No one is immune from the pain of the coronavirus, and few are experiencing that more acutely than the region’s local, homegrown businesses — the restaurants, retailers, service companies, as well as the educational and medical institutions who contribute to the economy, employment, and the spirit of the region. When they hurt, we all hurt.
We at The Inquirer consider ourselves in that group of local, homegrown businesses. We are part of this community and are invested in its well-being. This is where we live.
And, like local journalism outlets everywhere, we, too, are feeling the struggle due to precipitous drop in advertising during a virtual shutdown of commerce. We are being challenged to expand our coverage to provide critical information to the region against a backdrop of diminishing resources. Local news during a pandemic is a literal lifeline in providing critical information and providing perspective on the scope of the challenges we face. No one else can do that. That’s why news organizations like ours are joining in a call to Congress for help through this crisis — the kind of help other businesses are getting.
The press has many supporters — and detractors. The detractors may point to the irony of a press which is often critical of government now looking for help from the government. But that’s not ironic at all. The framers of the Constitution recognized the press as a cornerstone of free and open government. The Founding Fathers acknowledged this in the Bill of Rights, and today, Congress has a chance to acknowledge it again.
This editorial is occasioned by arguments legislators and news organizations are making to expand the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program to allow essential local news outlets to qualify for loans, to support journalism jobs in local communities, and to stimulate news publishers with a public advertising campaign in local media around health, education, and economic recovery information.
This editorial also dovetails with World Press Freedom Day on Sunday. World Press Freedom Day was created 27 years ago by the United Nations to celebrate the importance of a free flow of information to citizens. Press freedom has been under attack in democracies and autocracies with the rise of populism and nationalism and in some democracies such as Hungary and India that continue to attack independent journalism. Countries like China and Russia continue to limit the free flow of information.
In the United States, two years of attacks on the press by the current administration have become more dangerous, as critical information about the pandemic, scientific expertise, and the proper responses for keeping people safe is being challenged and undermined. Today, this information is a matter of life and death.