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Despite High Demand For Information, News Industry Struggles During Pandemic

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>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Welcome to Noon Edition on WFIU. I'm Bob Zaltzberg from the WFIU/WTIU newsroom along with Sara Wittmeyer, WFIU news director. We're recording this show remotely today to avoid the risk of spreading the COVID 19 virus and we're going to be talking about the high demand for journalism during the pandemic as the industry struggles. We have four guests joining us on the program today. We have Stephen Key, Keen, the Who's Your State Press Association executive director, Al Tompkins from the Poynter Institute. He's a senior faculty member. Max Jones is the editor of Tribune Star and Katrice Hardy is the Indianapolis Star executive editor. And she is also the Ginette Midwest Regional Editor. She has responsibility for papers in Indiana Illinois and Kentucky. You can join us on the program by sending your questions to news at Indiana Public Media dot org. And you can follow us on Twitter @noonedition. Well it's great to have everybody here. Happy to say that I know three of the four. I should say in the interest of transparency I worked closely with Steve Key and Max Jones and my more than three decades as the editor of The Herald Times in Bloomington. And I worked with Al Tompkins some - haven't had the opportunity to work with Katrice but I've worked with several other editors from the Indy Star. So I want to start with Al Tompkins because I think Al you have a very broad view of what's going on in the industry. And if you could just sort of outline what's going on in the journalism industry print newspapers as well as commercial television, public radio, public TV in terms of being able to serve the public especially during the time of this pandemic. 

>>AL TOMPKINS: Well it's really ugly. That's the headline. The business is difficult to say the least, more difficult for print than it is for broadcast. But on the print side there are basically two main income streams. One is subscriptions. And those have been falling for quite some time. The other is advertising. And that is just a real serious nosedive. So the response has been largely on the print side toward a few things, staff cuts furloughs layoffs and a reduction in print additions to our mind. And that's gone relatively well actually, better than a lot of people thought that it would. On the broadcast side, first quarter earnings were pretty good for the big broadcast owners. But second quarter earnings are going to be greatly reduced. One thing that people don't generally understand on the broadcast side for TV, maybe about 30 percent of their income does not come from advertising. It actually comes from what's called network compensation or cable retransmission. So the cable company's paying money to the TV stations for the rights to carry their signal. And those are long term contracts television is not hurting nearly as much. On the radio side, commercial radio is basically the same shape that that newspapers in that is they basically have one source of income. That's advertising and advertising is in a pit. And satellite radio is doing reasonably well. Public Radio which depends on mostly listener contributions are in big trouble partly because most public radio stations have delayed their early fundraising drives. So it's pretty ugly. Despite that some pretty amazing journalism being done listenership, viewership, readership all up across the board as well as online. So at the time with demand and need is high, the finances to make it work are in trouble. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Steve Key what are you hearing from around the state of Indiana? 

>>STEPHEN KEY: I'd echo what Al said. Just today I've found out we've had a couple of more newspapers that have shut their doors. So that's about six I believe since the pandemic started that have completely ceased operations. So you know - and while on the other hand you know people are as Al said are looking to their local newspaper for information on what's happening in their community. So the demand is up. But the revenue has gone you know just so far south that we're starting to see papers close. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: What about staff sizes at a lot of these newspapers? 

>>STEPHEN KEY: I - other than the furloughs you know I haven't seen so much about actual cuts with the pandemic. But a lot of that is due to the fact that newspapers were already in tight financial straits before the pandemic hit. So a lot of the staffs have already undergone the significant staff cuts in the months preceding the pandemic. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: So we have Max Jones with us. Max is with CNHI newspapers and Katrice Hardy is with Gannett I want to ask Katrice first. Gannett and Gatehouse merged there been a lot of layoffs have been furloughs. So can you just talk about the situation in the Gannett newsrooms right now? 

>>KATRICE HARDY: Absolutely. So, you know, I first want to say that you know the cuts, layoffs that we've had have actually been around us integrating as one company the way we've handled the pandemic has been with furloughs. And that is happening across our company and all roughly 260 of our our daily news organizations. Since I have been with the Midwest, which has been just two months and some change, we've done - I think we've done a really good job of trying overall to really look at where we see efficiencies and synergies. So in some of our markets, we've looked at - and I've done this in particular with the southern part and northern part of the state. If we had groups of papers that were closer then we've come under one umbrella. And so we have a southern state editor if you will who's now working with all the papers in a two and a half hour radius. Other editors to assist that main state editor obviously. And we also still have most of our newsrooms editors on site. We have - but we've looked at management and try to make sure that we have the right number to help our reporters. But we really wanted to keep reporters on the street, photographers on the streets and really protect those resources over editors. Same thing with the northern part of the state as well as in India. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Okay. Now Max from the CNHI standpoint, I know you just got a new set of responsibilities. Can you talk about that? Max. I think you're you may be muted. 

