Soaring gas prices are causing economic hardship for households, workers and employers.
Congress is rightly considering ways to blunt the pain. It should simultaneously advance bipartisan legislation to save America’s local free-press system.
Many local newspapers are already on the brink of extinction. Now they’re being battered by fuel prices, on top of labor shortages affecting newspaper delivery and double-digit newsprint cost increases over the last year.
Newspaper circulation is the second largest expense behind payroll for The Seattle Times, which uses contractors for delivery. High gas prices makes it harder for these independent carriers to get by. Difficulty retaining and recruiting them affects the ability to deliver papers in some areas.
This is yet another reminder of how fragile this essential industry has become.
Publishers already cut to the bone. America’s newspaper newsrooms lost around 60% of their workers, cutting around 40,000 jobs, since 2008, according to Pew Research.
Congress urgently needs to help save what’s left of the local free-press system before the next wave of layoffs and closures leaves millions more voters without local news coverage. There are signs this wave is beginning: Boston.com last week reported that Gannett, the nation’s largest publisher, will stop printing at least 19 papers in Massachusetts and merge nine others into four papers
There is broad support for the Local Journalism Sustainability Act (H.R. 3940), which would prevent further newsroom losses by providing temporary tax credits to outlets employing journalists. It is co-sponsored by U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse, a Yakima Valley Republican, and supported by nearly every member of Washington’s delegation.
This legislation would help save remaining media outlets by preserving news coverage as they transition to more digitally focused business models. It may also incentivize new owners to step forward and save their struggling local newspapers.
The LJSA respects the First Amendment because it would not give government any influence over news outlets. It also continues a tradition of supporting the newspaper industry that extends to the country’s founding, because democracy requires an informed citizenry.
Longer term support should come from antitrust enforcement and reforms, to level the playing field with tech giants dominating digital advertising and competing unfairly, according to state and federal regulators. A recent filing by states suing Google documents how the search giant monopolized the market “and decreased publishers’ yield by up to 40%.”
Higher fuel prices may turn out to be part of the price the free world pays to limit Russia’s aggression. The U.S. must also further reduce its dependence on fossil fuels, but that will take years.
Americans are united, though, on the need to support Ukraine and democracy, and overcome economic shocks of the clash.
As part of that effort, Congress must not allow America’s local, free press system to wither away, especially when there’s an easy and relatively low cost solution like the LJSA at hand.