Saving local news: a letter to Congress

Saving local news

In response to the extinction-level risk posed to local news by COVID-19 and the essential public service that local news outlets continue to provide during this crisis, the American Journalism Project signed onto a joint letter with The Institute for Nonprofit News, Local Independent Online News Association, The National Newspaper Publishers Association, The National Association of Hispanic Publications, National Federation of Community Broadcasters, The Lenfest Institute for Journalism, Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project, and Chalkbeat, which was delivered to Members of Congress on May 5, 2020.


May 5, 2020

Dear Members of Congress,

Amid this global pandemic, Americans have turned in massive numbers to local news for the latest and most trusted information. But what happens when essential, and even life-saving information, cannot be found?

The local news industry — already shrunken and frail — is now collapsing. Layoffs and furloughs are spreading. As the nation grapples with COVID-19, this is no time to lose this flow of critical information.

We sometimes think of “the media” as national TV or newspaper companies. But there are also thousands of locally-owned and non-profit news organizations, including weekly community newspapers, citywide nonprofit websites, ethnic publications, family-owned dailies, centers for state watchdog journalism, digital-only news sites, public radio and TV stations and other providers of community news. They are deeply rooted in small towns and neighborhoods, overwhelmingly nonpartisan and employing thousands. They are in peril.

There is a history of skepticism among many journalists about the government funding local news. But this diverse group of local publishers, journalists and advocates have come together around these particular broad-based proposals that would significantly help, without entangling government in the operation of the free press, encroaching upon editorial independence, or allowing for government favoritism, from any political party or ideology. These proposals are based on a few simple principles:

Saving local and nonprofit news is a nonpartisan, non-ideological issue. All Americans need objective, fair-minded and accurate local information to protect their families, represent their communities and make smart choices about health, schools, and elections. Studies have shown that communities with weak local news have more government waste, more pollution, more polarization and a less engaged electorate.

Local news is essential for our physical health and the economic health of Main Street. Public health experts say that residents are safer when they are better informed and more engaged. Local news is also important for the economic and civic health of Main Street. Realtors, automotive dealers, restaurants and other small businesses rely on local news to engage with customers. Elected officials need it to interact with their constituents. And a well-informed citizenry is essential to solving local problems. Local news knits together communities.

The future of local news must be truly grounded in communities. Efforts to help local news should be forward-looking, not only plugging gaps but encouraging the growth of local news systems that will be more innovative, sustainable, independent, representative and, above all, even more rooted in communities and truly serving the public.

The following proposals would help save local news now while laying the foundation for a more civic-minded media in the future:

Deploy federal advertising budgets to help both public health and local news. According to the General Accounting Office, the federal government spends roughly $1 billion on advertising (for military recruitment, the Census, public health etc). The government should now spend at least an additional $1 billion on public health advertising over the next twelve months. These paid announcements will be especially important as communities re-open for business. Half of all federal advertising spending should reach the public via local media. This is money the government is already prepared to spend; doing so through local media will enhance its impact, provide important, accurate, life-saving public information, and help local news at the same timeIn addition, another $1 billion in public service ads should be spent to jump-start military recruitment, support Census implementation, and help businesses get back on their feet.

Crucially, half of that local news allotment should go to locally-owned local news organizations — including rural and ethnic papers — and non-profit organizations (as underwriting sponsorships). This can be done efficiently and effectively.

COVID-19 recedes, half of the federal government’s ad spending should continue to flow to the public through local media in order to build a stronger local news system for the future. This can, and must, be done in a way that doesn’t endanger editorial independence.

Prevent massive layoffs and closures. The Paycheck Protection Program is often not reaching the local journalists who are providing essential COVID-19 information. To avoid more lost jobs, it should be extended for six months to frontline essential businesses, including local journalists. We applaud the feature in the current PPP that turns loans into grants for organizations that retain workers. To help strengthen local, independent journalism, Congress should also provide refundable tax credits for hiring reporters or allow companies to treat money spent on journalism as tax free. Note: the shortcoming of tax credits is that they will not help tax exempt, nonprofit news organizations that now provide so much important local news, nor many of the local and ethnic newspapers that show little profit.

