Pandemic's Impact On Media: From Seg Dennison And City Beat To Enquirer And Cumulus Furloughs

May 8, 2020

Furloughs, job eliminations and suspended print publications – the stay-at-home orders during the COVID-19 pandemic have impacted Greater Cincinnati media companies in various ways.

Here's what's happening to local radio and print outlets. I'll do the same for TV stations next week.

RADIO: You haven't heard some of your favorite radio personalities, and it's not because they're sick with the coronavirus. It's because they're on furlough – or lost their jobs in cutbacks.

iHeartMedia's WLW-AM furloughed 40-year veteran sports producer-reporter Bill "Seg" Dennison weeks ago, after sports shut down. DJs at Cumulus stations (WGRR-FM, WOFX-FM, WRRM-FM, WFTK-FM 96 Rock and WNNF-FM Cat Country) are taking a week of furloughs every month, for the next two months.

Hubbard Radio opted to eliminate dozens of jobs across the U.S., including at least three at the WREW-FM, WUBE-FM (B105), WKRQ-FM (Q102) and WYGY-FM (WOLF 97.3) cluster here. Gone from WREW-FM (MIX94.9) are afternoon host/production director Ray Anderson and morning co-host Shannon, and 19-year Q102 promotions staffer Katie Walters.

Locally owned country stations WNKR-FM (106.5) in Dry Ridge and WNKN-FM in Middletown (105.9) told Pat Barry to skip his afternoon shift to concentrate on sales, and let go of commercial producer Jimmy "The Weasel" Salzarulo in March. "With the entire Tri-State area under a shelter in place order, and with substantial numbers of businesses completely shut down, the production workload has decreased substantially," said owner Jeff Ziesmann.

PUBLIC RADIO: Most Cincinnati Public Radio staffers have been working from home since mid-March. Approximately eight employees are in the building at any given time for WVXU-FM and WGUC-FM. There have been no furloughs or layoffs.

Cincinnati Edition, WVXU-FM's weekday noon talk show, has been devoted to the COVID-19 pandemic since March. Host Michael Monks has interviewed Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley, Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, and many doctors, health officials and political leaders. WVXU also airs The National Conversation with All Things Considered about the pandemic at 9 p.m. weeknights.

Streaming and web traffic has increased, as has usage of the Classics for Kids (WGUC) and Democracy and Me (WVXU) educational programs, says Kevin Reynolds, community relations manager.

ENQUIRER: Gannett imposed furloughs for the second quarter. From April through June, all staffers are taking a one-week furlough every month. That means each week the daily report is produced by 75% of the staff.

Everyone is working from home. "We’ve shut down the newsroom," editor Beryl Love says.

There have not been any layoffs or permanent pay cuts, Love says. "The hope is that we can finish the year without additional furloughs or other cost-saving measures, but it’s hard now to predict how quickly the economic factors will normalize," he says.

The "print edition" still has three sections. "Some editions have been tighter because of the decrease in advertising, especially related to sports and entertainment, but we’re working hard to preserve the space we had budgeted for news because, well, there’s been a lot of news lately," Love says.

Key digital indicators (time spent on the website, content views, visitors) "were at record highs in March and April. And... we’ve seen a healthy increase in digital subscriptions. The support from the community for the work we’ve done has been phenomenal," Love says.

"We’ve been an industry in transition for quite a while now, adapting to rapidly changing consumer habits and technology – building a digital business, essentially – while maintaining our legacy print edition to serve that extremely valuable segment of our audience. My prediction is that the economic turmoil caused by the response to the pandemic will accelerate that transition," Love says.

CITYBEAT: The 25-year-old music, arts and culture biweekly – which has continued to distribute free print editions despite the closure of many distribution sites – soon will launch a CityBeat Press Club membership campaign similar to public broadcasting pledge drives, says publisher Tony Frank.

On March 18, editor Maija Zummo announced the furlough of seven staffers. "It really, really sucks. We are all moving forward with the hope that these changes are temporary, and that as soon as the storm has passed, we will be able to bring back these integral and beloved staffers," she wrote.

CityBeat's print and online content "remains 100 percent free for readers, and we’re still reaching more than 1 million of them a week," Frank says.

The new CityBeat Press Club will "ask readers who value what we do to support the publication — kind of like how the public supports their local PBS station or their NPR outlet. Different donation amounts help fund different things, and that does include helping to bring back any furloughed employees," Frank says.

