As the nation weathers economic upheaval triggered by COVID-19, newsrooms brace for layoffs and cutbacks

Valerie Gonzalez
Valerie Gonzalez reports for KRGV-TV from the William N. Hall, Jr. Administrative Building in Webb County, Texas. PHOTO COURTESY OF VALERIE GONZALEZ

The COVID-19 pandemic’s devastating effect on the country’s economy has pushed many news organizations to make deep cuts.

Just this week, NBCUniversal began layoffs amid a restructuring that placed emphasis in its streaming and digital operations. Telemundo and E! Entertainment were the most affected by these cuts. María Celeste, the host of Telemundo’s “Al Rojo Vivo,” was fired after working with the network for almost 20 years.

Queridos amigos, con profunda tristeza, quiero informarles que ayer fue mi último día con Al Rojo Vivo y en la pantalla…

Posted by Maria Celeste on Wednesday, 5 August 2020

In Charleston, S.C., the Post and Courier fired digital editor J. Emory Parker and four other journalists on Wednesday. Parker had worked for the paper for seven years.

His layoff comes at a time when the Post and Courier created two new newsrooms in Greenville, S.C. and Myrtle Beach S.C.

“In the past couple of weeks, we have actually hired a bunch of new people,” Parker said. “It was really, really surprising to me to find out that actually our financial situation was maybe not so good.”

The New York Times reported on April 10th that nearly 36,000 journalists at news organizations in the country had been laid off, furloughed or took a pay cut since the beginning of the pandemic.

In newsrooms around the country, that number continues to rise as more and more journalists lose their jobs amid an uncertain future and an economy in free fall.

The Poynter Institute keeps an up-to-date list of the number of journalists that are laid off due to the pandemic. Among the organizations that have executed layoffs or pay cuts include the Tampa Bay Times, the Boston Herald, Univision, and iHeartMedia.

Valerie Gonzalez had been working as an investigative producer and reporter for KRGV-TV in McAllen, Texas for the past three years when she found out that the station would not be renewing her contract.

“I worked all the way through the night because of the pandemic and that didn’t allow me a lot of time to look for a job,” Gonzalez said. “It was either I look for a job and let my work suffer, or I kept working hard to make sure that my quality wasn’t affected by the stories I was putting out.”

Now, the pandemic is making her job search difficult. Gonzalez has applied to various newspapers with no luck.

“[One paper] did want to hire me, but their revenue is down from the pandemic so they don’t necessarily have the budget to currently take me on.”

In an effort to soften the financial blow of losing a job, media organizations such as the National Association of Hispanic Journalists are offering a membership extensions for people who have lost their jobs due to organizational cutbacks.

 Julie Garcia, a features reporter for the Houston Chronicle, was laid off for a span of four months and now shares her tips at NAHJ conventions on how to survive being fired.

“Before finding a new job, I always tell people who have been laid off to figure out: What are your priorities? Do you want to stay close to where you live? Do you want to make it a whole adventure and start applying to every possible job in the country?”

Garcia also tells unemployed journalists to use Twitter as a way to publicly announce that they were laid off and that they are actively looking for a job.

“Keep it really cordial, even if you are mad,” she said. “I was mad for a long time, but being mad and angry on your social media does not serve you in the long run.”

Julian Berger is a junior at the University of North Carolina studying journalism and Hispanic studies. He works as a part-time reporter for La Noticia, a Spanish-language outlet that covers his hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina. Reach him at julianb [at] live [dot] unc [dot] edu and on Twitter @julianrberger.

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