>>MAX JONES: Hopefully I'm with you now. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Yeah. There you go. 

>>MAX JONES: Yeah. It's been an interesting time in the trenches out here in community newspapers. It seems like it's been two years rather than two months that we've been involved in this now. But much has changed, although we're hanging in there pretty well. There has been some patriot newspaper day reductions in a number of CNHI newspapers. That certainly has happened here in Terre Haute. We were a seven day daily. And beginning in May we reduced to five days a week. We no longer publish on Sundays or Tuesdays. And our Saturday paper is now actually a weekend edition which will look exactly the way our Sunday paper used to look. So it was quite a bit of a shock to reduce days like that. But we're adjusting. And from a personal standpoint I was approached about expanding my duties as editor at The Tribune Star to also be the editor of the commercial news in Danville Illinois. That's just across the border. It's about 60 miles from Terre Haute. So I'm trying to also help them as they as they pursue their cause up there. They have had a page a day reduction as well as we have. So it keeps changing. And we're trying to adjust. We haven't seen it a lot of individual staff reductions. There have been some. But it hasn't been particularly widespread just yet as the company has taken the approach of reducing print days. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: So Al Tompkins, Steve Key mentioned the fact that six Indiana newspapers have closed their doors. I know there's one in Clinton, one in Bakesville. I'm not sure what the other ones are. But could you talk a little bit about what happens when the newspaper in town goes away. What's that mean to a community? 

>>AL TOMPKINS: Well, the worst news is if nobody notices. That tells us something. But my suspicion is you will notice. There are all across the United States what we sometimes call news deserts there are places that just nobody's covering. And I think we'll start seeing this particularly when city governments for example start making tough decisions about what services to cut. And nobody's at City Hall covering that story, when state government for example starts cutting spending which they will in the next budget. This budget year and the next budget year are just going to be really difficult ones. Maybe the most important time to be covering government, local government in a long long time. And you're going to see increasingly - there will be nobody there watching what's going on. We won't be getting the non-stop coverage of how our elected leaders are responding to the pressures that will be coming on them, much greater pressures than we've seen in recent years when the economy was reasonably robust. To say nothing of the fact that we're heading into an election year. I mean let's not forget we have a presidential election only a matter of months away. And no matter what happens it's going to be a huge story on top of the biggest story we've been on in a generation. So you're going to feel this. You're going to be asking why didn't somebody tell me this was going on. And by then it may be too late. If your local news organization is already shut down because we didn't support it we didn't understand it. Then you'll pay the price. And the price will be the lack of micro local information that you know the biggest news organizations simply aren't going to make it there. Indianapolis television stations aren't going to come to the little town and it's not because they don't care. It's because they don't have the staff to do that. And that was never their intent to start with. So the question I would ask you is what would you miss if you were a local news organization even this radio station we're not to be there? What would you miss? What would you not have and what would you be willing to do about that? 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Steve Key to talk a little bit about - you have multiple roles. I mean as the executive director of the Hoosier State Press Association but one of the key roles, as you keep an eye on, the legislature. So you've seen over the last decade or two a reduction in statehouse reporters. Now we're - Al was talking about a reduction in city hall reporters. What's happened - when you look at the state coverage over the years. How is the reduction in those reporters affected the work of the legislature? 

>>STEPHEN KEY: Well it's you know - it's the the journalists the news media and particularly the newspapers that that are the ones who give you more of the breadth of coverage. And the fewer reporters you have than you know you have a tendency for those few reporters to be covering the same story. Whereas if you have more reporters you have more more bills, more agency stories that are that are being covered. You don't have to look any farther than the pandemic coverage. You know it's been the newspapers that have been pushing hard against the state to get more information about what's going on in the nursing homes and asking repeatedly for specific information on specific nursing homes as opposed to just aggregated numbers. The same would go for coverage as far as what's happening with outbreaks in the prisons. So you take those reporters away. You take those stories away. You take that push away for information that as an individual citizen is not going to have any leverage to try to get the information from the administration or a particular state agency. And the same will happen on the local level. You know if you don't have that reporter attending those meetings, asking those questions then things are going to happen. As Al said you know - and people will be asking later why didn't I know? And it'll be because there was nobody there to ask the question. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Sara. 

>>SARA WITTMEYER: We got a question asking - this is for Katrice and Max. What are you doing to help your staffs cope with the stress they're under at the present time? Katrice could you start and then Max? 