Encourage the re-planting of newspapers that are currently owned by chains or private equity firms. COVID-19 has increased the likelihood of more mergers. We need a strategy to re-plant newspapers back into communities. Let’s provide an enhanced charitable tax deduction to any chain that converts a local newspaper into a nonprofit or donates to an existing community non-profit; or provide a tax credit if they sell to a public-purpose B corporation, co-op or other entity with a public service mission. Meanwhile, to allow these mission-oriented publications to develop sturdy streams of revenue, the IRS should make news subscriptions tax deductible, affirm that journalism can be considered a charitable purpose and clarify that nonprofits can take advertising without jeopardizing their tax exempt status or being taxed on that revenue.

It is also time for Congress to consider broadening financial support of nonprofit news organizations that are trying to fill news deserts, similar to its support of public broadcasters. Although it must be done in ways that preserve complete editorial independence from government influence, the crisis in local news is so severe, such approaches must be now weighed.

These steps would help local media survive so it can continue to inform local communities about COVID-19. Just as important, it recognizes that even before the disintegration of the industry, there were many topics and communities that were not adequately covered. These policies would help create a better local media system in the future.

Sincerely,

The Institute for Nonprofit News

Local Independent Online News Association

The National Newspaper Publishers Association

The National Association of Hispanic Publications

National Federation of Community Broadcasters

The American Journalism Project

The Lenfest Institute for Journalism

Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project

Chalkbeat

Contact: Steven Waldman, co-founder and President, Report for America, swaldman@reportforamerica.org

WHO WE REPRESENT

The Institute for Nonprofit News

(partial list, local news members)

Adirondack Explorer

Alabama Initiative for Independent Journalism

Alhambra Source

Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting

Arkansas Nonprofit News

Aspen Journalism

Austin Bulldog

Auston Monitor

Baltimore Brew

Bay City News Foundation

Bay Journal

Bay Nature Institute

Belt Magazine

Benito Link

Berkeleyside

Block Club Chicago

Boyle Heights Beat

Breckenridge Texan

Bridge Magazine

California Health Report

CALmatters

Capitol News Illinois

Carolina Public Press

Centro de Periodismo Investigativo

Charlottesville Tomorrow

Chicago Reporter

Chicago Reports

Cicero Independiente

City Bureau

City Limits, New York

Civic Story

The Colorado Independent

Columbia Insight

Connecticut Health and Investigative Team

Crosscut

The CT Mirror

Daily Yonder

DCist

Delaware Currents

East Lansing Info

ecoRi News

Ed Source

Eye on Ohio

Flint Beat

Florida Bulldog

Florida Center for Investigative REporting

Foothills Forum

Georgia Health News

Georgia News Lab

Hartford Guardian

Hidden City Philadelphia

High Country News

Highlands Current

Honolulu Civil Beat

Hoptown Chronicle

Idaho Education News

Inewsource

Investigate West

Iowa Center for Public Affairs Journalism

KCUR

Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting

Key Peninsula News

KPBS

KyForward

LkldNow

Lower Cape TV

Madison 365

Maryland Matters

MarylandReporter.com

Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting

Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service

MinnPost

Mission Local

Mississippi Today

MLK50

Mongabay

Montana Free Press

Mountain Independent

Mountain Journal

Nancy on Norwalk

New England Center for Investigative Reporting

New Hampshire Center for Public Interest Journalism

New Haven Independent

New Mexico In Depth

Next City

NJ Spotlight

North Carolina Health News

North Suburban News

Northern Kentucky Tribune

Oklahoma Watch

Outlier Media

PA Post

Patagonia REgional Times

Philadelphia Public School Notebook

Pine Tree Watch

Public Source

Rivard Report

Rochester Beacon

Rocky Mountain PBS

Sahan Journal

San Francisco Public Press

San Jose Spotlight

Searchlight New Mexico

South Dakota News Watch

South Side Weekly

Southerly

Spotlight PA

St. Louis Public Radio

Texas Observer

Texas Tribune

The Badger Project

The Bedford Citizen

The City

The Hummel Report

The Lens

The Narwhal

The Nevada Independent

The Seattle Globalist

The Tyler Loop

The Utah Investigative Journalism Project

Tucson Sentinel

Voice of OC

Voice of San Diego

Voices of Monterey Bay

VT Digger

Wausau Pilot and Review

WDET

WFYI

WHYY

Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism`

WitnessLA

WJCT

WyoFile

Local Independent Online News

(Partial list)

