When a bipartisan pair of representatives introduced the Local Journalism Sustainability Act in 2020, The Eagle editorial board praised the effort to bolster local newspapers across the country — and we did so again when the legislation was reintroduced earlier this year. While the bill itself has not had much more forward momentum, one of its core tenets now has some.
It is encouraging to see the payroll credit for compensation of news journalists, a key component of the LJSA, has been included in the U.S House Ways and Means Committee’s markup of a massive reconciliation bill pitched by President Joe Biden that is currently being weighed on Capitol Hill.
Of the three tax credits proposed by the full LJSA, the one now up for consideration in Ways and Means is the one that would most directly affect community news outlets across America. It would make local newsrooms eligible to receive a five-year tax credit — $25,000 for each journalist in the first year and up to $15,000 each of the following four years. This could be a lifeline for regional news organizations covering communities underserved by legacy and national media, many of which have struggled to maintain a foothold in the digital age and suffered a considerable blow during the pandemic.
This would not be a permanent subsidy, nor would it be used to buoy financially robust corporate media outlets like cable news channels and legacy newspapers, all of which will weather the storm that is disproportionately pressuring the industry’s smaller and scrappier outlets — many of which happen to directly serve and inform their communities in ways no other outlet can or will. Ironically, the importance of access to such localized, high-quality journalism was underscored by onset of and mobilization against the coronavirus, a crisis that rocked many sectors and severely diminished ad revenue for many newspapers.
As we have acknowledged before while weighing in on the LJSA’s prospects, we recognize that we are using this space to advocate for a policy that would directly benefit us. But it is also bigger than us. Local newspapers give countless corners of this country a rich vein through which the lifeblood of their community can flow. It’s where millions of Americans get the news that affects them most that they likely can’t get elsewhere. It’s also where they see their kids in the local sports section and where their small businesses advertise; it’s how they keep their eyes on the powerful who represent them and how they stay connected to the arts and culture scene around them; and, in the case of birth notices and obituaries, it literally holds the bookends of people’s lives.
It goes beyond the intangible values, as well. The presence of thriving local news organizations — or lack thereof — has real consequences for the communities they serve. Research indicates that what the people don’t know can in fact hurt them, and it shows from the municipal bond market to the polls. A 2018 City Labs analysis showed that communities that lost their local papers saw higher long-term municipal borrowing costs compared to similar localities where the local paper was still a presence, while studies also show that voter turnout is higher in communities with local newspapers compared to those without.
All of that amounts to a public good that’s worth protecting and supporting for the benefit of communities, healthy connection and democracy across America. We are happy to see the payroll credit for compensation of news journalists get some spotlight as this momentous reconciliation bill is considered on Capitol Hill, and we hope that the House Ways and Means Committee — and particularly its chairman, Rep. Richard Neal, who represents the Berkshires — gives the serious consideration due to this important proposal.