AMID PANDEMIC, PEN AMERICA URGES STATE OFFICIALS TO SUPPORT LOCAL JOURNALISM
PEN America joins with Free Press and Common Cause in nationwide letter campaign urging more support for local press
(New York, NY) – PEN America today led a coalition of local news and press freedom organizations to send letters to governors in all 50 states, as well as the mayor of Washington D.C., urging government leaders to include emergency funding for local news in their coronavirus relief efforts.
PEN America led the coalition effort, alongside Free Press and Common Cause, and it builds on PEN America’s advocacy on Capitol Hill urging Congress to include coronavirus stimulus funds for local news. Forty states have recognized the news media as an essential service, and the coalition urges all governors and political leaders to provide emergency coronavirus funds at the state-level to help bolster the industry at a time when local outlets are suffering financially.
“Local news outlets, ranging from state- to city- and community-level media organizations, are necessary partners in meeting the crucial information needs of people in the United States — especially during today’s public health and economic crises,” the letters read.
“However, COVID-19’s devastating economic impact on local news outlets is threatening their ability to function at all. Over the past two weeks, in the face of plummeting ad revenue, dozens of local publications across the country — from the largest chains to successful nonprofit and community outlets to tribal media and family-owned newspapers — have furloughed or laid off their reporters, reduced their publication frequency, or dropped their print editions altogether. In an industry that employs more than 80,000 people nationwide, many outlets are now struggling to cover even half of their reporters’ salaries, with newsroom layoffs increasing across the country.”
The 51 letters say that local news is essential to informing communities, and especially to informing vulnerable populations likely to be affected by the pandemic. This includes people of color as well as people living in low income communities. For instance, a local news outlet in California responded to listener demand by shifting its reporting to cover the coronavirus and broadcasting in Spanish to better serve the immigrant population.
“As local reporters and outlets have stepped up to provide credible and critical information to communities during the pandemic, so too must state leaders rise to the occasion to support these essential services,” said Nora Benavidez, PEN America’s director of U.S. free expression programs.
“Local news is not a luxury, it is a public good. We urge state governments to act immediately to provide an immediate lifeline to local media.”
In 2019, PEN America released the report “Losing the News” which laid out the vital role played by local news for communities and for democracy, and called for a significant public and private investment in local news, as well as guarantees to ensure editorial independence. Learn more about PEN America’s advocacy effortsto support local news and the group’s spotlight series on journalists covering the pandemic.
PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.
Compared With China, U.S. Stay-At-Home Has Been ‘Giant Garden Party,’ Journalist Says
“A pattern of infections and restrictions that could last for years.”
“In this country, 30,000 + new infections every day.”
“China didn’t start easing restrictions until they had Zero new infections a day…that’s when you really have control with easier contact-tracing.”
–New York Times science and health reporter Donald G. McNeil Jr.
McNeil says even a fairly strict stay-at-home policy is “just the first step” in the battle against the pandemic: “There’s a Harvard study that came out recently that said we should have 5 million to 10 million tests per day across [the U.S.] in order to have a clearer idea of where the virus is, where cases are going up. And cumulatively, all the tests we’ve done now has been 5 million.”
On how testing worked in China
The model in China was, when it was time to be tested, you were taken to a fever clinic. You were screened in several ways: Your temperature was taken. You were given a quick flu test and a quick white blood cell count to make sure you didn’t have a flu or bacterial pneumonia. And then you’d be given a quick CT scan. They could run as many as 200 CT scans a day on some of these portable machines so that they could check your lungs — because their tests had some time before the results came back too. And only after you cleared all those hurdles and you were definitely still a COVID case, then you got the test, because their tests were imperfect like ours are. And then you didn’t go home to wait for the results of your test. You stayed there in the fever clinic, in the center. You were told to sit far apart from other people — 6 feet away from other people. And people sat there sort of scared with their envelopes with their CT scan results in their hands, waiting to hear if they were yes or no.