>>KATRICE HARDY: Absolutely. So it's a very good question. And it's one - it's difficult. There are a lot. We thrive off each other's energy. We enjoy being together. And not only are they living this experience themselves but they're also being charged with knowing into some really sensitive situations in some cases. And so what we've been doing is a lot of touch base with our reporters and staffers. We - I'm personally doing Zune chats with everybody on staff biweekly now. We are checking in with them regularly. We make sure there was PPE we're asking what we can do. If people need days to just take - I mean outside of other days they have to take, to just have a day to spend time with family - and obviously everybody is dealing with e-learning and all these other components that's making life pretty difficult. And so we've been really understanding with what their needs are. I honestly keep wrestling with can we do more? I was talking with one of my editors in Illinois yesterday. And I said Hey you guys have been doing quite a bit of work. Why don't we get you know ice cream gift cards for everybody. So little things - but honestly I think it's really important - and I stress this to all of the editors make sure you stay in close to your people. You can't just hear them on the phone. You want to be able to spending time with them, seeing that face to make sure they're OK. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: So OK. Katrice I want to follow up on that a little bit. You know the situation in Bloomington is kind of unique but Bloomington's editor was in the last set of layoffs. So that they have a tentative editor. So it's difficult, maybe difficult for that staff to have that touchstone. Can you talk about a situation like that? 

>>KATRICE HARDY: Yeah, absolutely. And so in that case again there is an editor who will be spending far more days there who had worked and knows that community. So that is the plan. We've rolled out some of that already. And then we also have our southern state editor who's about an hour away. But the same thing there. I mean he has been doing video calls with that staff. We have made sure that when we introduced to Michael as part of the southern state team that he had face time with them. Same thing with the weekly meetings. Same thing you know - Stephen Crane is going to be in that site far more regularly. So that - and it's interesting because when you say a site it's not physical because nobody's running the buildings right now. But it is - you know again I keep stressing video calls, video calls. And I know as traditional print media folks were a little uncomfortable with that. But we have to embrace that as managers right and to make sure people are OK. And I can't tell you how many times I've said to people, if you need to seek other resources, I mean we have the AP resources. We have options for you to utilize that are free of charge. I mean I want to make sure they're personally doing OK. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Sara. 

>>SARA WITTMEYER: I just have a follow up for Al about this. Just Al if you could talk a little bit about best practices and how you would advise newsrooms to handle this, especially in a time when I feel like they're - they are uncertain about the future just of their own jobs in addition to covering this virus. 

>>AL TOMPKINS: That's no different than anybody else. I mean, I'm sitting here thinking, what would a listener be thinking if they heard us talking about this? Like, well at least we still have jobs - when the - a fourth of the working population right now - my neighbor across the fence from me over here hasn't worked in two months. So it's no different than anybody else. And that is - you know, you've just got to do your job and keep ready to respond if you lose your job. But the other piece of it - and this is really one of the challenges. The other piece of this is not to let your own concerns about your own future start creeping into your reporting - your own frustrations, your own anger, your own fears. Part of the problem is that these reporters are covering people who are saying the very things that the reporters themselves are feeling. They want to get the - every journalist wants to get the economy going too, and yet they're doing stories about how dangerous it would be if you did that. So in many ways, we're covering the story that we ourselves are also living. I'm here in St. Petersburg, Fla., it's very much like covering hurricanes where people are covering the storm that's also battering their own home. It's a metaphor for what we're covering now. And so that's part of it. The other is to remember that journalists are just like everybody else. We've got health concerns. We have senior citizens to take care of. We have children who are out of school. We're trying to homeschool our kids while we're also trying to do our work. And, you know, it's all - it's something that I think people don't fully understand. This program is being done out of people's bedrooms where you used to be in studios, and yet it sounds remarkably clear and crisp. So, you know, I think people don't need to know that, it's not important for them to know that, but that's the reality. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: I'm going to give our - the ways to contact us again. You can send questions into news@indianapublicmedia.org. You can also follow us on Twitter at @noonedition. I wanted to ask Max and Katrice both to follow up on that a little bit because I know that your newsrooms that you're involved with are doing really good journalism. I mean, what's the focus of the work now that's coming out of the newsrooms? Max, you want to start? 

>>MAX JONES: Sure, Bob. One thing I'm really blessed with here in Terre Haute is a veteran staff and they have, from the time this started, seized the moment. They understand the seriousness of the issues involved. They're covering stories on two major fronts - one the public health front, one the economic front. And it really is a - of great comfort to me to know how well they embrace the challenge that is ahead of them. So that has, I believe, helped us in many ways move forward on this. It's been a day-to-day thing. We've had to deal with our people issues as they come along. I think everyone understands that, if the stress gets too great, if there's other parts of their lives that begin to intervene, we need to be there to help them. They've always been that way. We've had one of our reporters that has actually made masks for everyone else in the newsroom. We've had others who have done similar things to help out their colleagues. So that really makes all of us feel very much that we're part of a team that we know will - we may have to rally at one point or another to help the others as a situation may arise. So that - you know, that's sort of a snapshot of what I see as we go along, and we're far from being out of this yet. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Katrice? 

