Proposed bipartisan legislation called the Local Journalism Sustainability Act is looking to provide funding to help encourage readers, news operations and advertisers alike to take part in local journalism efforts. Some local Ohio legislators are showing interest.
“I think it’s important, in this pandemic people rely on local news more than ever before,” U.S. Rep. David Joyce, R-Bainbridge, said. “Local journalism’s revenues collapsed in the early days of the pandemic.”
Even though digital and online traffic has increased as a result of the health crisis, Rep. Joyce said it’s not enough to compensate for the loss in physical and subscription sales. Officials said that the proposed legislation has approximately two weeks to gain the support of federal representatives to become leaders or sponsors of the act.
Under the proposed act, the brainchild of Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, D-Arizona, and Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Washington, subscribers would be eligible for a five-year, non-refundable tax credit up to $250 per year to help cover the cost of their subscription to a local newspaper. The credit will cover 80 percent of subscription costs in the first year and 50 percent of subscription costs for the subsequent four years.
“The local papers were in trouble before the pandemic,” Rep. Joyce said. “Some papers had to do layoffs, mergers or shut down entirely.”
The proposed legislation would also provide newspapers with a five-year, refundable tax credit of up to $50,000 per year to help compensate journalists, covering 50 percent of compensation in the first year and 30 percent of it over the next four. An individual publication can claim up to $25,000 per journalist in the first year and up to $15,000 per journalist during each of the following years.
Advertising is the third pillar of the sustainability act, which would offer businesses that have fewer than 1,000 employees up to $5,000 in the first year and $2,500 in the remaining years to spend on advertising in local publications. In addition to newspapers, businesses can also use the money to buy spots on local radio and televisions stations.
Sen. Sherrod Brown’s press secretary Rachel Hartford wrote in an email that, though the act has yet to be introduced, Sen. Brown, D-Ohio, plans to review it soon.
“In their letter to Senate leadership,” Ms. Hartford stated, “the senators warn that the widespread impact of the COVID-19 pandemic – including plummeting advertising revenue – could decimate local and regional news outlets, even as communities have become increasingly reliant on their reporting amidst the public health crisis.”
Here, Ms. Hartford is referencing a letter that Sen. Brown signed in April along with 18 other senators, to address the impact of COVID-19 on local news outlets amidst the COVID-19 outbreak.
“Ohioans need access to the most up-to-date information on what resources are available in their communities as well as how to stay safe and protect their neighbors,” Sen. Brown wrote in a separate comment.
Rep. Joyce shared a personal anecdote from his youth to explain his thoughts on the importance of local journalism. “When I was a kid,” he said, “we had the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Cleveland Press. The Cleveland Press folded, I delivered it in the afternoon because I was too lazy to get up in the morning.
“You watched, and the Plain Dealer became a monopoly on daily news, and,” he said, “they didn’t have competition, so I think they’d lost that sense of balance. I think a lot of media has. When you’re fighting for eyeballs, you’re going for things that drive readership, drive clicks.
“I think one of the big things especially is when you add things like Craigslist and you take away the classifieds,” Rep. Joyce said. “We want true local papers like yours to thrive.”
He added that local papers are vital because they report on local news that can be found nowhere else. Rep. Joyce said he expects to see more specific industries and companies targeted in the next federal COVID-19 bill expected later this month.
“The full House doesn’t convene until next Monday, as well as the Senate,” he continued. “Once everybody’s in D.C., I think we’ll have a better understanding of what the local needs are and we’ll fashion a bill to address the needs.”