A new analysis found that a proposal to help save local newspapers would provide critical support for Black and Hispanic newspapers.
Yet Congress is wavering on whether to support temporary tax credits that would save thousands of newsroom jobs and prevent the closure of hundreds more local newspapers.
This cannot wait. Without help, more than 100 papers will close next year and 500 over the next five years, according to Northwestern University Professor Penelope Muse Abernathy, who led research into America’s spreading “news deserts.”
Local newspapers are proven to be essential to informing local voters and increasing civic engagement.
Their coverage is especially needed as Congress and President Joe Biden embark on historic investments in infrastructure, climate resilience and social programs, so there’s awareness and involvement in the immense local benefits they will create.
Tax credits originally proposed in the Local Journalism Sustainability Act would save jobs and incentivize hiring more journalists at small and regional outlets. Among those, Black and Hispanic news organizations would receive an estimated $146.5 million of the tax credits, according to a new analysis by the Rebuild Local News Coalition.
The coalition estimated 431 publications covering Black, Hispanic and immigrant communities could use the credits to save or add journalist jobs.
Potential beneficiaries include The Sun-Reporter, a weekly serving the Black community in Pelosi’s home city, San Francisco. It was an early supporter of a local politician named Kamala Harris, who went on to become the first Black U.S. vice president.
Seattle also has a rich history of ethnic media including publications such as the Northwest Asian Weekly, The Seattle Medium and South Seattle Emerald that could benefit.
Local-news tax credits were initially included in the Build Back Better budget reconciliation package.
But as the measure was whittled down over the last week, credits were removed by the House. That’s despite strong backing in the Senate, where Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Finance Chair Ron Wyden are supportive, as are maverick Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema.
The tax credits would provide enormous benefits to local newspapers, where closures and layoffs accelerated during the pandemic, after losing roughly 60% of newsroom jobs since 2008. That’s leaving millions of voters with little to no local coverage to inform them and hold local institutions accountable.
Yet the cost to sustain and restore local media is relatively insignificant, equal to about 0.1% of the $1.75 trillion budget measure now being finalized.
Congress must not delay this life preserver. More layoffs and newspaper closures are inevitable unless measures are taken now. Tax credits are needed immediately to stop the bleeding, while longer-term cures for the journalism crisis, such as antitrust enforcement and reforms, are implemented in coming years.
The consequences of inaction are grave for America’s local, independent press system and the democracy it supports.