>>KATRICE HARDY: Yeah. And, you know, from our perspective, it really is - I mean, when this first started, this is the story. I mean, if not definitely the year, not the decade, and you could go on. And so we really looked at how we were structured and said, you know, we just need to have COVID teams. And so we broke those out into three areas of focus in Indianapolis in particular, and that was, you know, economic development, you know, the reopening, we looked at government accountability, watchdog, transparency, and obviously the health focus - kind of the three big subgroups. Since then it's changed more to, you know, still doing those things but really, again, trying to figure out what we needed to cover at the moment as the story has evolved. And so we've talked about shifting more resources over to the economic impact and how Indiana comes out of this. We've talked about that quite a bit as a state, and so there are different stories we've done together. And it's great because, you know, we did a piece COVID - one particular day last month across the state of Indiana, and we had these vignettes from the northern part to the southern part of the state and they addressed all these things that people are experiencing - the parent trying to, you know, relearn, the person trying - somebody else trying to apply for unemployment, what's happening at the sports arena - or nothing in Indianapolis right now. And so we've really looked at our resources across the state as well as capitalizing our local expertise and tried to use those resources effect - efficiently but also to not overwhelm any one person so they don't have to do so much all at once. We want them to become experts, if you will. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: All right. Thank you very much. We have other questions that have come in. Here's one that really is addressed to Katrice, although I think that Max can address it too, because it's about union newsrooms, and the question is specifically about whether, you know, Gannett - with South Bend going to a union newsroom and I think there was one other - Phoenix, perhaps - whether Gannett has policies or has an aggressive stance about union newsrooms. And I know, Max, you've worked with a union - with union shops. I don't know that you - I don't know that you - do you have a union newsroom in Terra Haute? 

>>MAX JONES: We actually do. The Tribune-Star being here in Terre Haute is pretty much wall-to-wall unions. The newspaper guild represents the largest bulk of folks, including the newsroom. And then we have some other production-related newsrooms. So, yes, I've been dealing with that almost my entire career. I've been here 35 years. I was in the union for a few years at the start of my tenure here, and the - we have a great relationship with the newspaper guild. We feel like we have a good collaboration going and are not seeing any issues related to dealing with the collective bargaining agreement here. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Katrice, back to you from - the question, you know, was sort of directed to Gannett since that's all new for this area anyway. What's Gannett's stance on union representation? 

>>KATRICE HARDY: Absolutely. So, yeah, we definitely work really hard and I'm - so I'm new to being in a union shops, so I'll - with a company, but I'll say we work really hard to have good relationships. I can tell you in the two months that I've been in Indy, I feel like I've had great conversations with our arguing and representatives. You know, here's the thing, I think - and especially in Indianapolis and many of our other locations, we all are in - you know, come with the same mission and purpose. We want to have been working environments but we also want to do great work. And so, you know, even with the recent furloughs, I think - you know, we've had really good conversations around that. And so, you know, I've not had to work on a new contract yet, but I will tell you that I'm - been very pleased with how we've been able to come to a - you know, a decision and how we've been able to work through any concerns that may have arose with the coverage. PPE was one thing, which the company was already going provide equipment for. But just being able to say, yeah, this is what's coming, just see you now. And I've tried to also give our union a heads up on anything that I might - I think might be an issue or a concern. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: So I want to go to Al and Steve to talk about, you know, in a general sense, the Gannett restructuring and the restructuring of many, many news companies to sort of more centralized leadership in a lot of ways. What are the plusses to these mergers and the centralization? What are the - are there - what plusses are there? And what are the minuses? And Al, could I ask you to address that first. 

>>AL TOMPKINS: Well, I've worked for big companies and I've worked for small ones, and there are advantages to both. The small ones are great if the owners and managers serve the local community first and make that their priority. They are bad if they are too central - that is to say if they're - if they protect their friends and they don't aggressively go after the power brokers, then small owners don't have the advantage. On the broadcast side, just as an example, the larger owners have been much more able to endure so far because they have so much larger portfolios. They are - they have so much more credit line. They've been able to do reasonably well so far. There are a couple of exceptions. We saw Meredith, for example, which is also a big magazine company - Ladies Home Journal, Better Homes and Gardens, such as that - we saw their quarterly report yesterday and it's pretty dismal. But they recently went through some big acquisitions. This - anybody who went through acquisitions in the last four or five months must be really wondering what they were thinking and - because the book value of whatever they acquired is a fraction of what it once was. It's just the worst time to be a new owner of any media company right now. But, you know, we'll see whether they can make them more profitable or profitable at all. In some cases, they're going to have to start thinking completely differently about how they do their business. Instead of being in the newspaper business, they'll be in the news business that sometimes publishes in paper. Here's the other piece of it - and I hear this quite a lot from the public. In that, well, look, why don't they just go digital? They'd save a lot of money. Yeah, they would. They would save some printing costs, they would save distribution costs - both substantial costs. But it's a nickel on a dollar. So you'd have to have about 20 online subscribers to generate the revenue of one print subscriber, and therein lies the problem. The scale of economy, particularly in small communities, just isn't large enough. You don't have enough people who would ever be interested in the digital version to be able to make it work. So then what happens is they throw up paywalls. So the problem with paywalls is people don't like to pay them or they can't pay them, and then they get frustrated because they can't see the story, and then rumors start that somebody heard this, read that, so on. And that's the problem. I wish I had a better solution. I wish I was more optimistic about it. But part of this was of our own making. It took way too long for print companies to figure out how to do digital, and those who did - The Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, New York Times - have done reasonably well during this because they changed their income stream. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Al, can you point to any smaller newsroom - newspaper or newsrooms that have figured it out? You know, The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post are not on a par with a lot of the papers that, you know, we deal with around here. 

