December 3, 2021
Biden bill would give local news outlets 'shot in the arm'

Biden bill would give local news outlets ‘shot in the arm’

The assistance would come in the type of a payroll tax credit score for firms that make use of eligible local journalists. The measure would enable newspapers, digital news outlets and radio and tv stations to say a tax credit score of $25,000 the first yr and $15,000 the subsequent 4 years for as much as 1,500 journalists.

It’s a response to rising alarm that the elimination of newsroom jobs is leaving communities with out entry to vital info. The priority has grown since a hedge fund with a repute of ruthless cost-cutting acquired Tribune, one among the nation’s largest newspaper chains, in Might. Already, about one-fourth of the nation’s newspapers have closed and half of local journalism jobs have evaporated in the previous 15 years, in keeping with analysis from the College of North Carolina.

That leaves about 1,800 communities with no local newspaper.

However the credit score, which would price $1.67 billion over the subsequent 5 years, does create some stress for the business. Some prime Republicans in Congress have derided it as a handout. Main journalists additionally acknowledge that it is awkward to obtain monetary help from a authorities they cowl independently.

Nonetheless, given the sense of disaster the business is going through, many journalists say the threat is value it.

“This is only a reluctant response to this fear of the collapse of local news and their business models,” stated Steven Waldman, president and co-founder of Report for America, a company that locations journalists in local newsrooms, together with The Related Press. “Most journalists start off with a healthy skepticism about the government getting involved and helping journalism. And that’s appropriate.”

“But,” he added, “the reason why this is happening now is just the severity of the crisis.”

Authorities assist for media, in methods direct and oblique, shouldn’t be new. It goes again to the earliest days of the nation when Congress sponsored periodicals’ postal charges. Extra just lately, a pandemic-era small enterprise mortgage program offered thousands and thousands to news organizations.

The proposal’s destiny finally hinges on how Congress proceeds with the broader laws, which has solely attracted Democratic assist and has turn out to be slowed down by divisions in the Home and Senate. Notably, it’s one among the few provisions to which Home and Senate Democrats have already agreed.

Lawmakers will resume debate on the bill once they return to Washington this coming week.

Although the proposal’s principal goal was to rescue small papers that have been hit arduous as advert {dollars} evaporated at the begin of the pandemic, it would assist some bigger firms. Ought to the tax break turn out to be legislation, Gannett, one among the nation’s largest remaining newspaper chains, might acquire as a lot as $127.5 million over 5 years, in keeping with an evaluation by the AP.

Maribel Perez Wadsworth, who runs the news division of Gannett, which employs greater than 4,000 journalists at USA Immediately and local papers resembling The Arizona Republic and Detroit Free Press, referred to as the credit score a “good shot in the arm.” She would not specify how the cash would be used.

AP spokesperson Lauren Easton declined to touch upon the tax credit score.

Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, D-Ariz., launched the credit score as a chunk of laws final yr together with Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash.

Considered one of the jobs tax credit score’s proponents was community-newspaper chain Wick Communications, which relies in Sierra Vista, Arizona — Kirkpatrick’s congressional district. CEO Francis Wick stated income has dropped by about half since 2009, with a steep ad-sales decline throughout the pandemic as local companies lowered promoting. To chop prices, the firm consolidated city papers into regional titles, minimize print publication days and furloughed journalists.

The tax credit score, which would add an additional $2 million for the firm in its first yr, would assist the papers in the 11-state chain attempt to transition to a digital-centric mannequin with extra paying subscribers, Wick stated, relatively than focus so tightly on chopping bills.

“We need to make sure ultimately we can do our jobs,” Wick stated.

The proposal has a key supporter in Home Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who had lengthy supported efforts to assist local journalism. However the challenge turned extra private when her hometown paper, The Baltimore Solar, was amongst these acquired by hedge fund Alden World Capital regardless of efforts by journalists and neighborhood members to steer the paper to local possession.

A type of local advocates, former Maryland county govt Ted Venetoulis, referred to as Pelosi after Alden’s buy, to induce her to assist the credit score, which by the time of that cellphone name was already in the broader Biden bundle.

That would be the final time Venetoulis and Pelosi, D-Calif., would communicate earlier than he died in early October, the speaker stated in an obituary in the newspaper and her workplace confirmed to AP.

The availability put in place guardrails to attempt to preserve cash from going to partisan websites that masquerade as local news or fake-news operations whereas casting a broad web about which organizations are thought-about reputable local news outlets, whether or not they’re hedge fund-owned chains, nonprofit, print, digital, radio or TV.

“This isn’t the government deciding who gets it and who doesn’t get it,” stated Jon Schleuss, president of the NewsGuild, a union that represents journalists, together with these at the AP. “Are you employing local journalists? If so, here’s a tax credit. It’s really helpful because it is targeted to where we’ve lost so many journalists over the past decade and that’s in the local.”

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Arbel reported from New York.

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