Legislation recently passed by the House, and actively being considered by the Senate, would establish tax incentives that would provide much-needed relief for local newsrooms. Specifically, this legislation would create a targeted tax credit for television and radio broadcasters, as well as certain print and digital publications, for the hiring and retention of up to 1,500 full-time local news journalists each year over five years. This tax credit was derived from a bill, the Local Journalism Sustainability Act (S. 2434), that was introduced by Sen. Maria Cantwell (WA), Chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, along with Sen. Ron Wyden (OR), Chair of the Senate Finance Committee, and Sen. Mark Kelly (AZ).
Local broadcast journalists and newspaper reporters are on the ground covering the news that impacts every community, including lifesaving information during times of crisis. Newspapers and local TV and radio stations also provide investigative stories that shine a light on government and hold those in power accountable.
Local broadcast stations provide these critical services for free, over the air, to their communities and are the most trusted source of news and reporting in the country. But the sourcing, reporting and production of this news is very costly. In most stations, news costs alone account for more than a third of total expenditures. For some stations that cost approaches half of their expenses.
Much of a local media outlet's budget comes from local advertising revenue. But over the past decade many of those dollars are being diverted to and consumed by a handful of massive online technology platforms. While these companies are taking the lifeblood of local journalism, they are not actually providing any of the critical local news reporting that Americans depend upon. Instead, these tech companies provide untrustworthy platforms where misinformation runs rampant.
Providing a tax credit for the hiring and retention of local news journalists would help stabilize local newsrooms during a time when these local outlets are facing the economic impact of advertising dollars going to massive technology platforms, and the pandemic's blow to local businesses that don't have the resources to advertise with local media.
The bottom line:
There has never been a more critical time for trusted local journalism - the very survival of newsrooms is being threatened. Providing and paying for high-quality local news coverage has become increasingly difficult when dwindling advertising dollars - already being diverted to massive, multi-national technology platforms - have taken a drastic hit as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The tax credit for the hiring and retention of local journalists, as outlined in the Local Journalism Sustainability Act, would provide a much-needed boost to local newsrooms. To ensure the continued viability of local journalism and the vital services broadcasters and newspapers provide, Congress should support the swift passage of this tax credit.