CNPA pandemic response: decisiveness and resilience
From the Winter 2021 issue of California Publisher
Like the vast majority of our members, CNPA experienced some hard times in 2020. So, also like members, the association moved decisively with an eye toward long-range resilience.
With COVID-19, our revenues for advertising and events fell steeply, putting considerable pressure on day-to-day operations. We responded with familiar cost-cutting actions: staff reductions, program overhauls and delays, efficiency upgrades, and financial reporting advancements.
As CNPA members are painfully aware, however, California continues to suffer the consequences of the coronavirus. Many print advertisers – particularly those with smaller businesses – are struggling to get up and running again, so ad dollars remain hard to come by. Events businesses – including ours – are a long way from a reboot. Restaurants are still in pandemic meal-delivery mode. Theaters aren’t reopening.
The sluggish print ad market coincides with the inexorable move of many readers to digital news. The pandemic accelerated the pace for some, but for others like elderly, ethnic, low-income and non-English-speaking populations, barriers to digital remain high. Plus, in many areas of the state, broadband service is so weak that access to digital news ranges from challenging to impossible.
Publishers worked hard to keep pace with the technological change. But with revenues collapsing, it was hard to find the money to invest in transformation. In addition, publishers almost universally took down paywalls to remain true to their belief in journalism as the first leg in free society’s right to know. So, no community was left without access to essential information on public health and safety.
Of course, the pandemic has also delivered some “good” news. Member subscriptions have surged, and web traffic is burgeoning. But digital revenue, while growing, isn’t near enough to offset the loss of print. Meanwhile, Google and Facebook rely on our members’ content to power their news revenue machines without paying fair use.
There has also been a sea change in public opinion about the credibility of locally sourced news. Today, according to the Pew Research Center, 71% of Americans believe community newspapers report accurately. By way of contrast, 80% think one-sided and inaccurate news are big problems on social media.
As a result, the imperative for local journalism has never been stronger. Communities can thank their local newspapers for keeping them abreast of news with accurate reporting from trusted local sources. And since newspapers produce more original content than TV, radio and digital combined, our place in democracy ought to be assured rather than threatened.
All that being said, the new year is off to a promising start. CNPA staff have been extra focused on delivering essential legal and advertising services (the Legal Helpline has never been more active). RFPs for our advertising services are getting more frequent. Our new website is operational. A new legislative and public affairs team is assembled. Our diversity and inclusion effort has resulted in 14 new members. Public notice and Freedom of Information seminars are ongoing. And all is being delivered by a team led by President and CEO Chuck Champion that has been stunningly adaptive to doing business remotely.
This is all part of an intentional effort to provide members with mission-critical services despite the financial and public policy impact of the pandemic. The goal is to make CNPA’s response to the pandemic parallel the high bars set by its members.
CNPA Chairman Simon Grieve is publisher of Southern California News Group’s weekly Gazette Newspapers in Long Beach, The Beach Reporter in Hermosa Beach and Palos Verdes Peninsula News.