Bill Sniffin: Keeping News Outlets Alive During This Coronavirus Era

Here in Wyoming there are several examples among daily and weekly newspapers where cuts have been made and jobs have been eliminated.

Bill Sniffin

March 28, 20203 min read

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The rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated – famous quote by Mark Twain concerning American press reports of his demise while on a speaking tour in Europe in 1897.

And like Mark Twain, reports of the death of media are also wildly exaggerated.

Media, especially here in Wyoming, consists of a hardy lot of men and women who, although taking some blows, are still reporting the news and are nowhere near expiring.

They have been pricked, pickled, and pummeled, but the newspaper people, broadcast people, digital media people, and others are working harder than ever.  Despite the loss of advertising revenue during this difficult time, these media outlets are performing better than ever in reporting the biggest news story most of them have ever dealt with.

They are doing this for two reasons: First, this is what they do. Second, we are dealing with the biggest story of the century.

The public just cannot get enough of this Coronavirus COVID-19 news story.  It started in China and has been marching across the world. Today, the USA is the epicenter. The next two weeks will be unbelievable. Most medical experts say it could be beyond deadly.

Due to efforts by the federal, state, and local governments, people are doing something we never heard of a few weeks ago – social distancing.  This simply means we are not mingling. We are staying at home.  Many of us older folks are in what is called self-quarantine.  We are washing our hands, applying sanitizers, and paying attention.

So, while we applaud the job being done, we empathize with the dire straits of the media business right now.

Business is tough and the news business has always been tough. But publishers, broadcasters, digital outlet sources, and others that I know say they have never seen a time like this.

Never has news been more important – yet, budgets are being cut, employees being laid off, furloughed, or cut back, and it is becoming more difficult than ever to keep readers, viewers, and listeners informed.

In some locked down states, media has had to even fight to be considered an essential business.  Essential!  Now more than ever.

On the business front, here in Wyoming there are several examples among daily and weekly newspapers where cuts have been made and jobs have been eliminated. We give everyone involved credit as the workers try to keep themselves above water, their bosses try to keep the doors open, and together they try to keep people informed.

Some operations which are well-funded will ride this out without cuts but many of them are highly-leveraged, which means they can’t function without that stream of steady advertising revenue coming in. Many will struggle and the quantity of their outputs might diminish, but I’ll bet the quality will be better than ever.

My hat goes off to all my media colleagues during this difficult time.

One of favorite media slogans was by famous muckraker H. L. Mencken, who said our job is to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” 

Well folks, today our job is to comfort the afflicted. The media folks I know are doing a damn fine job of doing just that.

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Bill Sniffin

Wyoming Life Columnist

Columnist, author, and journalist Bill Sniffin writes about Wyoming life on Cowboy State Daily -- the state's most-read news publication.