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Idaho Local News Even More Precarious During Coronavirus Economy

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Ben Olson
/
The Sandpoint Reader

As the global economic downturn caused by the coronavirus continues to ripple out across countries and industries, one industry that was already struggling has found itself on unsteady — but familiar — footing: local news. 

In Idaho, newspapers like the Idaho Press and the Twin Falls Times-News, with corporate publishers based out of state, have been affected by furloughs and reduced pay. Their reporters will effectively have less time to report the news. 

KTVB-TV in southern Idaho also announced furlough plans for the spring. Meanwhile, the Idaho Statesman is pushing for union recognition from their owners. 

 

Joining Idaho Matters to talk about the local media landscape — including some bright spots — is Ben Olson, the publisher of the alt-weekly Sandpoint Reader, and Nate Hegyi, a reporter with the Mountain West News Bureau.

 

Ben Olson says he was forced to lay off all three of his staff members only days after federal social distancing guidance. It was up to him to keep the presses running. 

 

“We’re already super pencil thin margins as it is, you know, this is a labor of love," says Olson. 

 

Hegyi says local news is important for a lot of reasons, including keeping elected officials in check. “I don't think we realize how important those watchdogs are until they're gone," Hegyi says.  

 

With reader donations and a federal loan from the Paycheck Protection Program, the Sandpoint Reader was able rehire staff for at least eight weeks. But it's not clear what will happen as the crisis continues and the PPP loan is exhausted. 

 

As COVID-19 cases spread through the U.S. and Idaho, we’re committed to keeping you updated and informed. You can get updated info on cases, closures and how to stay healthy at any time on our Coronavirus news blog.

 

Have a question or comment for the show? Tweet @KBSX915 using #IdahoMatters

 

Member support is what makes local COVID-19 reporting possible. Support this coverage here.

 

Frankie Barnhill is the Senior Producer of Idaho Matters, Boise State Public Radio's daily show and podcast. She's always interested in hearing surprising and enlightening stories about life in the West. Have an idea for Idaho Matters? Drop her a line!