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Kionne McGhee proposes state-funded endowment for journalism amid layoffs, coronavirus spread

Some newspapers will take a hit in advertising due to businesses closing down, events being canceled.

House Minority Leader Kionne McGhee says newspapers and other media should also get financial assistance because of the economic impact of the coronavirus. 

Layoffs at companies in Florida and across the country because of the novel coronavirus is already happening. 

And it’s already impacting media outlets. Seven Creative Loafing Tampa Bay employees were laid off Wednesday, according to the paper. Media layoffs because of the COVID-19 are in addition to the many layoffs that were already happening before the outbreak started spreading earlier this year, for a myriad of reasons.

The massive and sudden ouster cuts more than half of the alt-weekly paper’s staff, reducing its 12-member staff to just five. The cuts came as the paper faced daunting revenue projections stemming from closures and event cancellations related to the coronavirus.

Creative Loafing revenue relies on the “community being able to gather in public” in places like bars, restaurants and festivals, all of which are shuttered or significantly hampered by the outbreak. The paper receives advertising revenue from businesses that are either ceasing operation entirely or facing major cutbacks, which leaves the revenue well dry.

The Tampa Bay Times laid off 11 journalists Wednesday. Executive Editor Mark Katches said in a note to staff that the decision was not related to the shutdowns from the coronavirus.

The impact of that is “too soon to tell,” he said.

McGhee credits the state’s press corps for their excellent reporting keeping the public informed on the novel coronavirus spread and the government’s containment efforts.  

“There is no way that elected officials in government could function without (the media),” he said. “And that’s what makes Sunshine laws so important and that’s why it’s so important to have media at the table.”

The outgoing lawmaker says the state should have an endowment fund for media outlets like newspapers. The state already gives some funding to public broadcasting. Lawmakers are proposing to spend nearly $5 million in trust fund money for capital projects for public radio and television in the next fiscal year. The 2020-2021 budget gives the governor $54 million for the coronavirus response.

“There’s a trust fund for everything in the state of Florida,” he said. “Vanity (license plates), turtles, butterflies.”

Some people oppose the government giving money to public broadcasting or any media organization. President Donald Trump himself has questioned why the federal government should fund National Public Radio through the Corporation for Public Broadcasting after members of his administration got questions they didn’t like.

There are also massive inequities in salaries between reporters and upper management at some organizations and hedge funds that suck out profits in the short-term without necessarily appreciating the primary mission of providing news to the surrounding communities.

McClatchy, the media conglomerate that owns the Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald, announced in January it was closing its Doral-based production plant and cutting 70 jobs. That’s while McClatchy CEO Craig Forman’s 2019 contract included a base pay of $1 million, a bonus of $1 million, and an additional $35,000 monthly stipend. Just weeks later, reporters at the papers broke the story that the CEO of the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence was paid more than $7.5 million from state and federal funds — including nearly $5 million in cash compensation for “paid time off.” 

Previously, some newspaper reporters in Florida were impacted by the merger between GateHouse and Gannett. Layoffs started last December after the merger. 

Written By

Sarah Mueller has extensive experience covering public policy. She earned her bachelor’s degree in journalism in 2010. She began her career covering local government in Texas, Georgia and Colorado. She returned to school in 2016 to earn a master’s degree in Public Affairs Reporting. Since then, she’s worked in public radio covering state politics in Illinois, Florida and Delaware. If you'd like to contact her, send an email to sarah@floridapolitics.com.

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