>>AL TOMPKINS: Truthfully, there aren't very many. Texas Tribune - a couple of others have tried - have done reasonably well. There's nonprofit models that have cropped up that have done reasonably well. Part of the problem is particularly in smaller areas - rural areas, you end up having - the cohort of subscribers are generally older people who want a print edition. They are not willing to go online. It's difficult to read. It's hard to navigate. It's not how I'm used to getting information. And so you're asking people to change habit for no reason because it was still available to them. So it's very difficult to change consumer habits once they are used to getting the information one way. Now the pandemic has caused us to change all sorts of habits, and so now it may be much easier to move people to online. But the problem there is you're going to have to move 10 people - 15 - 20 people to online paid subscribers in order to equal the income from one print subscriber, and that's going to be very difficult to do if you don't have enough people in your community to be able to make anything like that. The other piece of it is, honestly, in small newspapers, the distribution costs are pretty high. Let me give you an example. Here in St. Petersburg where I live, a lot of people live in high rises, condos and stuff like that. It's very difficult to get a print edition into somebody's condo, and so it's labor-intensive. You're not just driving up and down the streets of Terre Haute throwing the newspaper out on peoples' steps. Here you actually have to get out of the car and physically delivered to these high rises. And it's - it takes forever to do. It's just a terrible way to deliver a newspaper, but that's what they do. And they've got to get rid of that cost in order to be even possibly viable. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: So if I can add - you know, I've worked at the newspaper for a long time and I was there in the Herald Times went to a paid model and it was one of the first in the country that did that, and what happened was it became very difficult to walk away from the $300,000 a year that was coming in as revenue, even though, you know, now it seems like maybe it was just the - a wrongheaded move and the wrong way to go. But once that revenue was coming in, it was just very difficult to walk away from it. So, you know, you're right, I think newspapers have stuck to the print model because it was working, and that's not really the future. Steve key, you've seen this with newspapers all over Indiana trying to figure out this digital model too. 

>>STEPHEN KEY: Yeah. I mean, it's not just in Indiana. As Al - it's a national issue in that you have a product that is in high demand and people, you know, want their local news. They want to know what's going on their community. And it's not just generational, I mean, the - I - you know, I've heard the millennials and the X-geners are huge voracious news consumers but, you know, they think that - and have a feeling that they should be able to get their news for free. And it makes me think of a quote I saw the other day where someone says, "I don't need the newspaper because I get my news on the Internet is like saying I don't need farmers because I have my food in the refrigerator," and there needs to be a change and people have to understand that they have to pay for that reporter, that editor, and that distribution system to get that local news. It just doesn't happen. And the entities - the newspaper groups, chains, family-owned - whatever - they do have to make a profit. You know, it's not a charitable organization. So there's got to be a change, but I'm optimistic that the - there will be a model. It may be more digital than print as we go forward because of those distribution and printing costs, but the demand is there. And if there's a demand, there's going to be a way to do it. And I hearken back to when I was a kid. If you had come up to me with a plastic bottle of water and said, here, Steve, how would you like to have this bottle of water? You know, it's - only cost you a dollar 75 - you would've laughed at the time. But now people - you know, they buy their bottle of water and buy crate loads and don't blink at spending money for the water. So there's going to be a change, I think, in attitude towards the value of news and the product where it'll be the subscription revenue that drives it and the advertising that comes along with it will be more gravy on top of that I firmly believe. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Al? 

