The coronavirus pandemic has dealt a “gut punch” to three small-town Iowa newspapers, according to their publisher, forcing the local media outlets to cease publication and merge with larger papers.
“It has impacted our operation like no other issue,” said Becky Maxwell, publisher of the Knoxville Journal-Express, Pella Chronicle and Centerville Daily Iowegian, of the pandemic. “Advertising, the lifeblood of our revenue, has nearly dried up as local businesses, like us, struggle during this unusually difficult time. Yet our newsprint, production operations and delivery costs continue to rise.”
Maxwell announced Thursday the Journal-Express and The Chronicle will be absorbed by the Oskaloosa Herald and the Centerville Daily Iowegian will merge with the Ottumwa Courier.
CNHI, LLC owns the Journal-Express, The Chronicle, Daily Iowegian, Clinton Herald, Oskaloosa Herald and Ottumwa Courier.
The Journal-Express has covered Knoxville since 1855. The Chronicle has served Pella since 1866 and the Daily Iowegian has reported on Centerville since 1883.
Matt Bryant, publisher of the Southeast Iowa Union, serving Jefferson, Henry and Washington counties, told Starting Line his family owned the Daily Iowegian for 80 years, beginning with his great-grandfather in 1903. At 5 years old, delivering the Centerville newspaper around the neighborhood was Bryant’s first job in the industry.
“So, strictly from a personal standpoint, I am very sad to see the Iowegian close its doors,” Bryant said. “From the standpoint of a strong believer in the absolute need for communities to have a newspaper, it is a sad day anytime any town loses its paper. People have to understand that communities are better when a newspaper has its collective back, unfortunately not everybody gets that until it is too late.”
Bryant acknowledged local media faced “tough” odds prior to the pandemic, “and now with advertising taking such a huge hit,” he said, “it is even more challenging.”
Small newspapers aren’t the only ones impacted by the financial poll of the pandemic. Reporters at the Des Moines Register, Sioux City Journal, Quad-City Times and others have taken multiple unpaid furloughs to compensate for the loss of revenue.
Poynter has kept a running list of newspapers, TV stations, radio and digital media outlets that have instituted layoffs, furloughs and closed entirely during the pandemic.
Sen. Joni Ernst has signed on to legislation allowing local newspapers, television and radio stations to receive funding from the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program, even if they are owned by large corporate entities like Gannett and Sinclair Broadcast Group.
“Local press, like other small businesses who are facing challenges amid this pandemic, should be able to benefit from the Paycheck Protection Program, and this bipartisan legislation will make that support available to them,” Ernst said, in a press release about the Local News and Emergency Information Act.
On Friday, Iowa Public Radio said it will lose about 10% of its expected revenue for the upcoming fiscal year due to a decision by the state Board of Regents to rescind its funding for the station, according to the Des Moines Register.
By Elizabeth Meyer
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