Magnolia Reporter

Coachella Valley Independent

Escondido Grapevine

Lake County News

Long Beach Post

Valley News Now

Treasure Coast News

Mainstreet Daily News Gainesville

Decaturish

Cobb County Courier

Homewood-Flossmoor Chronicle

The Lansing Journal

Shawnee Mission Post

Ohio County Monitor

Bayou Brief

The Bedford Citizen

East Lansing Info

Farmington Voice

Deep South Voice

New Burn Now

Omaha Reader

Redbank Green

Tapinto Westfield

Grant County Beat

Carson Now

The Batavian

Roosevelt Islander Online

Watershed Post

Bushwick Daily

Peekskill Herald 2.0

The River Newsroom

The Devil Stip

Oklahoma City Free Press

Luther Register

Gales Creek Journal

Levittown Now

Sanatoga Post

Franklin County Free Press

Tube City Almanac

NorthcentralPA

Sioux Falls Business

Rutherford Source

Brentwood Home Page

Oak Ridge Today

Rio Grande Guardian

What’s Up Prince William

Chester Telegraph

My Edmonds News

Racine County Eye

The Oshkosh Examiner

Oil City News

Sweetwater Now

County 10

National Newspaper Publishers Association

A King Size View

African News Digest

African-American News and Issues — Dallas

African-American News and Issues — Houston

African-American News and Issues — San Antonio

Afro American Times

Afro-American — Baltimore

Afro-American — Washington

Alexandria News Weekly

Arizona Informant

Atlanta Daily World

Atlanta Inquirer

Atlanta Tribune the Magazine

Atlanta Voice

Bakersfield News Observer

Birmingham Times

Black Voice News

Buffalo Criterion

Call & Post — Cleveland

Call & Post — Columbus

Capital Outlook

Carolina Peacemaker

Challenge Group

Chatham-Southeast Citizen

Chicago Crusader

Chicago Defender

Chicago Standard Chicago Weekend

Columbus Times

Community Times

CrossRoadsNews

Dallas Examiner

Dallas Post Tribune

Data News Weekly

Dayton Defender

Daytona Times

Denver Weekly News

East St. Louis Monitor

East Texas Review

Final Call

Florida Courier

Florida Sentinel Bulletin

Florida Star

Florida Sun

Frost Illustrated

Garland Journal

Gary Crusader

Grand Rapids Times

Greater Diversity News

Greene County Democrat

Harlem News Group

Houston Defender

Houston Forward Times

Houston Style Magazine

Hudson Valley Press

Hyde Park Citizen

Indiana Herald

Indianapolis Recorder

Inglewood Today

Inner-City Newspaper

Insight News

Jackson Advocate

Jacksonville Free Press

Jersey City Daily Challenge

Kansas City Call

L.A. Focus Newspaper

L.A. Watts Times

La Vida News — The Black Voice — Fort Worth NOKOA, the Observer

Los Angeles Sentinel

Louisiana Weekly

Louisville Defender

Macon Courier

Memphis Silver Star News

Metro Courier

Metro Home Maker

Michigan Chronicle

Michigan Citizen

Michigan Front Page

Milwaukee Community Journal

Milwaukee Courier

Milwaukee Times Weekly

Minneapolis Spokesman Reporter