>>AL TOMPKINS: I think there's one other way this could unfold that would be a lot less disruptive, and that is if search engines and social media aggregation sites - like Apple News, for example, or even Facebook - begin paying the news services for the content that they are using. So Google News, for example, or Apple News might be paying the provider for the content that they are circulating, and I think that's - first of all, it's overdue. It needs to be done. It's fair. It's right. They are aggregating and circulating the material that newsrooms are creating and not paying for it. So that could be a substantial income for the organizations that are creating the content. And I don't think it's going to be long in coming. I think that's going to happen. What they have been arguing until now is look, we're aggregating your content. We're putting your content on our site. We're driving traffic to your local site. Well, that's fine. But if you're a Bloomington newspaper, you don't much care if you have readers in California. No advertiser selling furniture to California. So you don't get credit for the reach, the national reach because your advertisers aren't trying to reach nationally. So that doesn't work. What will work, though, is if they pay for the content that they use and they should. 

>>STEPHEN KEY: We're starting to see that happen, I think, Australia, France. There are several countries where they're looking to either force or push Google and Facebook into that type of program. 

>>KATRICE HARDY: With that, Al, how would that thinking be true for, like, Facebook and Twitter, too? Because I'm assuming they make a lot of money off the news, too. 

>>AL TOMPKINS: Well, it could. Facebook actually tried pretty valiantly I thought to do something called Facebook Stories. And what they were doing is they were - instead of linking, for example, to the New York Times stories, they were - actually you could go onto Facebook, and the New York Times had a deal with Facebook and so did Wall Street Journal and many others. And what they would do is instead of linking and sending the reader to the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, the whole story would appear wholesale right there on Facebook. Well, there were two problems. One, the link wasn't sending anybody to the paper. And so what was happening is that the paper was seeing an increasing decline in subscribers and people who were reading their content by coming to the actual site. And so traffic went way down. It was more or less a watch. The amount of money they were getting from Facebook was more or less about equal to the amount of traffic that they were losing. It just kind of wasn't worth their time and those deals mostly fell apart, but it was an interesting idea. The whole - and users by the way loved it. They love not having to click on a link and go to another place. So it served Facebook very well. It help people on their site exposed them to Facebook ads for a much longer period of time. It's an important metric that we have in media called time spent on site. We want you to stay on site as long as possible. Very much like this radio station would like to hold you for the entire day, not just for a newscast. So time spent on site for Facebook went way up but traffic to individual newsrooms weighed down. And that idea fell apart. But it could happen. You know, it could - Apple News is an interesting one because I can read entire articles on Apple News. And it's a really interesting service. But boy, it's just really difficult to get from the original story to the original publication. They buried links so deep that really what you have to do is go back and do another search and find the article. That just doesn't work for the original. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: If you have questions or comments about the journalism environment these days in a time of a pandemic, please send us an email to news@indianapublicmedia.org or you can follow us on Twitter at Noon Edition. So for Katrice and Max, I wanted to ask about just - you know, this is all we talked about the fact there's a presidential election coming up as well and there are local elections, state elections. This is a time when, you know, news is really important in terms of just public policy. The nation is divided perhaps as it's been in a long time. I think there have been other times when it's been very divided, but we certainly are seeing a lot of divisions. So, you know, how do you keep focused on the news and how do you cover other issues? An Katrice,. I must bring up the fact that you guys in Indianapolis have had to cover, you know, the police shootings and... 

>>KATRICE HARDY: Absolutely. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: ...You know and those are - you know, that's another huge issue that you're having to cover at a time when we're in a pandemic. So... 

>>KATRICE HARDY: Absolutely. So it's kind of you mentioned that because we had a long discussion this week just about elections. And we have an upcoming primary in Indiana. And so, you know, one thing we talked about is, again, being able to use these resources across the state. But the one thing we do well and I think we have to do well is shine a light on these issues, talk to our communities and really understand what they're looking for. And we are the number one news source for who these people are, who are running, doing those background checks, during a pandemic. Still providing that information is vital and important. And so we talked about was, OK, we're going to have to take a segment of our, you know, our newsroom and still do what we usually do for elections. And then what's nice about that in this case for us is we have a number of newsroom across the state so we'll all be able to share in that workload. I mean, that's the beauty of having a bigger company. There are some downsides as well, but I think that's where, you know, we talked about that. And so our primary coverage will be taking those races that are vitally important, that our readers are looking to us for information on and doing the same background checks, writing those same stories. But you're right. I mean, I'm constantly thinking about the priorities for the area, the priorities for each of our sites. And right now, it's COVID. It's reopening in America. It's IMPD if you're in Indianapolis and now elections. It's a constant, you know, juggling act. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Max. 

