A Better Future

New coalition fights for government assistance for news media

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Rebuild Local News sees government as an ally, not an enemy. Launched in April 2020, the coalition represents more than 4,000 locally-owned and nonprofit, community-based newsrooms. Their goal is to work toward a future where public policy better supports local news.

Shortly after the COVID-19 pandemic ramped up in the country, many newsrooms were worried that the already existential crisis for local news was going to accelerate and cause a collapse, said Report for America president Steven Waldman, who heads the coalition (see Waldman’s Shoptalk column in this month’s issue). He found little discussion about what government policy could do to help smaller, local newsrooms (more discussions revolved around help for large players and only for emergency funding). As a result, he began to bring together a variety of different organizations interested in how public policy could help shape a better local news system.

Even though it was initially propelled by the pandemic, “it very quickly became less about emergency aid, and more about what should be the policy response to the massive transformation and collapse of local news,” Waldman said.

Last fall, the coalition announced a major proposal for how the government can help strengthen local news. The essence of the plan includes empowering Americans to pay for local journalism. It builds on the Local Journalism Sustainability Act (LJSA), proposed by Democrat Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick of Arizona and Republican Rep. Dan Newhouse of Washington. It was first introduced to Congress last July and reintroduced to Congress in June (See America's Newspapers Website for more information about LJSA).

Like the politicians’ plan, the coalition’s agenda calls for a $250 refundable tax credit for Americans to buy subscriptions to local news, a $2,500 to $5,000 tax credit for businesses to advertise in local media, and a tax credit set to hire or retain newsroom employees. Additionally, the plan calls for government to make it easier to create a nonprofit news organization and backs a strategy to help “replant” newspapers into community-based nonprofit organizations. It also supports putting new policies in place to ensure that newsrooms better reflect diversity and equity and other modifications.

Recently, Rebuild Local News called on Congress to include local news in the “American Jobs Plan,” a bill proposed by President Joe Biden to invest about $2 trillion on U.S. infrastructure.

The letter states local news to be a “pillar of democracy’s civic infrastructure,” and describes how it is collapsing. The letter asserts that over the last two decades the number of newspaper reporters has dropped by 60 percent and some 1,800 communities have lost newspapers. This move came on the heels of U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell’s proposal to Congress to include $2.4 billion for local news in the infrastructure bill.

 Yet, many people are hesitant to move forward with government assistance, fearing that it can be more harmful than helpful. The letter addresses this, but states that urgent action is necessary. It also states that it would not be the first time it has helped journalism, pointing to the Founding Fathers’ move to grant postal subsidies to newspapers.

“The concerns are totally legitimate, but the crisis in local journalism is so severe that we have to try to come up with ways of supporting local news,” Waldman said. “Fortunately, there are ways that the government can help local news without damaging press freedom. It has to be done, and it can be done.”

To learn more about Rebuild Local News and their work, visit rebuildlocalnews.org.

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