Media Insider: News Outlets Sue Small Business Administration, Condé Nast Announces Layoffs, Plain Dealer Dissolves News Guild

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

Newspaper front page

THE HILL | MARTY JOHNSON
News Outlets Sue for Information on Small-Business Loans Program

A handful of the country’s most prominent news publications are suing the Small Business Administration after it refused to release which businesses were receiving money through the $660 billion Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). The Washington Post, The New York Times, Bloomberg, ProPublica, and Dow Jones — which publishes The Wall Street Journal — are all part of the group suing the government agency. The suit comes after the publications initially requested the information through the Freedom of Information Act. “Enormous amounts of taxpayer money are being committed to what is supposed to be a lifeline for millions of struggling American businesses,” ProPublica general counsel Jeremy Kutner said. “The public has an urgent right and need to know how it is being spent, and whether it is being directed to those most in need.”

More than 40 companies have pledged to return PPP funds after government threatens legal action.

CNBC | JESSICA BURSZTYNSKY
Magazine Giant Condé Nast to Lay off Roughly 100 U.S. Employees

Magazine publisher Condé Nast is laying off nearly 100 U.S. employees and furloughing 100 more as the coronavirus pandemic continues to hit the media industry, according to a company memo obtained by CNBC. The company also will reduce work hours for a handful of employees. Condé Nast owns a number of high-profile magazine titles, including Vogue, The New Yorker, Wired, GQ, and Vanity Fair, and online-only publications like Ars Technica, Glamour, and Pitchfork. It’s the latest among a slew of publishers that have been affected by a sharp decline in advertising revenue brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

BuzzFeed News also announced it furloughed about 20 employees and is negotiating with its editorial union over possible layoffs as it looks to cut expenses by 20%.

THE REBOUND | DREW SCOFIELD
Union Busted: Plain Dealer to Lay off Last Four Union Journalists, Will Offer Them Non-Union Jobs

The last of the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s union journalists, four to be exact, will lose their jobs and be offered employment at non-union Cleveland.com. According to the Plain Dealer News Guild, the guild itself will be dissolved on Sunday. “After more than 80 years of union membership, Plain Dealer journalists will no longer be represented by the Northeast Ohio Newspaper Guild Local 1,” said the guild in a statement. “The unit will be dissolved effective May 17. The Plain Dealer newsroom will no longer exist.” The guild says that the four employees will have the opportunity to take jobs at the website, which will now be providing all the content that appears in the newspaper.

Cleveland is where the American newspaper was born, and it’s the latest place where it’s been beaten.

VULTURE | DEVON IVIE
Quibi Blames Failures on Coronavirus

Jeffrey Katzenberg, co-founder of the new video platform Quibi, told the New York Times in an interview that he blames the failure of Quibi’s launch — which has now dipped far below the top 100 free iPhone apps despite an all-star creative lineup — on the COVID-19 pandemic. “I attribute everything that has gone wrong to coronavirus,” he explained. Specifically, Katzenberg expressed regret over launching the service in early April, when the coronavirus was just beginning to peak in the U.S. He also argued that consumers’ viewing habits have substantially changed due to the overwhelming amounts of time they’re being forced to spend indoors. And as for TikTok, another short-form video service that has maintained and expanded upon its astronomical popularity in recent years, Katzenberg isn’t paying much attention to it. “That’s like comparing apples to submarines,” he scoffed.

Speaking of the Times, the publisher reported record new subscriptions but warned of major ad losses.

DIGIDAY| MAX WILLENS
Apple Plans to Add Audio Versions of Publisher Articles to Apple News+

Apple News+ is pivoting to audio. Over the past several months, Apple has been asking the publishers participating in its year-old premium program for permission to produce audio versions of the stories distributed there, according to sources at four different publishers that have heard the pitch. Apple will handle production costs and compensate publishers in the same way it compensates them for the written content available on Apple News+, two sources said. Apple metes out 50% of subscriber revenue to publishers based on how much time those subscribers spend with publishers’ content in a 30-day period.

Earlier this year, the service’s head of business stepped down as it struggled to attract subscribers.

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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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