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In states across the country, governors who are ordering people to shelter in place as part of the response to the coronavirus outbreak have recognized that journalists working for newspapers, community radio stations, and other media outlets provide essential services in a time of immense uncertainty.
As New York Governor Andrew Cuomo says, "There's never been a more important time for New Yorkers to receive accurate, real-time information and the role of the media has never been more essential."
Newspapers, in particular, are having a hard time surviving the crisis. In my hometown of Madison, Wisconsin, the venerable alternative weekly newspaper Isthmus announced on Thursday -- after producing an issue packed with articles about the community's response to the crisis -- that it could not keep publishing.
In an online announcement, "We are heartbroken to share this news," explained, "Over the past few weeks we have been trying to cover the turmoil and grief that COVID-19 has caused our Madison community. Today, we unfortunately need to share our own story. We have decided that if there is any chance of seeing life on the other side of this storm, Isthmus must go dark for an undetermined amount of time."
The 44-year-old publication is not alone in going dark -- or, at the least, in dialing back dramatically. In California, two alternative weeklies -- the Sacramento News & Review and the Chico News & Review -- laid off staff and suspended print publishing, as did an associated publication in Nevada, the Reno News & Review. One of the country's leading alternative publications, Seattle's The Stranger, laid off 18 staffers and suspended print publication.
The list goes on. Alternative weeklies, many of which have played a vital role in advancing progressive ideas at the local, state, and national levels, are particularly threatened in this moment. "We have spent countless hours trying to figure a way through this. We have looked at every creative thing we could do and talked to as many trusted advisers as possible," explained the Isthmus announcement . "But in the end, we can't find a way. Isthmus financially depends on people coming together for concerts, food, drink, lectures, movies and more. And when it all goes away at once, we are left without options."