October 29, 2020

Coronavirus-Driven Downturn Hits Newspapers Hard as TV News Thrives


This report studies the impact of the coronavirus outbreak on the financial fortunes of the U.S. news media industry. It analyzes financial data using methods similar to our state of the news media fact sheets. In all cases, revenue is not adjusted for inflation.

Data on newspapers and local TV news comes from Securities and Exchange Commission filings of publicly traded media companies. Only companies in each sector that reported quarterly financial information for the quarter ending June 30, 2020, are included (six for newspapers, five for local TV); see detailed tables [LINK] for list of companies. Together, these companies own over 300 daily newspapers and over 600 local TV stations. (Consequently, the results for individual newspapers or stations largely cannot be reported.) Publicly traded companies that own newspapers or local TV stations but did not report the details of these stations’ revenue (e.g., ad revenue) are not included.

Data is reported at the individual company level, and when summarizing across companies, median results (i.e., the midpoint when ordering all companies from highest to lowest) are reported. Year-over-year changes are reported – largely comparing the second quarter of 2020 with the second quarter of 2019 – to avoid capturing seasonal fluctuations in economic activity. Figures from a given year are as reported in the quarterly filing that year; revised figures included in subsequent years’ filings are not used.

For both newspaper and local TV news companies, there were many mergers and acquisitions over the 14 years studied here, and so a rise in revenue for a particular company may, in some cases, reflect the company acquiring additional media properties in a merger or purchase. For 2020, however, efforts were made when possible to ensure a valid year-over-year comparison with 2019. Lee Enterprises completed its acquisition of Berkshire Hathaway’s newspaper group in March 2020, and so “same-store” numbers – which indicate what revenue would have been without the acquisition – are used for 2020. New Media and Gannett merged in late 2019, keeping the name Gannett, and so for all prior years, revenue for Gannett and New Media are combined (and are referred to as “Gannett” throughout).

In the local TV category, Nexstar merged with Tribune in September 2019, and so for 2020, revenue from acquisitions has been backed out to calculate what revenue would have been without the acquisition of these additional stations.

Data on cable and network TV news comes from Kantar. Since this data encompasses the universe of major cable and network TV news providers, revenue figures can be summed across the three networks (for cable, Fox News, CNN and MSNBC, and for network, ABC, CBS and NBC) to be summarized as total revenue across the sector (not as medians). The networks can also be analyzed individually.