The Local Journalism Sustainability Act (S. 2434) should be included in the broader Build Back Better bill that’s under consideration on Capitol Hill this week. It’s a way forward for the news industry, and for facts. And the truth. These are concepts that have taken a few lumps recently.
It’s no secret that local newspapers around the country have been in freefall in recent years.
During the past two decades, the number of newspaper reporters in the U.S. has dropped by 36,000 – or 60%. Some 1,800 communities have lost newspapers. News deserts and “ghost newspapers” – newsrooms so desolate that they don’t truly cover the town – abound across the country and right here in our state.
The industry has now hit a true state of crisis. The pandemic was just the latest blow in a long, serious challenge for local news outlets. And Connecticut is no stranger to this.
But the Local Journalism Sustainability Act – which is co-sponsored by Sen. Richard Blumenthal and a dozen others, and has been given strong public support by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer – has the potential to preserve and grow the vital function of watchdog reporting at the local level. The House version, H.R. 3940, has bipartisan co-sponsors, including Reps. John Larson, Joe Courtney, and Jahana Hayes, along with 45 other Democrats and 12 Republicans.
The most recent version of the bill in the Senate Finance Committee includes an important provision that makes sure that the publishers of small local news outlets are treated equitably compared to larger chain operations. That provision is supported by the Rebuild Local News coalition and its many members.
Restoring to the bill proposed tax credits for local small business advertisers who work with local news outlets and for the subscribers to local news, would also be a very helpful move – for publishers and for small businesses and community members who seek to support local journalism.
As a partner and business manager at CTNewsJunkie.com – which is one of several small local news organizations in Connecticut working hard every day to make sure that our communities are informed and have a responsive voice – I strongly back this measure.
The Local Journalism Sustainability Act will provide payroll tax credits that will backstop local publishers like us, who are rebuilding real local news in an authentic way.
The bill, with the provision to include small local outlets within the scope of the payroll tax credit, is also supported by national associations that serve local news organizations, such as Local Independent Online News (LION) Publishers (of which we are members and where I previously served on the organization’s board), the Institute for Nonprofit News, the News Media Alliance, and organizations representing Hispanic and Black publishers.
Our democracy works best when our citizens are well-informed, making reasoned choices at the ballot box. We have certainly seen that social media propaganda isn’t a substitute for real reporting. And so many issues have their roots at the local level, which requires experienced professional reporters who know the communities and institutions they cover and are dedicated to digging into stories that would otherwise be overlooked.
That’s what we do at CTNewsJunkie, and that’s what the local journalists around the country who remain at their posts are doing – public service journalism.
Congress should support our important work and see to it that the Local Journalism Sustainability Act is part of the Build Back Better package, and pass it as soon as possible.
Doug Hardy is Partner/Business Manager at CTNewsJunkie and is a former member of the LION Publishers board of directors.