After delivering a powerful report on America’s local news crisis last fall, U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell is following through with an ambitious proposal to help solve the problem.
On Tuesday, Cantwell said she will seek $2.3 billion in grants and tax credits to sustain local newspapers and broadcasters as part of President Joe Biden’s $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan. That’s 0.1% of the broad spending package.
Speaking at the Pivot conference held by the America’s Newspapers trade group, Cantwell said she’ll make the case to the Biden administration that local news is “a very important aspect of our communication system.”
Her advocacy is outstanding, her proposal is tantalizing, and we are looking forward to seeing the details.
This should complement other necessary legislation, including the Local Journalism Sustainability Act, sponsored in the House by U.S. Reps. Ann Kirkpatrick, an Arizona Democrat, and Dan Newhouse, a Yakima Valley Republican.
The act, which would provide tax credits to newspaper subscribers, outlets employing journalists and small businesses buying local advertising, had strong bipartisan support last year. It should be reintroduced soon.
Multiple responses to the journalism crisis are needed, along with antitrust reforms to help evolving news organizations compete with dominant digital platforms.
Both the sustainability act and Cantwell’s proposal need backing from Washington’s delegation and more bipartisan support in Congress. Readers concerned about the potential demise of local journalism should contact their representatives and urge them to get on board.
Cantwell, an Edmonds Democrat, told the conference that some other senators believe the news industry is going through an inevitable decline as the market changes.
They need to read the report Cantwell published last October on factors pushing local news toward extinction.
The market is changing, and local outlets are evolving. But publishers can’t succeed in a digital marketplace dominated by a few companies that are competing unfairly and exploiting their positions.
This anti-competitive behavior is documented by competition authorities in the U.S. and other countries, and federal and state antitrust cases against Facebook and Google.
Cantwell also said she’ll be holding hearings in the Commerce committee that she now chairs on unfair marketplaces, trust and other challenges presented by big tech. That may include discussions of reforms to Section 230 and legal protections the telecommunications law provides for much of the content on digital platforms.
These competition issues will take years to address, Cantwell said. In the meantime, immediate relief is needed to sustain local news organizations.
Referring to her October report, Cantwell noted that newspapers’ ad revenue declined 70% since 2000, and their newsroom employment fell 60% since 2005. That was before the pandemic accelerated losses, even as readership of local newspapers surged.
“All of these things are issues we can’t shy away from addressing, we have to build this critical infrastructure, we have to build this critical infrastructure now,” she said.
America’s local news system is indeed critical infrastructure to the nation and its democracy and desperately needs shoring up.
Cantwell’s advocacy and proposal to draw support from President Biden’s infrastructure plan is tremendous and should be supported by Biden and the rest of Washington’s delegation.