local journalism

A consensus has gelled in Congress that news outlets need help. Now the question is how and when.

It’s an ill-kept secret that, with few exceptions, politicians of both parties really, really like their local newspapers and other local media. News is a conduit for getting their views to constituents and a feedback loop for finding out what issues are on the community’s mind.

As the pandemic advertising recession and longstanding negative trends have made the financial precariousness of these enterprises obvious, Congress has pretty much decided it should come to the aid of local news. The question of how remains, together with making the help timely.

My take comes from conversations with a variety of advocacy groups pushing one form or another of legislative assistance. A surprising favorite approach has emerged, too — direct subsidies for news subscribers, local journalists and small business advertisers.

That’s the structure of HR 7640, the Local Journalism Sustainability Act, sponsored by Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-Ariz.), Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-Wash.) and more than 70 co-sponsors from both parties.

The bill would:

  • Provide a tax credit of 80% the first year and 50% after on the price of a subscription to a local news source, up to $250 a year.
  • Relieve employers of 50% of the payroll taxes (on up to $12,500 per quarter) for one year for journalists they employ and 30% in quarters after.
  • Subsidize small business advertising — up to $5,000 one year and up to $2,500 in subsequent years — with local TV stations as well as newspapers or nonprofit outlets.

Local is defined as having more than 50% of subscribers in one state or one area with a 200-mile radius. So chain-owned local papers would qualify but not big national publications like The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal.

Not every news outlet, subscriber or small business advertiser would necessarily choose to take advantage of the tax breaks.

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by Rick Edmonds, Poynter

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