Mississippi Link

Mobile Beacon-Citizen

Muslim Journal

Nashville Pride

New American of New York

New Jersey City News

New Journal & Guide

New Orleans Tribune

New Pittsburgh Courier

New York Amsterdam News

New York Beacon

New York Carib News

New York Daily Challenge

North Dallas Gazette

Oakland Post — Alameda

Omaha Star

Orlando Advocate

Our Weekly

Pasadena San Gabriel Valley — Latino Journal

Pensacola Voice

Politic365

Portland Observer

Portland Skanner

Precinct Reporter

Richmond Free Press

Sacramento Observer

San Antonio Observer

San Bernardino American News

San Diego Voice & Viewpoint

San Francisco Sun Reporter

Savannah Herald

Savannah Tribune

Seattle Medium

Seattle Skanner

Shreveport Sun

South Carolina Black News

South End Citizen

South Florida Times

South Jersey Journal

South Suburban Standard

Southwest Digest

Southwest Georgian — Albany

Speakin’ Out News

St. Louis American

St. Louis Metro Sentinel

Tacoma True Citizen

Telegram News, The Ecrose

Texas Metro News

The Baltimore Times

The Black Chronicle

The Buckeye Review

The California Advocate

The Carolina Times

The Carolinian

The Charleston Chronicle

The Charlotte Post

The Christian Recorder

The Cincinnati Herald

The Communicator News

The County News

The Courier Eco Latino

The Dallas Weekly

The Houston Sun

The Legacy Newspaper

The Madison Times Weekly

The Miami Times

The Philadelphia Observer

The Philadelphia Tribune

The Reporter — Akron

The Tennessee Tribune

The Times Weekly

The Triangle Tribune

The Tulsa Oklahoma Eagle

The Villager

The Weekly Challenger

Toledo Journal

Tri-County Sentry

Tri-State Defender

Walls Communications

Washington Informer

Wave Community Newspapers

Westchester County Press

Westside Gazette

Wilmington Journal

Windy City Word

Winston-Salem Chronicle

National Federation of Community Broadcasters

KVRF, Palmer, AK

KIBH, Seward, AK

KCAW, Sitka, AK

KTNA, Talkeetna, AK

KZRJ-LP, Jerome, AZ

KUYI, Kykotsmovi, AZ

KPUP-LP, Patagonia, AZ

KWLP, Peach Springs, AZ

KOHN, Sells, AZ

KGHR, Tuba City, AZ

KVAN-LP, Tucson, AZ

KNNB, Whiteriver, AZ

KOYT-LP, Anza, CA

KBPT-LP, Bishop, CA

KNVC-LP, Carson City, CA

KDUP, Cedarville, CA

KYBU, Covelo, CA

KDRT-LP, Davis, CA

KECG, El Cerrito, CA

KNYO-LP, Fort Bragg, CA

KCPK-LP, Frazier Park, CA

KFCF, Fresno, CA

KSJV, Fresno, CA

KFOK-LP, Georgetown, CA

KGUA, Gualala, CA

KIDE, Hoopa, CA

KPFZ, Lakeport, CA

KPHT-LP, Laytonville, CA

KCBP, Modesto, CA

KMPO, Modesto, CA

KKRN, Montgomery Creek, CA

KCMU-LP, Napa CA

KVMR, Nevada City, CA

KCSN, Northridge, CA

KIND-LP, Oxnard, CA

KOPA, Pala, CA

KPDO-LP, Pescadero, CA

KPCA-LP, Petaluma, CA

KZYX, Philo, CA

KWMR, Point Reyes Station, CA

KQNY, Quincy, CA

KMUD, Redway, CA

KUBU-LP, Sacramento, CA

KNSJ, San Diego, CA

