Cantwell cheers inclusion of local journalism support in Build Back Better package

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Thursday, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) spoke on the Senate floor to urge her Senate colleagues to support the local journalism provisions in the Build Back Better reconciliation package. Several provisions of the Local Journalism Sustainability Act authored by Senator Cantwell were included in the draft text of the Build Back Better reconciliation package. This legislation would help financially support local newspapers, broadcasters and online media through tax credits to incentivize hiring and retaining journalists.

“Journalistic standards, local newspapers and broadcasters play a critical role in holding our elected officials accountable, shining a spotlight on important news and challenging the issues of our community to come to light,” Senator Cantwell said. “The Local Journalism Sustainability Act is essential to maintaining that trust, that diversity of voices and that local perspective. The tax incentives in this bill will help local newspapers and digital-only news journalists, and broadcast newsrooms remain financially viable to retain and hire local base journalists to cover local news stories.”

Since 2004, over 1,800 communities have lost their local newspapers. Since the COVID pandemic began, 37,000 journalists have lost their jobs, been furloughed, or had their pay cut.

In October 2020, Cantwell released an extensive report examining the transformation of local news in the information age and impacts to local journalism. The report found that over the past two decades, the local newspaper industry has lost around 70 percent of its total revenue, and newspapers have been forced to let go of more than 40,000 newsroom employees, a full 60 percent of their journalistic workforce.

Last year, Cantwell authored the provision of the COVID-19 Economic Relief Bill that made local news outlets eligible for the Paycheck Protection Program. The provision made over 100 newspapers and broadcasting stations throughout Washington newly eligible for PPP funding, and more than 2,000 newspapers and 3,384 TV and radio stations newly eligible nationwide. Since the early days of the pandemic, Cantwell repeatedly raised the issue of expanding PPP eligibility to local media outlets with hearing witnesses and spoke on the Senate floor about the issue as well.

Praise for local journalism support in the Build Back Better reconciliation package:

Alan Fisco, immediate past president of America’s Newspapers: “A vibrant free press is the cornerstone of our democracy. Senator Cantwell’s leadership in the Senate for the Local Journalism Sustainability Act is yet another example of her deep understanding and support for our role. With the passage of the LJSA, we have a runway to not only sustain the free press, but to grow it as well. Without this effort at this critical time for us, we would be facing more layoffs, closures and news deserts. Senator Cantwell said it best recently, ’this bill is about democracy.’ We are so thankful for her support and leadership, and the support of so many legislators and staff who helped make this happen.”

Dean Ridings, CEO of America’s Newspapers: “The support for the passage of the Local Journalism Sustainability Act from Sen. Cantwell and other Congressional leaders means that communities across the U.S. will continue to receive the important news and information they need from their local newspapers, radio and TV stations. This support is meaningful for local journalism, and even more meaningful to the citizens who rely on their local journalists.”

Gordon Smith, president and CEO of the National Association of Broadcasters: “The Local Journalism Sustainability Act will provide meaningful incentives for local broadcast stations to hire and retain the newsgatherers who keep our communities informed, connected and engaged. Local broadcast news is consistently ranked among the most trusted sources of news and information, and this bill would allow radio and television stations to employ additional journalists to report on the events, issues and emergencies affecting our nation. We thank Senate Commerce Committee Chair Maria Cantwell for her leadership on the Local Journalism Sustainability Act and appreciate her work with colleagues in the House and Senate to include these important provisions in the Build Back Better Act.”

Jennifer Dorning, president of the Department for Professional Employees, AFL-CIO: “Including the Local News Journalist Compensation Credit in the Build Back Better Act is critical for journalists and other media professionals, including members of DPE’s unions, working across the news industry at print, digital, and broadcast outlets. The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the essential work that these professionals do to keep our communities reliably informed. As our country builds back better, Americans will continue to depend on reliable, independent news and information about their local communities. Preserving the power of a free and independent media is good for our democracy, good for our economy, and good for news professionals.”

Lowell Peterson, executive director of the Writers Guild of America, East: “The Writers Guild of America, East, AFL-CIOs thanks and commends Senator Cantwell and her colleagues, Senators Wyden and Kelly, for their tenacious, thoughtful work to support local journalism, and their sponsorship of the Local Journalism Sustainability Act. American democracy relies on independent journalism, but the news industry is in economic trouble. Communities across the nation depend on the hard work of digital, broadcast and print journalists to get vital information about local government, local businesses, sports and events. As more and more news organizations suffer economic down-drafts, as more and more professional journalists face layoffs and cutbacks, the American people lose access to the news they need in order to make informed decisions and to participate in the life of their communities. Simply put, without professional journalists, there is no independent journalism, and the LJSA will go a long way towards providing the support local journalists need to continue their vital work.”

Jon Schleuss, president of NewsGuild-CWA and vice president of Communications Workers of America: “The job-saving provision of the Local Journalism Sustainability Act will have a remarkable positive impact on our democracy. It will protect thousands of local journalism jobs and spur more local reporting, providing critical local news and a voice to more communities. We've lost too many local journalists over the last decade and that trend has to stop. I applaud Senator Cantwell and Senate leadership for championing legislation that strengthens our country's free press, which is the guardian of our democracy.”

Steve Waldman, president of Report for America and chair of the Rebuild Local News Coalition: “This is a huge step forward for a strong, local press — and for the communities they serve. The collapse of local news threatens each community's ability to address education, health care, and the other problems they care most about. Without accurate local information, we'll have more corruption, more misinformation, more waste and more polarization. The payroll tax credit approved today by the House of Representatives is a simple, content-neutral, First-Amendment-friendly way to save local news and make sure communities get covered. We thank the strong supporters in the House of Representatives, as well as the leadership of Senator Maria Cantwell in advocating for this cause."

Brett Wesner, chair of the National Newspaper Association and publisher at Wesner Publications: “Community journalism is ever more essential in these tense times and providing a financial boost to help local newspapers pay for the news couldn’t be more timely. We have learned from watching the alarming number of news deserts in recent years that where there is no local journalism, there is declining trust in the community, in civic affairs and in the electoral process. National Newspaper Association applauds Senator Cantwell and her colleagues who stand strong for local journalism.”

National Public Radio, Inc.: “Public broadcasting stations reach 99% of Americans in their local communities through non-profit, public service news and programming. NPR is proud to work with public radio stations across the country through collaborative journalism to cover stories from local, regional and national perspectives with the highest editorial standards. The Local Journalism Sustainability Act will sustain local news organizations like public radio and TV stations at a critical time, and we are grateful for Sen. Cantwell’s leadership on local news and support for public media.”

Frank Copsidas, founder and president of the LPTV Broadcasters Association: “At a time when the fabric and well-being of our local communities around the nation are so much in the headlines, there has been an increasing focus on the sustainability, vitality and role of trusted local media, including LPTV stations that super-serve their communities. The objectives set out in this part of the Act, namely Section 138516, are clear and well defined. The payroll credit for compensation of local journalists will solidify the sustainability of vital local community news in the Low Power TV sector.”

A letter of support from the Afro-American in Baltimore (The AFRO) can be found HERE.

A letter of support from the National Association of Hispanic Publications can be found HERE.

Video of Senator Cantwell’s floor remarks is available HERE, audio is available HERE and a full transcript is available HERE.

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