Sen. Maria Cantwell (WA), chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, recently introduced the Local Journalism Sustainability Act (S. 2434), along with Sen. Ron Wyden (OR), chair of the Senate Finance Committee, and Sen. Mark Kelly (AZ). This legislation would establish tax incentives that would provide much-needed relief for local newsrooms. Specifically, this legislation would create a targeted tax credit for the hiring and retention of local journalists, as well as a tax credit for businesses to advertise with local broadcast radio and TV stations and newspapers.
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.
By providing a tax credit for the hiring and retention of local journalists, as well as giving small businesses a credit for a portion of their advertising costs on local media, the Local Journalism Sustainability Act 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 Local Journalism Sustainability Act would provide a much-needed tax credit to local newsrooms and incentivize local advertising dollars to be spent with local media. To ensure the continued viability of local journalism and the vital services broadcasters and newspapers provide, Congress should support the swift passage of the Local Journalism Sustainability Act.