Blumenthal, Rosenthal Call For Supporting Local Journalism
From Newtown’s top elected official to Washington, DC, to local offices, officials are recognizing and speaking out in support of local journalism and newspapers that are suffering, and in some cases shuttering to keep employees safe and protect their bottom line, as the coronavirus pandemic continues to ravage the region and beyond.
The Newtown Bee is among a growing number of local and regional papers that have temporarily closed and/or halted print production. Locally, news and features are still being produced daily — sometimes hourly — at newtownbee.com by remaining correspondent staffers and local citizen contributors.
In a letter to Senate leadership April 8, US Senator Richard Blumenthal and 19 other lawmakers warned the widespread impact of the COVID-19 pandemic — including plummeting advertising revenue — could decimate local and regional news outlets even as communities have become increasingly reliant on their reporting amidst the public health crisis.
Already news outlets like The Newtown Bee have laid off or furloughed staff, and similarly to Newtown’s own media source, other newspapers across the state and nation have reduced or eliminated print editions. The lawmakers hope to see specific financial assistance for newspapers built into the next federal relief package being deliberated in the US Senate now.
In a call Wednesday evening, Sen Blumenthal said the aid package is specifically targeted to newspapers like The Newtown Bee. The lawmaker said the local paper, which had published a print edition weekly since 1877 and up until a temporary shutdown last Friday, remains a “cherished and significant source of news for the Newtown community,” albeit in a daily online format.
“The Newtown Bee should be a case study in the survival of local journalism, and why we need this relief package,” Blumenthal said. The senator said he and his colleagues are working to ensure any relief comes free of any strings attached or conditions regarding the continued publication of content without influence.
“We would reject any effort to tie strings to aid,” he said. “We remain wary but not fearful about that — this has to be an aid package with no strings and no restrictions.”
On the subject of The Newtown Bee’s survival and the continuing daily work of the local news outlet, First Selectman Dan Rosenthal took to Facebook April 6 to reflect on a recent visit with local newspaper employees during an annual get together. His remarks are as follows:
“About a month ago I was invited to stop by The Newtown Bee’s annual staff party. As I walked from table to table it was clear most of the employees’ tenure could be measured in decades rather than years and they all shared a relationship more akin to family. I could not have imagined leaving that dinner, in the span of just a few weeks, Scudder Smith would have to make the decision to cease printing the newspaper.”
‘Journalism Is Critical’
“While the decision was made to protect the health of the employees, the economic landscape for print news, especially local news, has not been great for a long time and was further exacerbated by the pandemic,” Rosenthal continued.
“As someone who grew up with The Bee, the news of the loss of the print edition saddens me. In my present leadership role, the potential loss of our local weekly newspaper frightens me. I say this, not because I get good coverage all the time, but because independent journalism is critical to good governance. It’s also central to making the public aware of what is going on in our community. Social media may be a source for discussion, but it is not an ideal source for facts and unbiased opinion,” the first selectman reflected.
“If nothing else, think about all of the coverage they give to the successes of our children and neighbors and how excited we are to see it all in print. Think about all of the coverage and attention that our local businesses and charities receive. Who or what would fill that void?
“The Bee will remain online for the time being. How they come back after that really depends on us. Following them on FaceBook or their website won’t do it. The only way to ensure their return is to subscribe.
“I know folks are worried about their health, families, personal finances and not the local newspaper at the moment, which is completely understandable and appropriate. When we put this behind us and we will put it behind us, I’ll hope you’ll join me in adding The Bee to the list of local businesses you support.”
In his co-signed letter to federal leadership two days later, Sen Blumenthal and his colleagues related:
“The current public health crisis has made the already vital role of local news even more critical,” the senators wrote. “Some of the most important guidance for families and businesses during this crisis has been highly localized. Local journalism has been providing communities answers to critical questions, including information on where to get locally tested, hospital capacity, road closures, essential business hours of operation, and shelter-in-place orders.
“During this unprecedented public health crisis, people need to have access to their trusted local news outlets for this reliable and sometimes life-saving information,” the letter continued.
The letter was signed by US Senators Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Mark Warner (D-VA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Jack Reed (D-RI), Patty Murray (D-WA), Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI), Bob Casey (D-PA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Angus King (I-ME), Tom Udall (D-NM), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Joe Manchin (D-WV).
‘Valiant First Responders’
“Local journalists have proven themselves to be valiant first responders during this pandemic, exposing themselves to a dangerous virus in order to get the story to the people,” said PEN America’s Washington Director Thomas O. Melia.
Founded in 1922, PEN America is the largest of the more than 100 centers worldwide that make up the PEN International network of nonprofits supporting a nationwide community of more than 7,200 novelists, journalists, nonfiction writers, editors, poets, essayists, playwrights, publishers, translators, agents, and other writing professionals, as well as devoted readers and supporters.
“They are ‘essential workers’ as many executive orders on staying at home at the state and local level have explicitly noted. The sector as a whole is suffering gravely as the nationwide shutdown has accelerated their loss of revenue,” Melia added. “This is why we at PEN America support Senator Blumenthal’s initiative to urge Senate leaders to include specific targeted stimulus relief for local journalism at this critical time.”
“The COVID-19 pandemic has only increased the extraordinary value of local news outlets, which have seen huge jumps in traffic since the beginning of March. Local news stories are now among the most viewed stories in the country — even as local media fight to survive the pandemic. Without funding from the next stimulus package, we may lose one of the most important sources of information we have to navigate through this crisis,” said Lisa Macpherson, Senior Policy Fellow at Public Knowledge.
Earlier this week, The Newtown Bee put out a call to anyone in the Newtown community who has an eye catching photo, or who knows of a good, positive story, to consider submitting details in writing for consideration to supplement the material being produced by correspondents.
Photos must be submitted as high resolution or large file size jpg files, and stories or content up to 500 words can be sent via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.