>>MAX JONES: Well, we all certainly understand that the primary news story of the day is covering the pandemic and all those things related to it. But I tell you there's still always a sense of relief any day in the newsroom that another topic comes up that's unrelated and everybody's very glad to have an opportunity to think about something else. There hasn't been much of that, but there certainly has been some just such as today we find out that Terre Haute has been granted its casino license from the Indiana Gaming Commission. So there's things like that, that still come up to that are important to our community that we will continue to cover that are unrelated to the pandemic. But truly it's almost everything that moves in our lives right now are somewhat related to, if not directly, related to all the problems that are associated with us. And, you know, we try to provide ways for a reader to get some relief from that if they want. Our sports reporters in this time when there's no games being played and then not a lot of balls in the air, they've found ways to write feature stories and very entertaining pieces about athletics in their community and the way athletics has affected the community over time. And I've been real happy with the way they've responded and been very productive and still giving our readers a chance to read things about their community that aren't related to the pandemic. But certainly our primary focus is a day to day what's going on in this realm. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Sara. 

>>SARA WITTMEYER: We have two questions, Al, for you. One is just if you could grade the media, how would you rate their performance covering COVID-19? 

>>AL TOMPKINS: Well, that's kind of like grading the library, isn't it? What do you mean by the media? And therein lies the problem. So all of these good journalist on the radio with you here are all people who care deeply about your community. Is that how you mean? Do you mean network television? Do you - who do you mean? And so that's the problem is when we start linking all media together you start linking together those who have strong political leanings at the expense of truth and accuracy and fairness with those who are really careful and those who care about your community. So I'm almost dodging your question by raising concerns about it. I would say that if you are seeking fair accurate thorough coverage it's there to be found. If you are looking for coverage with which you agree, I'm sure you can find that as well. The problem with coverage right now, particular for something like a pandemic is this is no time just to reaffirm your already held beliefs. This is the time to be seeking truth and challenge your voice to ask yourself how do they know that, why would they say that, what is - what's in it for them for me to believe? Does this make any sense? Does this line up with science? Is this the sort of thing we can document? Are we guessing? Are we stating facts? These are important questions really, important questions right now. Don't just seek information with which you agree or that is good for you because that's not going to serve us well if we all are just trying to make it convenient for our own lives. I think this is one of these big questions. For example, this morning I was on a conference call with some universities in Canada that are trying to decide what to do about fall classes. And the Canadian schools, for example, are one by one by one big schools in Canada now are announcing just today and yesterday that they are going to go all virtual. And you talk about inconvenient. It is highly inconvenient for schools, big universities imagine IU going all virtual for the fall semester. It costs them millions of dollars, causes tremendous uproar in the economy. And yet that's what they're doing. So that's the kind of thing that I mean is what's motivating the decisions. Those are the stories that I think we're missing. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: I say that we did get a comment from a local Bloomington reporter Laura Lane who says despite the pandemic and staff cuts we are still at it reporting and presenting a central local news for you every day. And I can definitely say that the WFIU newsroom is doing the same thing and I'm sure Max and Katrice would agree that local newsrooms are certainly trying to do that all throughout the state and the nation. We do have a question that asks if print editions of newspapers disappear, can they survive on digital editions alone? I'm going to ask Katrice to take that. 

>>KATRICE HARDY: You know, it's interesting because you've seen a number of news entities try that, you know, ProPublica and some of these others. And I think that they have found a successful model. I think - you know, it really depends on advertising. And so, you know, maybe we'll be forced to make some decisions sooner than we'd like to. But we still get so much of our revenue from the print product. It's still a habit that so many of our readership has. We have really aggressive, you know, I think ideas and research around how you get you grow your subscription base. And so we are constantly talking about the need that to subscribe, whether it be digitally, primarily but also still with print. And so, you know, the newsrooms are really excited about that. Many of them have taken it upon themselves, reporters and photographers to also educate our community about the importance of that. But to date, I mean, the beauty of being in a larger network right now is that we haven't had to walk away from print. You know, we've given ourselves more time to figure out how to make the business model work. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Al, did you have something on to add? 

>>AL TOMPKINS: No, I think that's right. Trying to - print costs, depending on - the more you print, then you end up with a scale of economy. So it's more costly per capita - per subscriber for smaller newspapers to print, partly because there's transportation costs that are involved, mailing costs - all those kinds of things. So - but they're also much more difficult to get online. The beauty of a regional or weekly newspaper - small town newspaper going digital is that they become an hourly daily news source, more like a radio station. And local radio stations are under tremendous pressure right now, so there's really a huge advantage of doing that. Here's the downside, and that is connectivity, right? Trying to get senior citizens, for example, to look at a phone screen for delivery or to navigate a complex computer screen can be a huge challenge, and therein sort of lies the rub. Here's the good part, and that is if you make these newspapers online, for example, easier to read by having much easier to change font size, that can be big. If you can make them so that you can turn them into audio books, that would be fantastic. I mean, there is some technology that will make the virtual online version of newspapers far more attractive than the print newspapers - more timely, easier to read, audio books - all of those things could be very valuable, but we're late to the game and now the gun's to our head and it's difficult to invent while you're in such a rush. But that's where we find ourselves. I am not completely pessimistic. On the backside of this, I think these papers will make the changes that had been long in coming. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Sara? 

