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Congress should support local news


In the past five months, Congress has responded to the coronavirus public health crisis with several emergency relief measures, including the stimulus checks sent to individuals and households, payroll protections to small businesses, expanded unemployment benefits, fee waivers for borrowing against 401(k) plans and more.

Now, Congress will have the opportunity to pass a relief measure that protects your access to trustworthy local news, helps grow local businesses through ads placed in local news media — and rewards you for subscribing to a newspaper like the Herald.

The Local Journalism Sustainability Act, introduced on July 16, is a bipartisan bill cosponsored by U.S. Representatives Ann Kirkpatrick, a Democrat from Arizona, and Dan Newhouse, a Republican from Washington state. In brief, the legislation provides for tax credits for subscribing to local newspapers, payroll credits for paying journalists who provide local news, and credit for advertising in local newspapers and local media.

The act is a response to the insidious way in which the pandemic has deeply damaged American communities in a malevolent cycle. It forced the shuttering of many local businesses that stopped advertising in their local papers. Newspapers, which have seen their revenues plummet, responded by laying off the people who bring the news or reducing the number of days on which they publish. That threatens the access to vital news for people in the community who themselves may be out of work temporarily or permanently and can no longer afford newspaper subscriptions.

Here’s how the Local Journalism Sustainability Act would help everyone caught in this vicious circle:

• Credit for advertising in local newspapers and local media. Businesses with fewer than 1,000 employees would be eligible for a five-year, non-refundable tax credit to spend on advertising in local newspapers or on local radio or television stations. The credit, up to $5,000 in the first year and $2,500 in each of the next four years, would cover 80 percent of advertising costs in the first year and 50 percent annually thereafter. This provision would helps local businesses as well as local media companies.

• Credit for local newspaper subscriptions. The act would provide for a non-refundable tax credit of up to $250 per year to help cover the costs of subscriptions to local newspapers, in print or digital form, that primarily produce content related to news and current events. The credit would cover 80 percent of subscription costs in the first year and 50 percent thereafter, and help consumers while incentivizing support of local news organizations.

• Payroll credit for journalists. This five-year refundable tax credit could be used by local newspapers to compensate its journalists up to $50,000 a year. The credit would cover 50 percent of compensation up to $50,000 in the first year, and 30 percent of compensation up to $50,000 in each of the subsequent four years.  This provision would go a long way toward ensuring that communities keep their local news coverage.

This simple yet comprehensive legislation would help the three keys to trustworthy, fair and accurate local journalism: local residents, business owners and journalists. It would not be bailout or handout to any of these elements of a thriving community — rather, an urgently needed assist with a strictly limited time frame responding to an unprecedented public health and economic crisis.

Please contact the office of your local U.S. representative — Rep. Peter King, Rep. Gregory Meeks, Rep. Kathleen Rice or Rep. Tom Suozzi — to ask him or her to support your local businesses, your local news media and your access to the trustworthy local news that only your community newspaper provides by cosponsoring the Local Journalism Sustainability Act.

To see how to contact these legislators by email, phone or mail, go to https://www.usa.gov/elected-officials. You’ll be taking another important step toward helping your community and its small businesses, including the local newspaper, emerge healthy from this crisis.

Dean Ridings

CEO, America’s Newspapers

On behalf of its roughly 1,500 newspaper and associate member companies, America’s Newspapers is committed to explaining, defending and advancing the vital role of newspapers in democracy and civil life. It emphasizes educating the public on all the ways newspapers contribute to community. Learn more at www.newspapers.org.