Has COVID-19 Finally Killed the New Jersey Newspaper Industry?

NEWARK, NJ – The print newspaper industry has been in serious trouble for over a decade and large newspapers in New Jersey like the Asbury Park Press and the Star-Ledger rely on two guaranteed niche revenue sources that just aren’t there right now.   Now, the state’s two largest newspapers have announced furloughs and pay cuts for their employees.

The Star-Ledger announced this week it will begin furloughing employees.

“The company did not rush into these decisions like so many others have,” said NJ Advance media president Steve Alesssi.  “Ultimately, there is no ideal solution for situations like this.”

In recent years, newspapers have received a huge daily government stimulus in the form of public notice advertisements by local municipalities, county entities, sheriff’s departments, building and zoning boards and others.  Those notices are required by law to be published in those newspapers.  The Star Ledger and the Asbury Park Press have been the main beneficiaries of that law.

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Former Governor Chris Christie tried to change those laws, but the newspaper lobbying industry crushed Christie’s plan, branding it as revenge against an industry that he felt was unfair to him.  The reality is, it’s an archaic process that dates back to the early twentieth century.  The other reality is, people just don’t buy newspapers anymore.  We all get the news from the internet and television.

The other big bonus for newspapers are the inserts.  Advertisers like Red Plum stuff the newspapers with circulars and advertisements, but with COVID-19, that large revenue source has also drie up.  Both papers have admitted that advertising revenue has all but dried up during the COVID-19 crisis and they can’t afford to pay their employees.  Revenues are down as much as 100% in some sectors such as retail, restaurants and more.  Businesses have no reason to advertise in newspapers when customers can’t get go to the store and buy the newspaper every day and if they could, there’s no stores open to shop at.

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Even the supermarket circulars, whose business is booming, have shrunk in recent weeks.  Shop-Rite’s weekly circular went from many pages to just two the week prior to Easter and Passover, typically the largest editions of the year.

Two weeks ago, Gannett, owner of the Asbury Park Press announced layoffs across the board.

“Everyone will be touched by these changes in some form,” CEO Paul Bascobert said. “For some it will be economic, for others it will mean covering the work of a colleague on furlough, for many it will be both.”

“We realize these actions will put economic hardship on all of you and I don’t take these measures lightly,” Bascobert said.  “I would simply and humbly say ‘thank you.’ Our goal is to ensure that when we get through these difficult times, we emerge fully able to continue our important role serving our readers, clients and communities.”

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Photo by Roman Kraft on Unsplash