entirely.
Circulation and web traffic are up at the Sun Chronicle, a daily in Attleboro, Massachusetts, as it scrambles to cover the coronavirus pandemic. It’s “all we do,” said Craig Borges, executive editor and general manager. But with many local restaurants, gyms, colleges and other businesses closed, the paper has laid off a handful of sales and mailroom employees and a political reporter. It has about a dozen newsroom employees left.
“Hopefully we can work this out and make it through,” Borges said.
Researchers have long worried that the next recession — which economists say is already upon us — “could be an extinction-level event for newspapers,” said Penelope Abernathy, a University of North Carolina professor who studies the news industry.
More than 2,100 cities and towns have lost a paper in the past 15 years, mostly weeklies, and newsroom employment has shrunk by half since 2004. Many publications struggled as consumers turned to the Internet for news, battered by the Great Recession of 2007-2009 and the rise of giants like Google and Facebook that dominated the market for digital ads.
More recently, big national newspapers like The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal have diversified revenue by adding millions of digital subscribers. Many others, however, remain heavily dependent on advertising.
Twenty global news publishers recently surveyed by the International News Media Association expect a median 23% decline in 2020 ad sales. In the US, newspaper ad revenues have dropped 20% to 30% in the last few weeks compared with a year ago, FTI Consulting’s Ken Harding wrote in another INMA report.
On Monday, the largest US newspaper chain, Gannett, announced 15-day furloughs and pay cuts for many employees. On Tuesday, another major chain, Lee Enterprises, also announced salary reductions and furloughs. The Tampa Bay Times, owned by the nonprofit Poynter Institute, cut five days of its print edition and announced furloughs for non-newsroom staff.
Further down the food chain, many smaller publishers — particularly local alt-weeklies with a heavy focus on dining, arts and entertainment — are making even harder decisions.
In rural Nevada, Battle Born Media is scaling back or ceasing publication of six rural weekly newspapers. The Reno News & Review, an alternative weekly, suspended operations and laid off all staffers. C&G Newspapers, which publishes 19 weekly newspapers near Detroit, suspended print publication. Alternative paper Pittsburgh Current went online-only.
Report for America, which subsidizes journalists in local newsrooms and at The Associated Press, says some of its local-media partners report such deteriorating finances that they may not be able to pay their half of these reporters’ salaries.
In suburban St. Louis last week, businesses were calling and canceling ads as fast as editor Don Corrigan and his staff could write articles to fill the empty space left behind. A local hospital wanted to run a full-page ad offering tips to fight the virus in the three community weeklies he runs — but wanted it for free. A softhearted Corrigan agreed.
He announced this week that the Webster-Kirkwood Times, South County Time and West End World will stop publishing, although he’s keeping the website running. “I don’t think people realize how much it costs to put out a newspaper,” he said, noting that some readers are belatedly suggesting a GoFundMe page or a paywall for the web site.
A $2.2 trillion relief act signed Friday by President Donald Trump could provide loans or grants to smaller local publishers who maintain their payrolls. Industry executives are also discussing future government bailout requests that would preserve the independence of news organizations, two newspaper-industry trade groups wrote in a Monday letter to Trump and congressional leaders.
One proposal under discussion would recommend creating a federal fund to pay for government newspaper ads that offer health advice. Another possibility might be to offer people tax credits for subscriptions.
The Shepherd Express newspaper, which took its name from an Allen Ginsberg poem, has for 38 years told residents of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, about up-and-coming musicians, hot restaurants, crooked politicians and where to find hemp-related products. Last week, it suspended publication and laid off staff.
Editor, publisher and owner Louis Fortis is keeping the website operating and promises to resume printing at some point, in some form. Yet he’s feeling the same uncertainty as millions of other Americans. “I’m very disappointed,” he said. “On the other hand, you have to look at the big picture. People are dying.”


Al Jazeera continues to ‘provide a platform to bigoted and violent extremists’

Updated 26 May 2020

Al Jazeera continues to ‘provide a platform to bigoted and violent extremists’

  • Qatar-based media network has a turbulent past when it comes to extremist and anti-Semitic rhetoric

LONDON: Al Jazeera’s recent interview with terrorist-designated group Hamas’ leader Ismail Haniyeh, as well as its podcast glorifying killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, has stirred the ongoing debate surrounding the network’s alleged promotion of terrorism.

The exposure given to the controversial figures has prompted experts into stating that the station and news site continue to provide extremists with a platform to present themselves on.

“The fact that Qatar’s Al Jazeera Arabic continues to provide a platform to bigoted and violent extremists, including terrorists, obviously undermines the Qatari government’s claim to be a steady force for tolerance and coexistence,” Washington director for international affairs at the Anti-Defamation League, David Weinberg, told Arab News.

The station’s interview with Haniyeh served as a stage to threaten Israel with the fact that Hamas was still capable of kidnapping more Israeli soldiers, while the podcast allowed the Soleimani character a free rein to explain his support of terrorist groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah and why he helped Syrian President Bashar Assad massacre his own people.

These were not the only controversies the network found itself embroiled in this month.