>>SARA WITTMEYER: We got just a follow up to that from Owen Johnson. He's wondering why isn't there sort of this a la carte option - that you can just pay for a single story that you would want to read digitally? 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Who wants to take that? 

>>AL TOMPKINS: I'll jump in. It would be untenable. You would you end up having to - I don't know, what would you charge to see a story? Two cents? Five cents. Here's the other issue is you end up sort of click baiting, right? So what would happen is that I would give you an incendiary headline that would make you want to click in rather than giving you a factual headline. I can see lots of problems with this in that I'm not sure that you would actually probably click on and pay for a story about a famine, you know, in Africa, but you probably should read it or at least be exposed to it. So it's an interesting idea. It's the same kind of idea that we have for things like cable TV and stuff like that. From a practical point of view, I'm not sure it would serve us well. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Katrice, we have about a minute to go and I wanted to give you an opportunity, as the new person here - and, of course, Gannett and Gatehouse - Gannett now is fairly new in the Bloomington area. So I just wanted to give you an opportunity to talk about, you know, why the good folks of Bloomington should be - not be wary of Gannett as a news source. 

>>KATRICE HARDY: Absolutely. And I - you know, I think it's a good and fair question. Absolutely. You know, for a couple of reasons. I think that we still have a number of resources there - people with seasoned experience. They love the community. That's not going to change. We still have on-site editors. That won't change. And so, honestly, I think, you know, where we're focused right now is how we can elevate our work. How we can do more with the resources we have. And not covering everything, because we can't. We have to prioritize. We have to focus on the key issues that the community is looking to us for. And so I think, you know, helping the reporters and helping the community drive those discussions is going to be where we take our next initiative. But then showing them - I mean, we have to show them quality work. We have to show them all the Lauras and all the other folks who work in that newsroom are still going to do fantastic work with the on-site editor, Stephen Crane. I mean, the cuts we made and we've done have been of our own integration, but let's not lose sight of the fact that reporters and photographers are in that newsroom, and that's who we need to cover these communities. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: All right. Going to have to cut you off. Thank you very much for that answer. That was Katrice Hardy from the Indianapolis Star and the Gannett Midwest Regional Editor. We've also been talking today with Max Johns from Terre Haute, Al Tompkins from the Poynter Institute - a senior faculty member - and Steve Key from the Hoosier State Press Association. For our producer Bente Bouthier and John Bailey, for engineers Matt Stonecipher and Mike Paskash, for cohost Sara Whitmeyer, I'm Bob Zaltsberg, thanks for listening. 

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>>UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: NOON EDITION is a production of WFIU Public Radio. A podcast of this program is available at wfiu.org. Production support for NOON EDITION comes from Smithville - fiber internet, streaming TV, home security and automation in southern Indiana. More information at smithville.com. And from the Bloomington Health Foundation - partnering with local organizations and citizens to invest in programs - health needs. Bloomington Health Foundation - improving health and well-being takes a community. More at bloomhf.org. 

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paper

The front page of the Herald-Times for Monday, January 28. The H-T was bought by GateHouse Media in January from Schurz Communications. (WFIU/WTIU News)

Noon Edition airs on Fridays at noon on WFIU.

As people attempt to stay up-to-date on information during the pandemic, news consumption is up.

Data collected by Kantar says over of a third of people across the world see staying well informed as one of their primary ways of responding to the pandemic.

More than half of news articles consumed over Facebook are COVID-19 related, and Facebook-driven traffic to news sites is up.

According to the television measurement company, Alphonso, cable news networks have seen viewership climb 50 percent since the start of the year.

Yet since the pandemic, many media outlets have laid off, furloughed, or cut pay for employees.

National Public Radio estimates projected losses in the next two year to reach between $40 million to $53 million. They've announced pay cuts and furloughs will take place within the company, though no employee making under $80,000 will be included in the pay cuts.

Newspapers across the country have halted print because of financial strains during the pandemic.

Late in 2019 Gannett and GateHouse merged, becoming the largest newspaper chain in the country.

In April, the company laid off and furloughed staff positions at multiple newspapers. It is unclear if the decision was related to the pandemic.

This week, we are talking about how the pandemic has affected the news industry and coverage.

You can follow us on Twitter @NoonEdition or join us on the air by calling in at 812-855-0811 or toll-free at 1-877-285-9348. You can also send us questions for the show at news@indianapublicmedia.org.

Note-This week of our guests and hosts will participate remotely to avoid risk of spreading infection. Because of this we will not be able to take callers live on-air.

Our Guests

Stephen Key, Hoosier State Press Association executive director

Al Tompkins, Poynter Institute senior faculty

Max Jones, Tribune-Star editor

Katrice Hardy, Indianapolis Star executive editor, Gannett Midwest regional editor

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