Judith Neilson Institute unveils short-term support package for news outlets impacted by COVID-19

The Judith Neilson Institute has announced three initiatives to assist media companies struggling with the revenue impacts of COVID-19, after the likes of Seven West Media and News Corp announced pay cuts, reduced hours, and said redundancies were “inevitable”.

The Institute will increase funding for freelancers and casuals, provide its news service to 450 community radio stations for free, and address COVID-19 misinformation by supporting RMIT ABC Fact Check.

The Institute has launched a range of measures to help the industry cope with the impacts of COVID-19

It consulted with industry leaders in developing the response, who explained that freelancers and casuals have been some of the hardest hit by cost-cutting measures designed to mitigate the revenue impacts of the pandemic.

Media owners – including independent and regional media – are invited to apply for financial support to pay freelancers and casuals for specific projects, such as stories, editorial support, or photography.

The funding will be administered on a rolling basis over the next two to three months.

The Community Broadcasting Association of Australia (CBAA) has the Institute’s permission to air its national radio news service free of charge for six months. More than 80 stations pay a subscription fee for the service, reaching 1.3m listeners each week. The Institute said the initiative will be a cost relief, but also increase reach, with a potential weekly audience of up to 5.8m.

Finally, the Institute will support RMIT University for RMIT ABC Fact Check, committing resources to tackle misinformation on COVID-19 across mainstream and social media.

The Institute’s executive director, Mark Ryan, said the temporary initiatives were designed to offer help as immediately and efficiently as possible.

“All sectors of the economy are affected and the impact on journalism is profound,” he said.

“While more people are reading, watching and listening to news, media organisations are struggling with the financial implications of the crisis.”

News organisations big and small have resorted to cost-cutting measures as advertising revenue tumbles due to the outbreak.

Radio business Southern Cross Austereo has introduced pay cuts of 10% for staff who earn above $68,000, if that salary is not award-based.

News Corp executives have also had their salaries slashed in an attempt to weather eroding advertising revenue, and staff have been moved to nine-day fortnights for the remainder of the financial year.

Buzzfeed Australia staff are also facing pay cuts. The direction comes from the company’s US head office and does not involve a set percentage (like, for example, SCA’s 10%), but a scale of percentage cuts based on salary.

Ooh Media has asked most staff, including CEO Brendon Cook and other key executives, to take annual leave over Easter after entering into a trading halt earlier this month.

Mumbrella understands The Sydney Morning Herald has stood down some casual workers from its digital desk, and The Guardian is reviewing its casual and contributor budgets. Both News Corp and Nine have suspended production of a number of print products, including News Corp’s 60 community print titles.

And yesterday afternoon, Seven CEO James Warburton announced staff not on enterprise agreements and earning above $80,000 (including super) would be moving to a four-day week, resulting in a 20% pay cut. Those earning above $200,000 will also take the pay cut, but still work full time.

Multiple regional newspapers haven’t been able to weather the impact, shuttering as their advertising pools dry up and leading the industry’s union to urge the government to grant access to $40m in funding.


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