Last week, Al Jazeera’s Arabic news site carried a headline reading, “Martyr shot by Occupation forces in the West Bank for being accused of trying to run over soldiers,” to report on a Palestinian man who was shot while attempting to ram into Israeli soldiers with his car.

“Every time Al Jazeera calls somebody — anybody — a martyr, it violates the journalistic ethic of impartiality. What makes it much, much worse is that Al Jazeera consistently uses the term martyr to glorify terrorists, provided the civilians those violent extremists are trying to murder happen to be Israeli Jews,” Weinberg said.

“Encouraging slaughter of this sort does nobody any favors, not Palestinians or Israelis, neither Jews nor Arabs.”

“Al-Qaeda in Syria? Flattered by Al Jazeera. The Taliban? Flattered by Al Jazeera. Iranian proxies like Hamas and Islamic Jihad? Flattered by Al Jazeera. Al-Qaeda financier Muthanna Al-Dhari? Flattered by Al Jazeera. Media practices like these are unacceptable, immoral, and bad for people of all faiths and all nations,” he added.

Al Jazeera has a turbulent past when it comes to extremist and anti-Semitic rhetoric. Last year, its youth channel AJ+ Arabic drew widespread condemnation over an alleged Holocaust denial video that claimed Jews exaggerated the scale of the genocide in order to establish Israel.

The chairman of UK nonprofit organization Muslims Against Anti-Semitism, Ghanem Nuseibeh, told Arab News: “Al Jazeera has a direct editorial input from the Diwan in Doha (the sovereign body and administrative office of the Emir of Qatar), with the Arabic channel focused on promoting the extremist ideological discourse. This is their core constituency.

“It is particularly troubling that Al Jazeera Arabic website still to this day continues to host articles and videos of interviews by proscribed groups in the UK such as Al-MuHajjiroun, and freely accessible in the UK,” he added.

Earlier this month, a Shariah expert from the Qatari Ministry of Religious Endowments advocated the beating of women in an interview on the network, stating that they “need to be subdued by muscles.” And this was not the first time.

The station also broadcasts a religious program hosted by extremist cleric Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, the terrorist-designated Muslim Brotherhood’s spiritual leader. Al-Qaradawi, an outspoken Hamas loyalist who was featured in Arab News’ “Preachers of Hate” series, issues fatwas riddled with comments advocating suicide bomb attacks and praises to Nazi leader Adolf Hitler for “punishing the Jews,” on Al Jazeera’s media platforms.

“Al Jazeera’s motto is, ‘the opinion and the other opinion,’ but when it comes to the Muslim Brotherhood’s bigots and violent extremists, Al Jazeera Arabic still just presents one opinion, giving ikhwani (brotherhood) intolerance an unquestioning platform for broadcasting into millions of homes around the world,” Weinberg said.

The media network has also been called a “useful tool” for Qatar’s ruling elite notorious for their sympathies with the Muslim Brotherhood and other terrorist and extremist groups. In 2017, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, and Bahrain severed diplomatic ties with Qatar in order to pressure it to halt its alleged terrorism financing and shut down the network.

US Embassy cables acquired by UK newspaper The Guardian in 2009 proved just how interconnected the Qatari government and Al Jazeera are.

“Al Jazeera, the most watched satellite television station in the Middle East, is heavily subsidized by the Qatari government and has proved itself a useful tool for the station’s political masters … Despite (the government of Qatar’s) protestations to the contrary, Al Jazeera remains one of Qatar’s most valuable political and diplomatic tools,” the cable read.

Al Jazeera tangoes with terrorism

Favoring Daesh

• Do you support the Daesh group’s victories in Iraq and Syria?

• More than 54,000 people voted on the official page of ‘Opposite Direction.’ 81.6 percent voted ‘Yes,’ while 18.4 percent voted ‘No.’

Sectarian discourse 

• Al-Qassim said: ‘Why do you blame the regime? I want to ask you. Al-Nubl and Al-Zahraa are Shiite colonies in the heart of Sunni land. Kafarayah and Fu’aa are still living among you. Why don’t you expel them out as they did to you and curse the ones who gave birth to them?’

Party for a terrorist 

• Al Jazeera host: ‘Brother Samir, we would like to celebrate your birthday with you. You deserve even more than this. I think that 11,000 prisoners – if they can see this program now – are celebrating your birthday with you. Happy birthday, brother Samir.’

Al-Julani interview

• Interviewer: ‘What was the strategy of Al-Qaeda’s Sheikh Osama bin Laden?’

• Al-Julani: ‘He wanted to fight the Americans on their own turf, and that way to drag them into Afghanistan – because we were unable to send armies to (the United States). Sheikh Osama bin Laden’s goal in fighting the Americans was not to put an end to the American presence…’

Boosting terrorism

• ’We call upon the Islamic nation to rise up, and not make do with a futile economic boycott, in the face of this affront to our honorable Prophet. We call upon them to drive out the Danish embassies and ambassadors from the lands of the Muslims, and to expel them from the Muslim countries. They should take serious and immediate action to burn down the offices of the newspapers that affronted our Prophet, and to bomb them, so that body parts go flying, and with these body parts, Allah Almighty will quench the believers’ thirst for revenge.’