COVID-19 has already begun to strain and outright fracture the many longstanding
fault lines across our country. Despite existential threats to their livelihoods
and their audiences, journalists in the community media sector continue to offer
the remedy to the disinformation and division that is coming to characterize the
In this special report on how the community media sector is reporting and
responding to the pandemic, we will share continuing COVID-19 coverage
from community media outlets that you won’t find in mainstream media.
On Wednesday, you can expect advance findings from our
report-in-progress on immigrant media, highlighting the ways in
which these media provide reliable information to communities where they may be
the only – and only trusted – sources of news.
We will also share preliminary insights from our ongoing national needs
assessment, which we are undertaking through one-on-one
calls with publishers and editors; a survey
we distributed through our partners in New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles;
and a series of virtual town hall meetings with community-based
journalists. The first of these meetings will take place today, Friday, March
27, at 3 pm EST; sign up here
to attend. We will share a video next week if you miss it.
Early findings illustrate the scope and impact of plummeting advertising dollars
and shattered distribution systems. As we learn what outlets need, we’ll develop
programming and other resources to buoy outlets in crisis and bolster the sector
as a whole.
In the meantime, we will continue to compile new grant opportunities,
financial assistance programs, and tools and resources for journalism
during social distancing. Finally, we will reflect on how the pandemic is
affecting local news outlets in general.
In these dark days, we find some comfort in drawing your gaze to the beacons of
clarity and insight reporting within and from the communities on the frontlines
of the pandemic itself – and of the measures taken to contain its devastation.
Community Media Coverage
As mainstream media outlets this week began to report on the impact of the
pandemic on immigrant workers – particularly undocumented, low-wage, or service
sector workers – the community media deepened its coverage with detailed
reporting on the experiences of day
laborers and street vendors seeking work and clients; delivery
workers risking exposure to keep others at home; simultaneously
“essential” and unprotected
restaurant workers, and still other restaurant workers, who were forced to
for themselves after closures.
Community outlets opened a window into the specific needs and preparations of
our society's most vulnerable. They reported on the need for guidance
in Haitian Creole on accessing medical care regardless of immigration
status, and despite fear of public charge rules, and how the rapidly spreading
is disrupting life in the Haitian community. They showed how in Crown
Chabad is mobilizing against the virus, and how the pandemic is placing
strains on LGBTQ
youth shelters. And as the pandemic continued to claim lives, community
the death of a Brooklyn principal.
and Discrimination Up Close
Community media brought particular nuance to wider coverage on xenophobia and
discrimination, reporting on how Chinese
American Trump supporters are responding to his insistence on calling
COVID-19 the “Chinese Virus,” and how the use of that term is impacting other
Asian American communities. They reported that, even as crowds converge on
major grocery store chains, Asian
markets and grocery chains remain well-stocked and underused. And they
quickly and incisively called
out anti-Semitism directed at ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities.
They went deep into the impact of pandemic containment strategies on businesses
in different communities. They reported on Jamaican
barber shops, and on Filipino-American
businesses in the greater New York region and in
LA County. They highlighted moments of resilience in the face of hardship,
reporting on how community members were supporting
businesses in Seattle’s Chinatown-International District, how New
York’s Irish arts and community centers were rising to the challenge, and
Jewish community was finding creative ways to pray.
Needs Assessment: Preliminary Findings
Since the early days of the pandemic, we have been undertaking a needs assessment
with outlets across the country.
Declining Advertising Revenue
In our calls with publishers and in responses to our survey,
outlets across the country tell us that drastic declines in advertising revenue
from local businesses, city agencies, and even local school districts are
threatening their businesses. One publication has lost a major hospital as an
advertiser, because they have suspended research studies seeking participants.
Of the about a hundred, mostly New York-based outlets, who’ve responded to our
survey so far, 84% have reported a decline in advertising, with 25% reporting a
decline of 75-100%.
Outlets are responding to this lost income in different ways. At least 32 of the
more than three dozen South Asian publications in the New York metro area have
suspended their print editions. A publisher of a Jewish community weekly in New
York City is now publishing fortnightly. Another media company that publishes
two Spanish-language periodicals in the greater New York City region is planning
layoffs. Still others are continuing to publish on their normal timetables, but
are reducing their print runs: The president of a Long Island-based printing
company that prints more than 100 community-based publications says he’s seeing
between a 10%-30% reduction in print orders, with the greatest print reduction
in Korean-language publications.
The great irony of these financial hardships is that community media outlets are
seeing unprecedented growth in their audiences. One editor in Brooklyn said
online traffic had tripled during the last two weeks of pandemic coverage, and
another Brooklyn-based publisher said online traffic had grown by 25%-40%. A
Korean news channel based in New York reported an uptick in both phone calls to
the station and in traffic on social media platforms, and a Bangladeshi news
channel reported a spike in viewership.
A finding from our forthcoming report on immigrant media underscores that, in an
age of disinformation and rumor, many community-based media outlets have been
able to earn audience trust by providing accurate, reliable
The importance of this mission is borne out in survey responses and our calls.
