Journalists shine the brightest during our most difficult times as a nation. Thank you for all that you are doing to communicate with your community, take care of your employees and keep your own family and friends safe. As a business I appreciate that you are all juggling many competing priorities. Please know the Iowa Newspaper Association is here to support you.

Below are some items you might find helpful.

Essential and Non-Essential Businesses

There have been some rumors nationally, that there might be a 14-day national quarantine. The National Security Council has denied those rumors. The Iowa Newspaper Association has proactively reached out to the Governor’s staff to reinforce the importance of the news media, stressing that if a business quarantine or curfews is established, the news media is and should be considered an essential business.

The News Media Alliance also sent a letter this week to Vice President Pence stating that newspapers are vital during this crisis and that we are an essential business. Please editorialize about the important role you have played during this crisis and that the free flow of accurate and timely information is critical. Linked is a column by First Amendment champion Ken Paulson speaking to the vital role of the media – feel free to use.

Content Sharing

The Iowa Newspaper Association is currently working with the Cedar Rapids Gazette on a basic platform for members to upload and share stories with other member publications. It may become increasingly important to have access to content within the next few weeks, so we are doing our best to be proactive. This platform only works if people submit stories. Once stories are submitted, they will be made available in an RSS format.  We’ll share more on this platform as it becomes available. A special thanks to Zack Kucharski and Aaron Frerichs for their assistance.

The Iowa Capital Dispatch is an independent news organization that focuses on state government and its impact on Iowans. Its content is available to all Iowa newspapers at no charge. Click here to learn more about Iowa Capital Dispatch and sign up for its daily newsletter.

From now through March 31, the Des Moines Business Record is making its business-related coverage of the Coronavirus available to Iowa newspapers for reprint or for use sharing digitally. Soon, the Business Record will have a story about the restaurant industry, updates from the airport and other content that may be of interest to readers across the state. All coverage can be found at www.businessrecord.com/coronavirus | Please reach out to chrisconetzkey@bpcdm.com to learn about reprint guidelines.

Periodical Postal Permits and Public Notices

The United States Postal Service has advised the National Newspaper Association (NNA) that Periodical permits will not be revoked if a newspaper has to suspend a print issue during coronavirus quarantines.

According the NNA, “Technically, a change in publication frequency requires a change in the permit. But during this emergency, USPS says a letter to the postmaster of the entry office advising USPS of the newspaper’s revised publication plans will be sufficient. The letter should be updated as plans change.” 

Please keep in mind that the Iowa Code section 618.3 provides for very specific guidelines for the definition of a newspaper for the purpose of public notifications. The first of which is that a newspaper of general circulation must have published at least once a week for at least 50 weeks per year within the area. The code does not address how many pages the newspaper must be. It does provide that at least 25% of the newspaper’s total column space in more than one half of its issues during any 12-month period should be news versus advertising. 

Public Meetings

Below is a reminder of the Iowa code that governs open meetings across the state.

Iowa Code section 21.8 outlines the guidelines to hold an electronic meeting when there are valid concerns that an in-person meeting is “impossible or impractical”.

To hold an electronic meeting all of the following must occur: 

  1. Public access to the conversation of the meeting must be available.
  2. The provisions of section 21.4 (notice) must be followed. (The place of the meeting is the place from which the communication originates or where public access is provided to the conversation.) 
  3. Minutes must be kept and must include a statement explaining why an in-person meeting was impossible or impractical.

Iowa Code section 21.4 provides the requirements that must be followed if an emergency meeting with less than 24 hours notice is held:

  1. If 24 hours notice is impossible or impracticable, provide as much notice as reasonably possible.
  2. The nature of the good cause for holding the meeting without 24 hours notice must be stated in the minutes of the meeting.

Newsprint Safety

The World Health Organization addresses the safety of packages and commercial goods in the following Q & A. The second to last question in this link: https://www.who.int/news-room/q-a-detail/q-a-coronaviruses explains the low risk of commercial products as a vector for the virus. According to the WHO, the likelihood of an infected person contaminating commercial goods is low and the risk of catching the virus that causes COVID-19 from a package that has been moved, travelled, and exposed to different conditions and temperature is also low.

Assistance for employees and employers affected by COVID-10 related layoffs

Governor Reynolds on Monday announced assistance for workers and employers impacted by layoffs related to COVID-19. The guidance includes information for employees filing for unemployment insurance claims, as well as information on programs available for employers. Click here to view the Governor’s press release.

Identify potential legal liabilities: legal and practical guidance

America’s Newspapers has on its site prevention tips for your workforce along with a webinar on employer challenges concerning the new coronavirus. No time to watch the webinar? Click here to view the PowerPoint presentation and key takeaways.

Employer FAQs on the COVID-19 Coronavirus

Fisher Phillips is a law firm specializing in labor and employment law. They have developed a comprehensive and frequently updated FAQ for employers as it relates to the COVID-19 Coronavirus. As an example, the FAQ addresses whether an employer must keep paying employees who are not working based on the employees work status. Click here to view the Fisher Phillips FAQ.

Strategies for Employers to Use Now

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a list of recommended strategies for employers to use now. This is a list of helpful tips on how to communicate with employees and suggested policies. It reminds employers to ensure your sick leave policies are flexible and that employees are aware of the policies. Click here to view the CDC Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers.

The United States Department of Labor also has prepared a guide for how to prepare for COVID-19 in the workplace. Click here to view the guide.

Legislative Update

On Sunday, March 15 the Iowa Legislature announced that it would suspend its session for a minimum of 30 days. This week would have marked the second funnel of the session.

Additionally, all events, tours and receptions at the Capitol are cancelled.

As we learn more I’ll continue to communicate. Thank you again for all you do in your communities.