The United States cannot really “build better” without local news to inform and engage its citizens.
Congress seems to appreciate this, as the House of Representatives has put a tremendous last minute effort to restore funding for payroll tax credits that are key to saving local news outlets.
Now it is up to the Senate to ensure that this temporary but critical measure remains in the final budget adjustment package.
This is essential as the country invests in new social programs, electoral reforms and physical infrastructure. The problems will continue if the cornerstone of democracy, its local system of free press, continues to perish without federal support.
Temporary tax credits, as first proposed in the bipartisan Local Journalism Sustainability Act, are the best available solution to preserve remaining editorial jobs and to incentivize the creation of more jobs.
Their cost is relatively low, less than 0.1% of the Build Back Better package. The House budget drafters cut the loans when the spending package was cut in half, but restored them on Wednesday under the direction of Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal.
It is not an exaggeration to say that without the credits, hundreds more churches and millions of voters will lose their primary source of citizen knowledge.
At least 100 local newspapers will close next year and 500 over the next five years if Congress doesn’t help, according to Penelope Muse Abernathy, professor of Northwestern journalism who documented America’s news desert.
Such a desert is spreading in the home state of the Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer. The number of Local newspapers in New York down 40% since 2004 and reach of the remaining newspapers is down 63%.
If all politics are local and local newspapers are the primary way of informing voters about local issues, how can the system survive if the local news death spiral is not stopped?
I’ve said this many times, so I pass the microphone on to others who sound the alarm.
“It’s a relatively inexpensive proposal – less than 0.1% of all legislation – but it is the only provision before Congress that addresses the disinformation and misinformation that is now threatening to destroy our democracy,” wrote Jim Friedlich, CEO of the Lenfest Institute for Journalism in The Philadelphia Researcher.
“Without a strong press, local news deserts filled with harmful disinformation, partisan exaggeration and unchecked, often fake social media posts will hold the government accountable, and democracy itself is seriously threatened.”
Juan-Carlos Molleda, dean of the University of Oregon School of Journalism, wrote this in The Oregonian:
“This is important as the local news is crashing across the country. As the Internet destroyed business models for local news, the number of reporters has decreased by 60% since 2000. Thousands of churches have no newspapers or ‘ghost newspapers’ that churches barely cover. ”
“Studies have shown what we intuitively know: when there are fewer local reporters, there is more government waste, corruption. It is just as important for neighbors to know each other and for communities to solve their own problems. The voices are receding The information vacuum is filled with misinformation and conspiracies. “
Steve Waldman, President of Report for America, writes:
“How can residents know how to fix their schools when no one gives them accurate independent information on how their local taxpayer dollars are being spent? How can you approach economic development, crime, or health care without knowing the facts? Information on Local COVID Vaccinations? “
“No journalist loves the idea of the government helping him. The crisis has become so existential that temporary measures like this are necessary – and this particular provision is cleverly designed to avoid First Amendment problems local communities; there is no federal bureaucracy giving grants to local newsrooms that the president likes. It’s content neutral and would benefit newspapers, television stations, websites, and public radios. “
U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell who passed the Journalism crisis in a report highlighting the urgent need for support, drove this home when he proposed the tax credits in July:
“The strength of our democracy is based on truth and transparency, and local newsrooms are in our communities to ask critical questions, counteract misinformation and tell our stories,” said the Edmonds Democrat. “We need to protect these vital parts of our communities.”
This is an excerpt from the free, weekly Voices for a Free Press newsletter. Subscribe to here.