Publishers and news managers don’t just tell us of their financial hardships,
they convey to us a profound sense of urgency, even calling, to report to their
communities. One editor of a Spanish-language newspaper in New York City said,
“At this time when more relevant information is needed for the community, it is
important to stay afloat and continue to provide informational services to our
people.” To supplement the publication’s income, this editor has launched a web
and graphic design operation from the publication’s office.
Another publisher said, “We are working hard keeping our readers informed and we
can feel their gratitude for doing so. We doubled our audience in two weeks. Our
print copies fly from the racks on the same day we come out.” At the same time,
many advertisers have had to shutter their businesses and have canceled ads,
forcing this publisher to explore new sources of funding in order to meet
On a recent Zoom meeting, community radio broadcasters in largely rural areas
emphasized that they are often the sole news source for their listeners, many of
whom are elderly, homebound, or in areas where mainstream news coverage is often
irrelevant to their daily lives.
Social distancing measures continue to disrupt distribution of a number of
publications. Free and alt-weeklies that rely on local shops and businesses
rather than street-corner publication boxes continue to struggle to get their
publications to readers. Street papers, which are sold outdoors by people facing
homelessness, have also suffered under social distancing. Declines in their
circulation has the double impact of depriving their salespeople of much needed
One publisher of a street paper in Chicago explained the model: “The concept is
to provide a product as an alternative to panhandling, so our customers can
offer "a hand up, not a hand out" to their vendor. The vendors purchase the
paper at cost, and sell it on the streets for retail value, effectively making
each person who sells our magazine an entrepreneur with their own business. All
of our vendors rely on magazine sales as a source of income. For many, this is
their only source of income.”
CCM has pivoted to find new ways to support community media amid social
distancing. We are sad to say that we will be suspending many of our planned
events, conferences, and workshops, and are exploring new ways to connect
members of our community and support outlets under threat of closure or
Our planned Latino Media Summit will no longer take place at
the Newmark J-School on June 12-13, but we will soon announce virtual sessions
and complementary materials in its stead.
We are committed to continuing our ongoing advocacy for New York City-based
publications to receive their share of city agencies’ advertising
budgets, as mandated by executive order. In lieu of training
workshops, we will host a series of virtual trainings to help outlets prepare
media kits and connect with agency marketing directors. If you are interested in
this initiative, please email Darlie Gervais at [email protected]
to learn more.
This week, we hosted a webinar on fighting online
disinformation during the COVID-19 crisis. You can find a recording
of this session here.
Grants and Funding Opportunities
The International Fact-Checking Network at Poynter is partnering with Facebook
to offer flash grants of up to $50,000 for fact-checkers to combat COVID-19
misinformation, including for translation and multimedia projects. Applications
due April 1, 2020. Learn more here.
The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting is seeking proposals for innovative
approaches to reporting on COVID-19 using collaboration across state lines or
national borders. The opportunity is open to all newsrooms and independent
journalists. Learn how to apply here.
The Broadcasters Foundation of America provides Emergency and Disaster Grants to
radio and television broadcasters nationwide. More information is available here.
The Columbus Fund has activated an Emergency Response Fund to support nonprofit
organizations based in Franklin County, Ohio. More information can be found here.
Syracuse, New York has announced a $500,000 fund to provide
zero-percent-interest emergency loans to local small businesses impacted by
COVID-19. Details are available here.
New York City is offering financial assistance to small businesses impacted by
COVID-19. Information on different programs and opportunities can be found here.
We are compiling a list of local opportunities and funding resources, so if you
know of any new grants or financial assistance initiatives in your town or
locality, please forward them to [email protected].
Other Tools and Resources
Center for Journalism is offering a number of resources for covering the
pandemic, including the newly launched Global
Health Crisis Reporting Forum, which seeks to connect journalists,
fact-checkers, and global public health experts on COVID-19.
Newmark J-School’s Social Journalism program has compiled this resource
guide for serving a community during a pandemic.
Greater Public is offering guidance
on how public broadcasters can navigate fundraising during this time of economic
Food for Thought
How COVID-19 is impacting local media nationwide
The pandemic and containment efforts have
crippled local news in general. A recent Nieman Lab report suggests that
COVID-19 may be the end
for many alt-weeklies in the country.
Across the country, local newsrooms are laying off staff or shuttering
altogether. In the last week alone, there were reports of newsroom layoffs in Seattle,
Antonio. A Miami-based
publication announced a 25% pay cut and potential layoffs, and a publisher
announced that their publication could soon close.
Still, as this great Twitter
thread illustrates, community media are hustling to convey news to
audiences that face technology, language, and other barriers to accessing
mainstream news. As the pandemic continues to spread and create new hardships
for communities and the journalists who serve them, we will continue to showcase
the grit, resilience, and vitality of this sector.
Share with Us
We’d love to know what’s making you think about community media in new ways too,
so we encourage you to share any reports, databases, opportunities, or
visualization projects you want us to know about. Please send them to our
newsletter editor, Kavitha Rajagopalan: [email protected].
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