Portland Mercury Halts Print Editions Amid Coronavirus Shutdowns

The alternative newspaper laid off 10 of its staff until public social life resumes.

Alternative newspaper The Portland Mercury has ceased print publication and laid off 10 of its staff until public social life resumes after the coronavirus outbreak.

The Mercury announced its digital-only move and the temporary layoffs on the morning of March 14, one day after similarly stark cuts at its sister paper in Seattle, The Stranger. (Last year, both papers reduced their print editions to every other week.)

The Mercury's revenue model is closely tied to advertising and ticket sales of concerts and other events. So Oregon Gov. Kate Brown's four-week ban on crowds larger than 250 people—in order to keep people apart and prevent rapid spread of the virus—has proven devastating to its bottom line.

The Oregonian's editor in chief, Therese Bottomly, says her paper plans no reductions in staffing or circulation. "No changes here," she tells WW, "other than we are devoting a lot of resources to this emerging news story."

John Schrag, executive editor of the Portland Tribune, said his paper is less reliant on events than The Mercury and didn't anticipate reductions. "Although we are putting all our corona-related content outside our digital paywalls," he said, "we're hoping this health crises will remind the public that good, independent, timely journalism is a civic asset, and worth supporting. The free press isn't free!"

Willamette Week is also affected by the coronavirus outbreak and events shutdown. On Friday, editor and publisher Mark Zusman reduced print circulation by half, from 50,000 to 25,000 newspapers, as readers are less likely to pick up the paper in bars or venues, and more likely to read it online at home.

"We will ramp back up when it makes sense," he says, "and when people are attending the places we distribute."

WW reporters continue working—many of them from home. In the past two weeks, the paper has seen a web traffic spike, in part because of around-the-clock coverage and watchdog reporting on governmental response to the virus.

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