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Seattle, Tampa Bay newspapers win U.S. payroll support

by Reuters
Wednesday, 22 April 2020 21:01 GMT

By David Shepardson

April 22 (Reuters) - Newspapers in Seattle and Tampa Bay won support from a U.S. program aimed at helping small businesses during the coronavirus pandemic as local advertising revenue has fallen sharply.

But thousands of other local newspapers, TV and radio stations are ineligible because they are owned by larger companies. U.S. lawmakers were unsuccessful this week in winning a change to the program rules.

Seattle Times Co President Alan Fisco confirmed on Wednesday the Washington state newspaper will receive a $9.9 million forgivable loan. It projected that April ad revenue will be off 45% versus a year earlier.

In a note to staff on Tuesday seen by Reuters, Fisco said the funds will "give us some near-term room."

He added that "at least for now, we are putting on the back burner any plans for broad scale layoffs, or cuts to hours worked. There still may be some targeted reductions, but nothing to the extent of cuts we would have had to make without this support."

The program allows companies to borrow 2.5 times their average monthly payroll, up to $10 million. Companies must use 75% of the proceeds to cover payroll costs.

A Tampa Bay Times spokeswoman confirmed the newspaper and its other publications would receive an $8.5 million forgivable loan. Chairman and Chief Executive Paul Tash said the funding would "not compromise our independence or limit our journalism."

Tash added the funding would allow the newspaper to bring a "few colleagues back from furlough, and we are reversing a pay cut for most employees a month sooner than we had planned."

Larger pay cuts for top executives will not be affected.

Earlier this month, the Tampa Bay Times began temporarily producing print editions only on Sundays and Wednesdays because of the pandemic. The newspaper said last week advertising revenues had fallen by 50%.

Online publication Axios Chief Executive Jim VandeHei said Wednesday the company qualified for nearly $5 million under the program.

The loan ensures "we can avoid layoffs and pay cuts for our almost 200-person staff for the rest of the year, regardless of how much the overall economy deteriorates," VandeHei said.

The U.S. Senate approved a $484 billion bill Tuesday that replenishes payroll program funding but does not expand assistance to additional local newspapers and broadcast stations.

Washington Senator Maria Cantwell, a Democrat, said she would work to expand the program to local outlets "in the next package Congress considers."

Tens of thousands of local media workers are being forced to take unpaid furloughs or pay cuts, while other outlets are shrinking staff. Some smaller newspapers in California, Vermont and South Dakota are closing. (Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Richard Chang)

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