Tribune Publishing took remote work a step further Wednesday amid the continued economic strain of the coronavirus pandemic by closing the newsrooms of several of its media outlets, including the Daily News in New York City.
The offices of two Maryland newspapers, the Capital Gazette, site of a mass shooting in 2018 in Annapolis, and the Carroll County Times, as well as the Orlando Sentinel in Florida, were also closed, the company confirmed. The newspapers will continue to be published, but it was unclear whether employees would return to physical offices. Tribune did not announce any future leasing plans.
The Daily News once boasted the largest circulation of any newspaper in the country but has been struggling for decades. In 2017, it was acquired by the company that would become known as Tribune Publishing for $1. Its newsroom staff was also cut by half in 2018 and its top editor, Jim Rich, was ousted.
The Daily News' headquarters in Lower Manhattan closed immediately for daily operations but workers have until October 30 to collect belongings from the building.
"Out of an abundance of caution we do not anticipate having employees that can work remotely coming back into the office for the remainder of the year and into 2021," said Max Reinsdorf, a spokesperson for Tribune Publishing. "With no clear path forward in terms of returning to work, and as the company evaluates its real estate needs in light of health and economic conditions brought about by the pandemic, we have made the difficult decision to permanently close the office."
The move by Tribune, which publishes newspapers in numerous cities, comes as the local newspaper industry struggles to stay afloat. The fight for survival has grown even more tenuous during the pandemic and resulted in increased layoffs.
In recent years, the industry has faced acquisitions and consolidations by financial companies looking to cut costs, generate more revenue and strengthen digital distribution and content. The private equity firm Alden Global Capital owns a stake in Tribune Publishing.
Even as readers and viewers seek out local news during the pandemic, bigger audiences have not made up for loss of advertising, which has been diverted to Google and Facebook. Gone are the revenue-generating classifieds of old as consumers now turn online to look for local services.
To combat the revenue drain, Google has invested $300 million to support local journalism. and Facebook has invested roughly $400 million in local news through relief funding and the purchase of ad space from news outlets. But the relief is not enough to right the industry.
Tribune had already "permanently vacated" office space in Chicago and Los Angeles during the first quarter of this year, which ended March 29, according to documents filed last week with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Tribune began withholding payment of April, May and June rents at a "majority of its facilities and requested rent relief." By June 28, it had reached deals to terminate four additional leases, and other leases are still being negotiated, according to the filing.
The pandemic has exacerbated existing issues within struggling industries and forced companies to cut costs wherever they can. In addition to layoffs and pay cuts, companies are reevaluating costly leases for office space that sits empty as workers continue to work from home indefinitely.
In retail, brick and mortar stores have long grappled with increased competition from online shopping, and some recently announced permanent store closures. As coronavirus continues to force non-essential businesses to stay closed, numerous stores, restaurants and local businesses have closed locations permanently.
For local newspapers, pressure from the pandemic combined with the increased push toward digital distribution and the ability to successfully have employees work remotely without expensive leases, could signal the end of their traditional newsrooms.