Newspapers as fomites? Rumours, declining ad revenues hit media hard as newsrooms double efforts to cover coronavirus pandemic
All evidence till date suggests that newspapers pose no additional threat of the disease.
The pandemic is bad news for businesses across the board as it disrupts production and supply chains. But the media is facing a double whammy as the pandemic further throttled ad revenues, when even established media moguls were having a tough time figuring out a profitable business model.
At a time when the lion’s share of digital advertising dollars is sucked up by internet giants like Google and Facebook, rumours that newspapers could be potential carriers of the virus have shrunk the subscription revenue that had kept newspapers in print despite many hardships in the past. Various calls by World Health Organisation, the Indian government and those in authority have done little to convince people otherwise.
Are newspapers fomites?
Even though more in-depth study is needed to assertively answer almost any question about the novel coronavirus that has become a global pandemic, all evidence till date suggests that newspapers pose no additional threat of the disease.
The International News Media Association (INMA), an influential body that globally promotes best practices for news media, has collected current scientific research on the safety of newspapers that clearly demonstrates that newspapers are safe.
A post on the INMA website clarifies that there has never been a documented incident whereby the COVID-19 virus has been transmitted from a print newspaper, print magazine, print letter, or print package. It also cited scientific research that found that the virus lasts much shorter on porous surfaces like cardboard (and newsprint, which is much more porous than cardboard).
Newspapers are even more sterile because of the ink and the printing process they go through.
Furthermore, the virus loses its potency drastically when exposed to air without a host; the virus loses half its potency every 66 minutes.
The US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) also admitted that although “it may be possible” for a person to get COVID-19 by touching a surface that has the virus on it, "but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads."
Dropping ad revenues
As revenue for businesses fell due to the pandemic, advertising revenue for newspapers (and their digital versions) was wiped off overnight.
The situation can be understood from the fact that the cash-strapped media industry recently sought immediate clearance of advertising dues by the Directorate of Advertising and Visual Publicity (DAVP) and other state-owned bodies to help companies tide over cash flow problems and avert possible job losses, The Economic Times reported.
Media revenue was further hit as the pandemic has additionally ground to halt the traditional drivers of media consumption, like sports, films and entertainment.
Can subscription revenue help?
Running a newsroom is highly cost-intensive. The costs aren’t just on editorial and reportage, but massive investments are made at regular intervals in technology and improving user experience. At such a time, subscription revenue can help keep companies afloat while they cover what is most likely the biggest story of the decade.
Especially in the time of a pandemic, as an article in Gulf News pointed out, newsrooms face a double-edged sword. On one hand, the news consumption globally has surged as people seek more and more information on the healthcare crisis. Local journalism also plays an important role in spreading awareness and updating the public about hyper-local essential information. This means the newsrooms, while dealing with the lockdown restrictions, are doubling up efforts to fill the information gap. On the other hand, subscription and ad revenues have nosedived.
The news publishers are also doing their bit to keep businesses afloat. The Print quoted sources in the industry to highlight how media houses were dealing with diminishing revenues. The report said, that while Hindustan Times cut the number of pages to absorb losses, while magazines like Outlook had to suspend their print edition and go digital completely.
The Indian Express, which had earlier gone behind a paywall has made news free for its readers and is also sending PDFs to subscribers.
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