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Why Congress must act to sustain local news

Dean Ridings

The data is clear: Since 2005, the U.S. has lost over one-fourth of its newspapers, and on average two and a half newspapers are closing every week. News deserts have formed, leaving millions of Americans without a dedicated source for news about their local government, election coverage, school information and even what’s happening with the new restaurant down the street.

As the impact of Big Tech’s business practices continue to take their toll, the trend is accelerating, which makes the opposition to government efforts to support local journalism confusing. This is a crisis requiring bold and immediate action, and proposed measures like the bipartisan Journalism Competition and Preservation Act (JCPA) and the Community News and Small Business Support Act would provide that sorely needed immediate assistance.

The JCPA provides a path for news companies to collectively negotiate fair terms with tech monopolies like Google and Facebook, which have benefited immensely from newspapers’ content without providing just compensation.  The JCPA was written to require that Big Tech compensates news organizations when it uses their content. While some want the JCPA to do other things to support all local journalism, it is only right that creators be paid for their content. The Community News Act takes a different approach through tax credits that incentivize the hiring and retention of journalists. The Community News Act represents a proactive way to decrease newsroom job losses and ensure that local communities benefit from professional journalism. News organizations that cut back on their newsrooms will receive less, so this bill provides every news organization in the country the incentive to staff their newsrooms appropriately. Both proposals provide much needed support to an industry in need. But the real winners are the communities that will now have a vibrant newspaper!

Newspapers have always had a public purpose and have had to balance the pursuit of profits with the goal of serving their community with needed news and information. In today’s misinformation age, credible news sources are more important than ever, and as the local journalism business model continues to evolve, there is a clear need for Congress to provide the temporary support that would be provided by the Community News and Small Business Support Act.

Congressional leaders understand the importance of vital local newspapers in their hometowns, and most have now seen first-hand what happens when a local newspaper disappears. Those who fear that government support will result in interference or a suppression of a free press should recognize the difference between professional journalism and other media channels. Newspapers have repeatedly encountered this issue and figured it out long ago. Major advertisers have frequently come under the scrutiny of their local newspaper, finding their actions reported on the front page, even as their ads were on the next page. Additionally, newspapers have long received special discounts from the U.S. Postal Service, and newspapers’ coverage of postal delivery problems is a frequent news item.

The media landscape continues to evolve. If nonprofits and startups could fill the void, there would be no problem. But most lack the expertise, structure, staff or resources to vigorously cover local government, school boards, courts and more. The increased support from philanthropists and foundations is encouraging, but the nonprofit model is not the only answer for local journalism’s evolution.

The risk of not acting to support local newspapers is great. With the accelerating decline of local news sources, millions are being left without dedicated coverage of their local government, schools, civic issues and the key events shaping their towns. Measures like the bipartisan Journalism Competition and Preservation Act and the Community News and Small Business Support Act would help sustain professional local journalism and allow for continued evolution of these trusted news sources.  It is time for Congress to play its role in protecting the only industry mentioned in and protected by the U.S. Constitution. Our forefathers knew a free press was important, and it remains so today

On behalf of its approximately 1,700 newspaper and Solutions Partner companies, America’s Newspapers is committed to explaining, defending and advancing the vital role of newspapers in democracy and civil life. We put an emphasis on educating the public on all the ways newspapers contribute to building a community identity and the success of local businesses. Learn more at newspapers.org.

journalism, local news, newspapers, opinion

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