Archived Webinar

Election 2020 and its Impact on the Newspaper Industry

Ashlee Rich Stephenson, vice president and national political director of Political Affairs and Federation Relations at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce; Camille Olson, partner, Labor and Employment, Seyfarth Shaw LLP; and Dean Ridings, CEO, America’s Newspapers
Ashlee Rich Stephenson, vice president and national political director of Political Affairs and Federation Relations at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce; Camille Olson, partner, Labor and Employment, Seyfarth Shaw LLP; and Dean Ridings, CEO, America’s Newspapers
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Presented by Ashlee Rich Stephenson, vice president and national political director of Political Affairs and Federation Relations at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce; Camille Olson, partner, Labor and Employment, Seyfarth Shaw LLP; and moderated by Dean Ridings, CEO, America’s Newspapers.

SOS from SMBs: What do small businesses think about the long-term effects on them with a Biden administration? According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Ashlee Rich Stephenson, they are most concerned with getting more pandemic relief — and soon: “Their priority is to get something done soon, whoever wins the election.”

The Artifice of the Deal. Ashlee Rich Stephenson’s take: If President Trump is re-elected, there’s more of a likelihood of making a deal on relief. If he loses, there will be more turbulence, given the different deals being offered by House Democrats, Senate Republicans and the White House.

And what about your independent contractors? Attorney Camille Olson suggests that, if President Trump stays in office, he will move forward quickly on a pending rule on interpretation of independent contracting status that is regarded as more business-friendly. If not, take comfort that there are specific statutory exemptions for distributors of newspapers to the ultimate consumer from federal laws and state laws defining independent contractor status.

Unions pause — for a little while. In recent months, labor organizing efforts at newspapers and other media have stalled somewhat, owing to a thinning of the ranks of NewsGuild organizers and remote working that makes organizing more difficult. Camille Olson: But no matter who is in office, we believe union activity will be regenerated after the new year.

PRO and its cons: In contrast to the Trump administration’s proposed rule on independent contractor status, the so-called PRO rule is very union-friendly, favoring card checks over secret elections and casting a wide net on who would be included in the union workforce, including supervisors and third-parties. Biden has identified it as one of his top legislative priorities.

LJSA in the USA. There’s wide agreement that the Local Journalism Sustainability Act, which gives tax breaks for advertising, subscribing or employing staff for a local newspaper, will move forward regardless of who is in the Oval Office. The legislation, with sunsetting provisions,  appeals to those on both sides of the aisle. Ashlee Rich Stephenson says the Chamber saw how the furloughs at newspapers were so detrimental. Some of the best political reporters were unavailable to cover issues important to the Chamber. “I certainly am in favor of this legislation … I think this could be rolled in, if Trump is reelected, into new pandemic relief.”

Break up Google! There’s also agreement that a Biden administration would be just as interested in breaking up what’s viewed as a technology monopoly as is Trump.

Even more Kumbaya: Also popular to legislators of all stripes is the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act that would establish a “safe harbor” from antitrust action allowing newspapers and other media to negotiate as a group with Big Tech. Camille Olson: “I think this is an issue that is of interest to both parties, no matter who is in the administration or controls the various areas of Congress.” Adds Ashlee Rich Stephenson: There’s a lot of opportunity in particular to reach out to Congress members from smaller states in which the local newspaper continues to be an important voice among their constituencies.

Ashlee Rich Stephenson said it: “Personally, I’ve turned to local journalism for my news … I’ve had it with the heavy partisanship of both sides of the aisle. The local news I follow in Washington is really clean … without a thumb on the scale. Local news has done a really good job of staying out of the (partisan) fray.”

Driving ratings.  Digital subscriptions have gone up since the 2016 election of Trump, and really soared in the pandemic. If he’s re-elected, will he continue to be so influential — one way or another — in driving subscriptions? Short answer: Very probably.  

Will Congress still consider newspapers worth rescuing? Bet on it. Despite all the concern, and media coverage, about the “hollowing out” of newspapers by owners who are debt-ridden or frankly disinterested in producing a robust news report, this isn’t a “well, the industry is dying, so just let it go” type of issue, Ashlee Rich Stephenson said: “Again, this is not a blue or red issue.”

You asked: What’s likely to happen to the U.S. Postal Service in a new or continuing administration? Why you asked: The inefficiency of the USPS right now is affecting our paper. But both presenters believe that the USPS is taking to heart the public pushback about its performance, and the cutbacks will be unsustainable at least in the near term.

Shoutout to the networks. In answer to an audience question, neither presenter sees the network news as being biased.

Get into the scrum: There’s going to be a lot of activity following the election from industries and businesses who will be looking after their interest. So it’s important that newspapers get a plan in place, and reach out to their local legislators to push their agendas. “Be prepared to be very aggressive,” the Chamber’s Ashlee Rich Stephenson advises.

Can’t we all get along? Everyone is expecting a peaceful transition should Trump lose the election. But local newspapers have a role to play in that, just as they did in the Bush/Gore election during the contentious Florida recount. Dean Ridings: This is an opportunity to speak out on editorial pages and encourage people to be calm and trust our democracy.

Electing to continue the conversation? Contact Camille Olson at colson@seyfarth.com or 312-460-5831; Ashlee Rich Stephenson at arichstephenson@USChamber.com or 202-659-6000; and Dean Ridings at dridings@newspapers.org or 847-282-9850, ext. 105.

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