For communities across America, local newspapers matter — and right now, many of them are hurting.
Last year, The Eagle editorial board praised Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, D-Ariz., and Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., for introducing the Local Journalism Sustainability Act in the U.S. House of Representatives, and called for swift passage of the bipartisan bill that aimed to shore up the sustainability of community news outlets across the U.S. While its number of co-sponsors eventually grew to 78 representatives from all over the nation and political spectrum, the legislative effort was ultimately unsuccessful.
Now, however, the Arizona Democrat and Washington Republican have reintroduced the bill (H.R. 3940). We urge lawmakers on Capitol Hill to not pass up this opportunity again, and instead make this potential boon to the free press in all corners of the country a reality.
While the news industry has undergone considerable change in recent years, the coronavirus pandemic exemplified why America still needs robust and reputable sources of local news-gathering and reporting. Clear and vetted information from our leaders and institutions is not just necessary for a healthy democracy; amid a massive public health crisis, it’s literally a matter of life and death. For many Americans, particularly rural residents and others underserved by legacy media conglomerates concentrated in more urban markets, the local or regional paper is still their best source.
Yet COVID’s infection of the economy exacerbated trends that were already troubling for a great deal of papers. As the pandemic wore on, the strain on many businesses and even entire sectors meant a sharp dip in newspaper advertising. For many of the nation’s smaller newspapers, their already shaky financial viability was further stricken by the coronavirus.
The Local Journalism Sustainability Act offers a plan that could mitigate the damage so that it does not become a killing blow to small newsrooms across America that are hanging on to serve their communities. The bill would create three tax credits: one for smaller news outlets who employ locally focused journalists; one for small businesses to encourage advertising in local newspapers; and one for all Americans to incentivize subscriptions to local news organizations of their choice.
The credits are aimed solely at local outlets, defined as print or online publications that primarily serve the needs of a regional or local community with no more than 750 employees. This is not an effort to subsidize larger legacy media companies, which neither need the help nor perform many of the important localized functions that community newspapers do. The tax credits for papers employing journalists and small-business advertising would sunset after five years, meaning it wouldn’t be a permanent subsidy to news publications but a targeted relief plan for community journalism.
The beauty of this plan is that it acknowledges the multifaceted role that local and regional newspapers have historically played in their communities. They strive to keep their readers in the know, but often they’re also important players in local economies and cultural spheres. And incentivizing Americans to subscribe to a reputable news publication of their choosing is a wise move — a well-informed electorate pays dividends for democracy.
The previous iteration of the Local Journalism Sustainability Act fizzled after it was referred to the House Committee on Ways and Means. If this reintroduced version of the bill finds its way there again, we hope that Rep. Richard Neal, the committee’s chairman who represents the Massachusetts 1st Congressional District, gives this legislation the serious consideration it deserves.
We believe communities across America and the nation as a whole are better off because of the critical work undertaken in countless newsrooms: keeping the public informed, holding the powerful accountable, fostering democracy and helping people better connect with the social, political and cultural spheres that surround them. For these reasons, local newspapers are worth saving, and this bipartisan bill and its co-sponsors recognize that. We urge the rest of Congress to recognize it, too, and move on the Local Journalism Sustainability Act.