Special Feature
Part of a ZDNet Special Feature: Coronavirus: Business and technology in a pandemic

Google and Facebook blamed for lack of COVID-19 news reports

Hundreds of US newspaper newsrooms are sending journalists home during a crucial time in reporting on COVID-19 developments.

Coronavirus: Uncertainty all around
7:38

Google and Facebook are blamed for cutbacks at 566 US newspapers that effectively reduce newsrooms by nearly one-quarter -- during a time when more reporting is needed on COVID-19. 

latest developments

Coronavirus: Business and technology in a pandemic

From cancelled conferences to disrupted supply chains, not a corner of the global economy is immune to the spread of COVID-19.

Read More

The blame was laid by the Save Journalism Project, a Washington DC activist group founded by former senior editors and journalists. They claim that tech companies dominate digital advertising, which makes it impossible for newspapers to compete and creates a serious problem for communities.

"When communities need their newspapers most, we can thank Google and Wall Street for reducing coverage at 566 newspapers across the country," said John Stanton, former DC bureau chief for BuzzFeed and co-founder of the Save Journalism Project.

Stanton was referring to a Monday morning Gannet memo from its CEO Paul Bascobert that told employees at 566 newspapers they would all be "furloughed" for about one week per month.

Gannet is the largest US newspaper publisher, and its moves are likely to be followed by other newspaper chains because they are all dealing with potentially huge revenue losses on top of competing against the giant tech publishing platforms.

US newspapers face an additional challenge: Their owners typically are private equity firms such as GateHouse Media, which acquired Gannet in 2019 thanks to a high interest 11.5% loan of $1.8 billion.

The aggressive monetization goals of private equity firms combined with very high-interest loan repayments places additional pressure on newspapers already dealing with shrinking revenues.

Those shrinking revenues are due to the dominance of advertising markets by Goole and Facebook, according to the Save Journalism Project. 

The furloughing of reporters comes at a time when communities need the most accurate information. Local newspapers are a trusted resource, and the moves to shrink newsrooms will force people to seek information from dubious sources.