Media Insider: Facebook Pledges $100M to Help News Outlets, Lee Enterprises Announces Pay Cuts, McClatchy Reinstates Paywall

Welcome to Media Insider, PR Newswire’s round-up of media stories from the week.

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Facebook Plans to Spend $100 Million on Aid for News Outlets Affected by the Coronavirus

Facebook is shelling out $100 million to help news outlets that are taking a revenue hit during the coronavirus pandemic. The tech giant announced a plan to offer $25 million in emergency grant funding for local news outlets through its Facebook Journalism Project. The remaining $75 million will be funneled to publishers globally through Facebook ad spending. “The news industry is working under extraordinary conditions to keep people informed during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Facebook said in a statement. “At a time when journalism is needed more than ever, ad revenues are declining due to the economic impact of the virus.” Facebook’s grants are going to publishers that need them the most in the hardest-hit countries in the world, the first round of which went to 50 local newsrooms in the U.S. and Canada.

The Committee to Protect Journalists has compiled a list of other funding opps available to journalists struggling due to COVID-19.

Lee Enterprises Announces Pay Cuts and Furloughs

Lee Enterprises joined the list of news organizations hit hard by the coronavirus. Lee owns newspapers in 25 states, including the St. Louis (Missouri) Post-Dispatch, the Tulsa (Oklahoma) World and the Omaha (Nebraska) World-Herald. The company is implementing a combination of pay reductions and furloughs, including a 20% pay reduction for executives in the third quarter. Lee isn’t the only media company to be hit by economic pains from the coronavirus pandemic: Gannett announced company-wide furloughs and cost-cutting measures; The Tampa Bay Times cut five days of print and furloughed non-newsroom staff; Vice cut pay and some benefits; and Maven Media Brands, which operates Sports Illustrated, announced layoffs and salary reductions.

In happier news, Time’s CEO promised no layoffs for 90 days and said the company will continue expanding with new hires and investing in its consumer products and long-form video division.

McClatchy Puts Coronavirus Paywalls Back up

McClatchy will put its paywall back up around some coronavirus news as it aims to balance its duty to keep people informed with its need to bolster subscriptions. The company is trying to be strategic about how much it allows to be free. While it’s important that some information remains free, like breaking news that could impact the health and safety of their readers, they don’t want that free information to cannibalize a surge in subscription interest. “With a lower paywall, we’re missing opportunities to convert drive-by readers into subscribers,” says McClatchy’s Vice President of News Kristin Roberts. Decisions over which articles to put in front of the paywall will be made locally by editors at each of its 30 publications nationwide.

Meanwhile, other local news outlets are dropping their paywalls for pandemic stories but still gaining digital subscribers.

UK Newspapers to Lose £50M in Online Ads as Firms Use Coronavirus ‘Blacklist’

UK newspapers face losing £50m in digital revenues as advertisers use “blacklist” technology to block ads from appearing next to all stories that mention the coronavirus pandemic. When advertisers run digital campaigns, they use keyword blacklists – stocked with trigger words such as “attack” and “death” – that automatically stop ads running in potentially problematic stories that feature them. Publishers say that words related to the pandemic – such as coronavirus and COVID-19 – are appearing on blacklists across the industry. This has meant that while national and regional newspaper publishers are gaining record numbers of digital readers seeking to keep up to date about the pandemic, publishers are struggling to make ad revenue from that interest. Advertisers’ blacklist technology also is indiscriminate, meaning that even positive or innocuous pieces, such as those on family activities for the housebound, or articles recommending TV shows, films, and books to read in isolation, also are shorn of adverts.

Down under, News Corp is suspending the print editions of 60 local newspapers as advertising revenue slumps.

Coronavirus Causes Dip in Podcast Listening

Since early March, when concerns around the coronavirus started to grow, people have been listening to podcasts a lot less. Downloads in the space overall have dropped about 10% since the start of March, according to data from Podtrac. Total unique listeners also dropped roughly 20% in the same time frame. While most podcast listening tends to happen during commuting and other solo activity, government orders in major states like New York and California for citizens to stay at home seems to have zapped people’s interest or ability to listen. Each podcast topic saw a decrease in listeners since March 9, although the news category only saw a dip of 10%, making it by far the most listened to subject. On the other end is true crime; its audience has fallen by almost 30% since early March. The audience for sports has fallen far as well, by about 13% – unsurprising, as sporting events have been canceled or postponed due to coronavirus mandates. 

Even with the dip, publishers are leading the way in creating coronavirus-themed podcasts.

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Maria Perez is Director, Web Experience & Operations at Cision. In her spare time, she runs Bags of Love Foundation, a local nonprofit that provides cancer patients with care packages aimed at making their treatment more comfortable. She also enjoys kickboxing, baking, and cuddling with her dog Toody, who thinks he rules the world.

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