Oregon's top newspaper is the latest to feel the financial impacts of COVID-19 on local journalism.
The Oregonian Media Group, which runs the Oregonian, announced Wednesday that it would be slashing employee salaries for the rest of 2020 and mandating unpaid furloughs over the next several months.
"Every business is challenged right now," said John Maher, president of Oregonian Media Group, in a phone call with the Mercury. "And we’re no exception."
Maher said the Oregonian's advertising sales have suffered over the last month as the pandemic has forced regular advertisers to preserve their own finances. That funding gap is why Oregonian employees will now see a 2 to 20 percent drop in their income this year—depending on their salary size—and will be required to take weeks of unpaid leave.
According to Maher, the Oregonian's editorial staff will each be required to take one week-long furlough before August, while business staff will be asked to take two-week long furloughs over a yet-to-be-determined time period. Maher will not be furloughed, but he said he'll be taking a salary reduction instead.
The decision comes a week after the Oregonian began promoting an online subscription service for readers as a new way to raise funds. The service is optional, and doesn't restrict non-paying readers from accessing new stories. Even so, Maher said, the program has brought in 2,700 subscribers. It's this kind of community support that Maher says keeps him hopeful for the company's future.
"The state that we’re in as a society right now has demonstrated the value of an independent and robust news report," said Maher. "Everything we do revolves around that. I think the community has gotten a better feeling for that, too, and they've shown it in their support. That’s really heartening to me."
The Oregonian Media Group is owned by Advance Local, a national company that oversees publications in eight other states. These publications announced similar cuts to employee salaries this week.
The Oregonian is only the latest local news outlet to feel the financial effects of COVID-19. In the course of the past month, the Mercury halted print publication and furloughed 10 of its 18 staff members, Willamette Week laid off five staff members, and the Pamplin Media, which owns the Portland Tribune, let 40 of its employees go.
Maher said he's certain COVID-19's impact on journalism will change the way the industry moves forward.
"Every business is going to look different on the other side of this," he said. "There’s no question that media is included in that."