KALW, San Francisco, CA

KQED, San Francisco, CA

KSFP-LP, San Francisco, CA

KCSB, Santa Barbara, CA

KSQD, Santa Cruz, CA

KBBF, Santa Rosa, CA

KRJF-LP, Santa Rosa, CA

KPPQ-LP, Ventura, CA

KGNU, Boulder, CO

KDNK, Carbondale, CO

KBUT, Crested Butte, CO

KUVO, Denver, CO

KDUR, Durango, CO

KAFM, Grand Junction, CO

KWSI-LP, Grand Junction, CO

KVNF, Paonia, CO

KLZR, Westcliffe, CO

WPKN, Bridgeport, CT

WWUH, West Hartford, CT

WRAS, Atlanta, GA

WRUU-LP, Savannah, GA

KKCR, Hanalei, HI

KNKR-LP, Hawi, HI

KMNO, Wailuku, HI

KEMB-LP, Emmetsburg, IA

KICI-LP, Iowa City, IA

KRBX, Boise, ID

KIYE, Kamiah, ID

KRFY, Sandpoint, ID

WEFT, Champaign, IL

WHIW-LP, Harvard, IL

WFHB, Bloomington, IN

WELT-LP, Fort Wayne, IN

WMMT, Whitesburg, KY

WWOZ, New Orleans, LA

WVAO-LP, Athol, MA

WSCS, Needham, MA

WJOP-LP, Newburyport, MA

WOMR, Provincetown, MA

WCUW, Worcester, MA

WHCP-LP, Cambridge, MD

WBYC-LP, Crisfield, MD

WOWD-LP, Takoma Park, MD

WBFY-LP, Belfast, ME

WERU, East Orland, ME

WMPG, Portland, ME

WYAR, Yarmouth, ME

WYCE, Grand Rapids, MI

WTIP, Grand Marais, MN

KFAI, Minneapolis, MN

KBFT, Nett Lake, MN

KOPN, Columbia, MO

KKFI, Kansas City, MO

KGLT/KGLZ, Bozeman MT

KGVM, Bozeman, MT

KGVA, Harlem, MT

WSFM-LP, Asheville, NC

WCOM-LP, Carrboro, NC

WNCU, Durham, NC

WDFC-LP, Greensboro, NC

KZUM, Lincoln, NE

WFMU, Jersey City, NJ

WPRB, Princeton, NJ

WDVR, Sergeantsville, NJ

KABR, Alamo, NM

KUNM, Albuquerque, NM

KCZY, Crownpoint, NM

KTAL-LP, Las Cruces, NM

KTDB, Pine Hill, NM

WGXC, Acra, NY

WAMC, Albany, NY

WRFI, Ithaca, NY

WRFA-LP, Jamestown, NY

WJFF, Jeffersonville, NY

WLNF, Lockport, NY

WOVU-LP, Cleveland, OH

WAKT-LP, Toledo, OH

KCNP, Ada, OK

KPOV, Bend, OR

KCIW-LP, Brookings, OR

KEPW-LP, Eugene, OR

KSKQ, Medford, OR

KCUW, Pendleton, OR

KBOO, Portland, OR

KMUZ, Salem, OR

KMWV, Salem, OR

KTUP, Salem, OR

KWSO, Warm Springs, OR

WRCT, Pittsburgh, PA

WZUM, South Park, PA

WLGI, Heminway, SC

KDKO, Lake Andes, SD

WDVX, Knoxville, TN

WEVL, Memphis, TN

WUMR, Memphis, TN

WXNA-LP, Nashville, TN

KNON, Dallas, TX

KRTS, Marfa, TX

KWVH-LP, Wimberley, TX

KZMU, Moab, UT

KRCL, Salt Lake City, UT

KUAA-LP, Salt Lake City UT

WERA-LP, Arlington, VA

WBCM-LP, Bristol, VA

WTJU, Charlottesville, VA

WEBR, Fairfax, VA

WRIR-LP, Richmond, VA

WQSV-LP, Staunton, VA

WOOL, Bellows Falls, VT

WGDR, Plainfield, VT

WFVR-LP, South Royalton, VT

WMRW-LP, Warren, VT

KBCS, Bellevue, WA

UWave, Bothell, WA

KAPY-LP, Duvall, WA

KSER, Everett, WA

KLOI-LP, Lopez Island, WA

KSVR, Mount Vernon, WA

KAOS, Olympia, WA

KPTZ, Port Townsend, WA

KBFG-LP, Seattle, WA

KGHI, Westport, WA

WORT, Madison, Wi

WXPR, Rhinelander, WI

WDRT, Viroqua, WI

WVMR, Dunmore, WV

WKYW-LP, Keyser, WV

KHOL, Jackson, WY

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