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Virus takes toll on Nevada newspapers, online visits soar

By Scott Sonner Associated Press

RENO — The virus outbreak is taking its toll on media in Nevada, with closures of rural weekly and alternative urban weekly publications and curtailment of sections published in the state’s largest metropolitan daily.

But it also has prompted a surge in visits to newspaper web sites where the normal pay walls have been dropped as readers clamor for the latest updates on the spread of the pandemic and its affects on their daily lives.

Like other industries, the hardest hit so far have been smaller publications, according to Richard Karpel, executive director of the Nevada Press Association.

“It’s still early in this crisis and the prognosis is far from clear, but without immediate relief it’s going to be a challenge for many small businesses to hang on, especially those operating on thin margins,” Karpel said Monday.

“That describes most small newspapers in Nevada and throughout the U.S.,” he wrote in an email.

Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak urged support for local news organizations during a Sunday news conference on his Facebook site.

“At a time like this, we need these news outlets, more than ever, and we need you to support independent news outlets,” Sisolak said. “We are all facing difficulties. The news outlets are at the top of the groups facing difficulties.”

Battle Born Media announced last week it was scaling back or ceasing publication of six rural weekly newspapers it owns in Nevada. It’s shutting down the Mesquite Local News and the Mineral County Independent News. The Eureka Sentinel, founded in 1870, is being folded into the Ely Times. The Sparks Tribune and Lincoln County Record currently plan to continue publishing.

The Reno News & Review, a weekly alternative publication serving Reno for nearly three decades, announced last week it was suspending operations and laying off all workers in Reno as well as at two sister operations in Sacramento and Chico, California, due to revenue losses caused by the coronavirus.

Brad Bynum, editor of the Reno News & Review, said in its last publication March 19 that the newspaper is dependent on advertising primarily from local restaurants, coffee houses, nightclubs and bars.

“With many of those establishments currently shuttered or drastically cutting back hours, they don’t have much budget for advertising —or events or drink specials to promote,” he wrote.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal offered a similar explanation when it announced a week ago it was suspending a weekly entertainment section as well as weekly neighborhood news sections, a Life section and Taste section so that feature reporters can help the rest of the newsroom cover the pandemic.

“The coronavirus outbreak has brought great harm to Las Vegas. We all feel it. The Review-Journal is not immune to the pain,” Review-Journal Publisher and Editor J. Keith Moyer and Executive Editor Glenn Cook wrote in a note to readers. “With Vegas headliners going dark, resorts suspending operations, moving theaters closing, concerts cancelling and social events being discouraged, there is not much left in this city to advertise or list in an entertainment guide.”

On the bright side, the Review-Journal reported local visitors to its web site doubled in the past week from the normal 777,000 in Clark County. Last Sunday-Monday, it had more article views than any other two-day period since the website launched in 1997, Cook said.

Like the Review-Journal, the Las Vegas Sun, Reno Gazette-Journal and most newspapers in the state have lifted their pay walls.

“We removed the paywall because people need credible information,” said Brian Greenspun, publisher of the Sun, where online page views also have more than doubled in recent weeks. “It’s kind of nuts to make them pay for it.”

Ray Brewer, managing editor of the Sun, recalled that when they implemented the paywall about two years ago, page-views decreased. He thinks the recent increase has more than made up that readership.

AP writers Ken Ritter and Michelle L. Price in Las Vegas contributed to this report