New legislation that would support foundering local newsrooms across the United States has been introduced in the House of Representatives. The bill would create advertising tax credits and payroll tax credits for five years.
Introduced July 21, the Community News and Small Business Support Act is sponsored by a bipartisan duo: Claudia Tenney, a Republican from New York, and Suzan DelBene, a Democrat from Washington state.
The bill “ensures that local news organizations can continue to deliver vital news stories that matter most to our communities while allowing for our small businesses to grow and our communities to stay informed,” Tenney said in a statement about the legislation.
The bill has two main components. Local news outlets would receive tax credits to help hire and retain reporters. The bill would provide up to $25,000 to local outlets for the first year and $15,000 for the next four years. National outlets would not be eligible.
The credit would be worth up to $85,000 per journalist over the duration of the bill, the Rebuild Local News Coalition calculated. Rebuild Local News is a nonprofit that helps support local journalism.
‘Crisis’ requires aid
“The crisis in local news is so severe that it requires some public policy help, as well as philanthropy and business model improvements,” Steven Waldman, chair of the Rebuild Local News Coalition, told VOA.
Meanwhile, small businesses that advertise in local news outlets would also be eligible for tax credits of $5,000 for the first year and $2,500 for the next four years. The credits would be calculated based on total advertising spending.
“In today’s digital world, access to trustworthy and reliable news is more important than ever. Local journalists and newspapers play a critical role in increasing involvement in civic institutions, identifying government corruption and decreasing polarization. Yet, this industry is struggling more than ever to keep the lights on,” DelBene said in a statement.
A similar federal bill received some bipartisan support in the House of Representatives, but it hit a wall in 2021 and was not passed.
“There is no magic bullet solution to the local news crisis,” Tim Franklin, director of Northwestern University’s Medill Local News Initiative, told VOA. But he said he thought this new bill could be an effective way to generate much-needed revenue for local news outlets.
The U.S. news industry has been struggling for years, but the local news industry has been hit especially hard. On average, two newspapers close each week, according to a 2022 report by Northwestern.
Hundreds of closures
Since late 2019, more than 360 newspapers have closed around the United States, according to the study. The report also found that the country has lost more than 25% of its newspapers since 2005 and is set to lose one-third by 2025.
Tenney knows well the plight facing local news. She previously served as the owner and publisher of local newspapers, including the Mid-York Weekly, which her grandparents founded. It printed its last issue in 2022.
The fact that Tenney is a conservative “shows that there’s a Republican template for helping save local news and that the topic is truly nonpartisan,” said Waldman, who also co-founded Report for America, which places journalists at local outlets around the country.
The local news dilemma has had a disproportionate effect on rural parts of the country compared with more urban areas, Franklin said.
“There’s this division between the news-haves and the news-have-nots in the country,” he said.
Studies show that the fall of local news has tangible implications for communities around the country. For example, communities with less local news often experience more government corruption.
The absence of local news also contributes to increased political polarization and creates a vacuum that is often filled with more misinformation and disinformation, according to media and academic reports.
Studies also show that exposure to propaganda contributes to lower trust in the media.
“It’s very damaging to communities and democracies,” Waldman said.
To Waldman, it’s important to frame the local news crisis as a press freedom issue. Press freedom is at stake because the press itself is at stake.
“When we think about the importance of a free and robust press globally, we tend to think about that in terms of censorship, which is obviously very important,” he said. “But I think you actually have to broaden the lens to look at both censorship and the health of the press — or the existence of the press.”