May 21, 2020 - Economy & Business

No media publisher is immune in the coronavirus era

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

COVID-19 has accelerated the shrinkage of journalism.

Why it matters: If it could happen to The Atlantic, where 68 staffers were laid off today, it could happen to any media company.

The big picture: 2.4 million Americans filed for unemployment last week, reports Axios' Courtenay Brown.

  • The pre-COVID record number of filings was set in 1982 at 695,000.
  • New York state's Labor Department told reporters this week it has paid out 4.5 years' worth of unemployment benefits in just over two months.

Between the lines: The coronavirus hit diversified publishers on multiple fronts.

  • Advertising: Publishers who enjoyed record COVID-19 web traffic weren't able to monetize it, as ad rates collapsed.
  • Events: In-person events, where The Atlantic focused considerable attention and where publishers can command a premium, are currently out of the picture. Virtual events are on the rise, but they don't command the same price point.
  • E-commerce: Amazon and big mass retailers have cut affiliate fees, cutting commerce revenue from many publishers.
  • Subscriptions: Many publishers have pivoted toward subscriber models, but with a few exceptions, those gains aren't even close to enough to compensate for the lost ad revenue.

What's next: Layoffs like this in crisis usually happen in waves, so a fall coronavirus resurgence could bring another round of job losses.

  • In the future — as more companies integrate remote work into their culture — other jobs will begin to get eliminated too, like in-person sales teams or teams that help produce print products that will not come back.

The bottom line: The Atlantic's troubles, combined with the struggles at other billionaire-backed publications like the Los Angeles Times, serve as an important reminder that the industry has few sustainable paths forward without viable business models.

Go deeper

U.S. coronavirus updates

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios. This graphic includes "probable deaths" that New York City began reporting on April 14.

More than 100,000 Americans have died of the coronavirus, according to data from Johns Hopkins — a milestone that puts the death toll far beyond some of the most tragic events in U.S. history.

By the numbers: Over 1.6 million have tested positive in the U.S. Nearly 354,000 Americans have recovered and over 15.1 million tests have been conducted. California became the fourth state with at least 100,000 reported cases of the coronavirus on Wednesday, along with Illinois, New Jersey and New York.

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 8 p.m. ET: 5,682,389 — Total deaths: 354,944 — Total recoveries — 2,337,385Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 8 p.m. ET: 1,697,459 — Total deaths: 100,276 — Total recoveries: 391,508 — Total tested: 15,192,481Map.
  3. Public health: Fauci says data is "really quite evident" against hydroxychloroquine — Nearly half of Americans say someone in their household has delayed medical care.
  4. States: California hospitals strained by patients in MexicoTexas Supreme Court blocks mail-in expansion to state voters.
  5. Business: MGM plans to reopen major Las Vegas resorts in June — African American business owners have seen less relief from PPP, Goldman Sachs says.
  6. Tech: AI will help in the pandemic — but it might not be in time for this one.
  7. 1 🎶 thing: Local music venues get rocked by coronavirus.
  8. 🎧 Podcast: Trump vs. Twitter ... vs. Trump.
  9. What should I do? When you can be around others after contracting the coronavirus — Traveling, asthma, dishes, disinfectants and being contagiousMasks, lending books and self-isolatingExercise, laundry, what counts as soap — Pets, moving and personal healthAnswers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingHow to minimize your risk.
  10. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it, the right mask to wear.

Subscribe to Mike Allen's Axios AM to follow our coronavirus coverage each morning from your inbox.

Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Top Senate Democrat says State Dept. is working on new Saudi arms deal

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo briefs reporters on May 20. Photo: Nicholas Kamm/pool/AFP via Getty Images

Senate Foreign Relations ranking member Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) wrote in a CNN op-ed on Wednesday that he learned that the State Department is currently working to sell thousands of additional precision-guided bombs to Saudi Arabia.

Why it matters: Democrats say that Steve Linick, the State Department inspector general who was ousted on Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's recommendation, was investigating the administration's previous effort to sell weapons to Saudi Arabia without congressional approval.