Media Center

Rep. Clarke Leads Letter Urging Support for Digital Journalism during Pandemic

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 

May 12, 2020

Brooklyn, NY – Congresswoman Yvette D. Clarke (NY-09) led a letter to House Leadership urging payroll assistance for the digital news workforce during the ongoing pandemic. Only the federal government can ensure digital journalists continue covering their beats and that the websites which are home to this reporting still exist once society reopens after the coronavirus pandemic sunsets. 

Clarke said: “While Americans are staying home for the betterment of society during this pandemic glued to their devices, now more than ever, journalists who are reporting digitally are critical in delivering essential information about COVID-19 and other news. I led a letter to House Leadership so the important work of the digital press can continue to deliver high-quality journalism to Americans during the coronavirus pandemic.”

The letter states: “Initial reporting estimates a 51% decline in spending on advertisements over March and April. This collapse is hitting digital-native outlets hardest, since most do not charge subscription fees and thus are disproportionately dependent on advertising revenue. For the professionals who work in digital newsrooms, federal financial support – whether by grant, loan, or other means – is all that stands between continuing to produce critical journalism and unemployment.” 

Digital-native outlets employ over 16,000 news professionals across the country. But most of these professionals have not benefited from the payroll support programs passed into law by prior stimulus packages. Congresswoman Clarke’s letter highlights this fact – and urges House Leadership to ensure the digital news workforce is protected. Groups, like the Writers Guild of America, East, DPE, AFL-CIO and others who want to see digital journalism flourish amidst the current coronavirus pandemic have voiced their support of this letter.

Lowell Peterson, Executive Director of the Writers Guild of America, East, said: “Millions of Americans rely on digital news to learn about issues that matter to their lives, to their communities.  The people who do the work – who investigate, write, edit, produce, and distribute reliable news – face layoffs and furloughs and pay cuts because of the pandemic.  Now more than ever, it is imperative that Congress help news organizations – including digital media – keep these hard-working people on the payroll.  Thousands of jobs depend on it, democracy depends on it.”

Congresswoman Clarke was joined by 25 other Members of Congress on this letter, including: Anthony G. Brown (MD-04), G. K. Butterfield (NC-01), Debbie Dingell (MI-12), Adriano Espaillat (NY-13), Ruben Gallego (AZ-15), Jesus G. “Chuy” Garcia (IL-04), Vicente Gonzalez (TX-15), Henry C. “Hank” Johnson Jr. (GA-04), Ro Khanna (CA-17), Brenda Lawrence (MI-14), Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18), Barbara Lee (CA-13), Andy Levin (MI-9), Stephen F. Lynch (MA-8), Carolyn B. Maloney (NY-14), Grace Meng (NY-06), Joe Neguse (CO-02), Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC-AL), Chellie Pingree (ME-01), Jamie Raskin (MD-08), Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA-40), Jan Schakowsky (IL-09), Adam B. Schiff (CA-28), Haley M. Stevens (MI-11) and Rashida Tlaib (MI-13).

The full letter is available here and below:

May 11, 2020

Dear Speaker Pelosi and Leader McCarthy:

Amid this public health emergency, the American people’s need for reliable sources of information has never been greater. However, even as journalists are working tirelessly to deliver accurate reporting, the news workforce is facing an increasing likelihood of unprecedented layoffs. Absent immediate payroll assistance, many once-profitable media outlets – companies that put journalism first – will go under, and their news professionals will be out of work.

The COVID-19 pandemic has decimated the news industry’s advertising revenues across all formats. Initial reporting estimates a 51% decline in spending on advertisements over March and April. This collapse is hitting digital-native outlets hardest, since most do not charge subscription fees and thus are disproportionately dependent on advertising revenue. For the professionals who work in digital newsrooms, federal financial support – whether by grant, loan, or other means – is all that stands between continuing to produce critical journalism and unemployment. 

Unfortunately, many of the current federal support programs omit digital-native outlets from assistance. The Payroll Protection Program (PPP), for instance, is only available to companies with 500 or fewer staff. Accordingly, the structure of the digital news sector – with multiple independently-operated niche websites frequently being affiliated with a larger parent entity – forecloses PPP support. There have been recent efforts in Congress to protect local news outlets by clarifying that local publishers that meet the SBA’s size standards and primarily serve a single city qualify for the PPP. We support and applaud these efforts. As we seek to keep America’s journalists on their beats, however, we also encourage you to consider the needs of the digital news workforce, who provide similarly critical reporting but may not just serve a single region.

The top 37 digital-native sites – many of which are targeted to particular communities or industries –  saw an average of 22 million unique visitors each in the last three months of 2018 alone. Clearly, digital news is stepping up to fill the gap left by cuts in local reporting by traditional newspapers. Digital-native outlets also give voice to stories which might not otherwise be reported by the national media. They are often the only entities employing journalists dedicated to covering specific neighborhoods, industries, scientific fields, or news from particular demographic perspectives. 

Digital-native outlets employ over 16,000 news professionals across the country. Millions of Americans depend on the distinctive reporting produced by these workers. Only the federal government can ensure these journalists continue covering their beats during this pandemic – and that the websites which are home to this reporting still exist once society reopens. Accordingly, we urge you to include payroll support – whether by grant or loan – for the digital news workforce in forthcoming stimulus legislation.

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Yvette D. Clarke has been in Congress since 2007. She represents New York’s Ninth Congressional District, which includes Central and South Brooklyn. Clarke is Vice Chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee and is a member of the Homeland Security Committee.