If you keep up with the news, you may have heard of the jeopardy that the very institutions we rely on to stay informed are experiencing severe financial struggles as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Already, barely two months into the economic shutdown, we’ve begun to see the massive ripple effects of the panicked reaction to the novel coronavirus and its spread throughout the world.
Unfortunately, the fourth estate, a crucial component of any democratic system that relies on the availability of accurate information in the hands of voters, has been in decline for decades. The coronavirus outbreak only highlighted the cracks in the edifice that already existed.
“Media conglomeration” refers to the consolidation of newsrooms into the control of a single entity, typically multinational corporations like Sinclair Broadcasting or Sky News. Since roughly the 1980s, more and more newspapers and other media outlets have been gobbled up by bigger fish, highlighting concerns among industry analysts of monopolies.
Traditionally, American media relies on advertising from sporting events, concerts, restaurants, hotels, and airlines – all industries forced to close due to fears of the coronavirus.
The changing realities of how people consume their news has made survival difficult for outlets that rely on outdated business models. To fill the gap, many news organizations have traditionally turned to wealthy philanthropists to fund their operations.
Due to the coronavirus, however, many philanthropists have shifted the focus of their giving to combatting the disease, leaving news organizations across the country holding the bag, without any cash on hand, and no viable way to raise it.
As is often the case when industries hit hard times, employees feel the brunt of the pain. Salaries are typically the highest cost to any media operation, so logically they are the first to go. If it doesn’t make sense from a humanistic perspective to lay off valuable journalists when accurate news is needed more than ever, it certainly makes financial sense.
One of the biggest threats to journalism in 2020 comes from the monopolistic powers of Facebook and Google that eat up the precious advertising revenue that media outlets use to survive. The philanthropists, themselves with limited albeit more significant resources than most, who have filled the void warn of the need for a more sustainable business model moving forward.
Despite their immense resources, these wealthy benefactors cannot support the journalism industry on their own.