"The Press Club will create a community around our readers and strongest supporters at a time that local media across the country has been struggling, and help underwrite our work in the face of the devastating loss of revenue caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

CityBeat's ticketed events have been postponed due to state safety requirements. "We plan to make decisions (on them) based on new information over the next couple of months," he says. The events were created, as advertising revenues from entertainment venues fell, to "support our journalism habit… but now everything has changed," Frank says.

"CityBeat is committed to keeping our print and digital products free, and now we're asking the community we serve to support the local journalism they deserve and have come to expect. This campaign has been in the works for some time, but present circumstances have increased our urgency," Frank says.

MOVERS & MAKERS: The local magazine covering arts, culture, community and philanthropy has suspended print and digital editions.

"We do not plan any online 'editions' in the near term," says Movers & Makers co-owner Thom Mariner. "We will post content (news, profiles, etc.) on our site and send out email news blasts (for which we are encouraging folks to subscribe). With events comprising or inspiring much of our content, a lot is up in the air for the time being."

CINCY: The local magazine for business professionals has cut both full-time and freelancers. Without a federal Paycheck Protection Program loan, "we would have had to make even more significant reductions," says Eric Harmon, editor and publisher.

Cincy plans to print a June-July issue. The company is "focused on retooling to fill needs where available, and we are going heavy into new formats for digital, and in that sense it’s been really enlightening and valuable," Harmon says. "For print, we are big believers in its value for our subscribers and community.  We may have to reduce frequency but we also frankly just love what we do, and we will fight to figure out what will make sense."

Harmon's biggest concern is "what happens after June and when the PPP funding goes away. Expenses will need to match revenues…. If we go back to a substantial and mandated business halt like we saw in April, the Great Depression won’t hold a candle to the amount of business and employment downturn in the short term."

CINCINNATI MAGAZINE: Editor John Fox finished the June edition this week. Cincinnati Magazine  continues to print on its regular schedule, after furloughing three people from a full-time staff of 26. "The rest of us have taken pay cuts," Fox says. The page count was down about 15% between the May and June issues.

Starting in April, Cincinnati Magazine cut its press run by about 15%, eliminating copies going to "public spaces" in doctor and dentist offices, hair salons and hospital waiting rooms. Instead, Fox has put the entire edition (ads and all) on its website so "people could flip through for free."

Fox has shifted more staff time and freelance budget to the web and social media to do timely stories and roundups of opened/closed restaurants, retail stores and arts organizations. With the longer publishing cycle of a monthly magazine, "we’re adapting long-planned service packages to the current times: craft beer in April, pets in May, Pride in June," he says.

During the pandemic, Cincinnati Magazine is aiming to be "both newsworthy and a distraction. Readers want to engage with the pandemic and also escape from it, so we try to serve both roles for them. Even in times like this — and maybe especially in times like this — people seem to appreciate the balance between those two approaches," Fox says.

BUSINESS COURIER:  Publication hasn't been interrupted while all staffers work at home. The Cincinnati Business Courier "has seen print subscriptions rise to a new level as well as record engagement with our digital audience. Our website visits saw a 65% growth year over year in March and slightly under that growth for April," said Jamie Smith, Cincinnati Business Courier market president and publisher.

"We feel that the Cincinnati Business Courier and our parent American City Business Journals has built a company that is no longer just a newspaper, but now a media company, a data company, and a convener of local business owners and leaders," Smith said.  ACBJ will launch a Cleveland digital business journal on May 18, adding to the company's Ohio presence in Cincinnati, Dayton and Columbus.

CATHOLIC TELEGRAPH: Catholics throughout the Archdiocese of Cincinnati also will see changes next month in the Catholic Telegraph, established in 1831. But the switch to a monthly magazine format from a tabloid newspaper was planned months before the coronavirus.

"The big question for us was, with churches temporarily closed, collections way down, and many of potential advertisers temporarily closed - was this still the right time to make the move?" says Jessica Rinaudo, named editor last summer.

"Ultimately, we decided that the Catholic Telegraph is one of the only ways the archdiocesan offices and the archbishop reach the faithful directly in their homes, and people are in their homes more now than they have ever been. Families have, quite literally, brought the Church home."

BOOKSTORES: Two large bookstores have closed since Jan. 31, and they're not coming back. The Booksellers on Fountain Square on Vine Street Downtown closed Jan. 31, before the pandemic.  Joseph-Beth Booksellers permanently closed its Crestview Hills store May 5 after nine years "in response to business changes over the last several weeks due to COVID-19," said Adam Miller, Joseph-Beth president and CEO. Stores in Norwood's Rookwood Commons and Lexington remain open.

John Kiesewetter's reporting is independent and has only been edited by Cincinnati Public Radio for style and grammar.