Rep. Clarke Seeks Payroll Protections for Digital Journalists

Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.) is leading an effort to get some economic security for digital-native journalists during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Those are ones working for publications that started online. 

Joined by some two dozen colleagues, Clarke sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and minority leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) saying that without immediate payroll assistance for those digital journalists' employers, many formerly profitable media outlets will go under, and their staffs will be out of work. 

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While the Payroll Protection Program (PPP) was created by Congress to help small businesses, the letter points out that the fact that the digital news sector often comprises multiple niche websites affiliated with a larger parent makes those ineligible for that support. 

"[E]ven as journalists are working tirelessly to deliver accurate reporting, the news workforce is facing an increasing likelihood of unprecedented layoffs," they said. 

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“Initial reporting estimates a 51% decline in spending on advertisements over March and April. This collapse is hitting digital-native outlets hardest, since most do not charge subscription fees and thus are disproportionately dependent on advertising revenue. For the professionals who work in digital newsrooms, federal financial support – whether by grant, loan, or other means – is all that stands between continuing to produce critical journalism and unemployment.”

Lowell Peterson, executive director of the Writers Guild of America, East, agrees. "Now more than ever, it is imperative that Congress help news organizations – including digital media – keep these hard-working people on the payroll," he said in support of the letter. "Thousands of jobs depend on it, democracy depends on it."

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.