Thursday 28 May, 2020

Local newspaper operators tight-lipped on COVID-19 hit

The Jamaica Observer and Gleaner Media produce newspapers locally.

The Jamaica Observer and Gleaner Media produce newspapers locally.

Local media that rely on newspaper distribution to complement their advertising revenues are tight-lipped about how the outbreak of the coronavirus (COVID-19) is affecting their earnings.

The recent outbreak of the coronavirus has led to a new social distancing reality and a fall in business activities locally.

“These are challenging times for all media, for all businesses,” said Jamaica Observer Limited Managing Director, Julian Rogers.

Queries to Rogers about how newspaper sales were being affected, and the impact on revenue, were not answered.

Gary Allen, CEO of the RJRGleaner Communications Group of which the Gleaner Media Limited is a part, said the company is actively reaching out to readers in light of the COVID-19.

Allen told Loop News: “We are aware that some customers are not driving by to pick up a copy of the paper these days. We are reminding customers that we have an electronic product, so if they are not able to pick up a copy of the paper, they can consume our product online.

“We are using all technology and platforms available to let customers know they have options.”

Over the weekend, the paper sent out to its e-paper subscribers offers to renew subscriptions at a reduced price. The e-paper is the Gleaner’s online version of the newspaper, which also features advertisements.

When asked whether the discount on subscription was in response to a reduction in circulation, Allen said: “It’s in response to the entire situation that we are facing in the global community.”

One newspaper vendor was more upfront about how the COVID-19 has impacted his sales.

“People are hardly buying the papers, normally I would sell off all the paper dem already,” a vendor based on Shortwood Road, Kingston told Loop News’ photographer, who made checks after 11 am on Monday.

Meanwhile, the RJRGleaner Communications Group CEO noted: “A lot of businesses are adjusting to make their products more accessible and to make their customers more comfortable in light of the pandemic. We are no different.”

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Overseas, a clearer picture of the impact of spreading COVID-19 and its cramping impact on newspaper businesses can be garnered.

In the UK, The Guardian newspaper reports that national print newspaper sales have fallen by as much as 30 per cent since the start of the government-ordered coronavirus lockdown.

It reported: “Thousands of independent newsagents have closed, commuter traffic is non-existent, and supermarkets are expected to cut the numbers of copies they take from next week because of reduced footfall. With many readers also self-isolating, one of the British news industry’s main sources of revenue has taken a heavy hit.”

The paper quoted Rasmus Kleis Nielsen, the director of the Reuters Institute at the University of Oxford, as predicting “huge declines in advertising revenues".

He also predicted the economic effects of the pandemic could potentially remove 10 per cent of all frontline journalistic jobs in the UK.

The COVID-19 pandemic has, however, attracted what the paper described as record-breaking audiences for online news sources, with some advertising entities earning substantial revenue from digital advertising, the Guardian reported.

The news source said traffic to the Guardian’s website was up more than 50 per cent, exceeding all previous records. It also said there had been a substantial surge in the number of readers taking out digital subscriptions.

In the United States, American Media Inc. - the publisher of The National Enquirer, Men’s Journal and Us Weekly - last week indicated that it will be cutting employee salaries by 20 per cent.

Additionally, BuzzFeed announced temporary payroll cuts.

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