A new tally estimates at least 6,150 news industry jobs were lost during the pandemic, even as news readership surged.
The findings, by the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University, come as the U.S. Senate considers the Build Back Better recovery plan.
There is now abundant evidence that federal assistance is needed to address the journalism crisis, and the cost will be a rounding error in the spending package.
About 0.1% of the spending would fund tax credits to prevent further decimation of local newsrooms as the industry works to stabilize and retool for digital competition.
The White House voiced support for the tax credits last week, calling them a critical investment in American democracy. It’s one of several initiatives to save the free press that President Joe Biden spoke for during his global Summit for Democracy.
During the summit’s opening session, Biden announced the “Presidential Initiative for Democratic Renewal” to bolster transparent and accountable governance, fight corruption and support democratic reformers.
“Let me give you a few examples of the kind of work this initiative is — will entail: a free and independent media,” he said, per a transcript of his remarks. “It’s the bedrock of democracy. It’s how the public stay informed and how governments are held accountable. And around the world, press freedom is under threat.”
The initiative includes up to $30 million for the development and sustainability of independent media abroad. It will be channeled through a new nonprofit, the International Fund for Public Interest Media, co-chaired by Nobel Peace Prize winner Maria Ressa.
This is tremendous.
It also emphasizes what’s at stake in America if Congress fails to help save local news organizations that are fading quickly, as the Tow Center tally and other reports are documenting.
At least 100 news organizations closed during the pandemic, though 14 resurfaced. Another 42 were swallowed by mergers and acquisitions, with a net loss of 128, according to the Tow Center report, published in Columbia Journalism Review.
The Tow Center counted layoffs of newsroom and non-newsroom employees at all manner of media outlets. It also mapped overall cutbacks, including furloughs and pay cuts.
It doesn’t break out local newspapers, which continue to provide most local reporting, despite losing more than 57% of their newsroom staff since 2008, according to a July analysis by Pew Research.
State legislators step up: A bill proposed in the Wisconsin legislature would help sustain local media and small businesses battered by the pandemic, by giving the small businesses advertising locally a 50% tax credit.
“The tax credit created by this legislation will potentially make additional advertising dollars available to enhance that audience messaging. Local advertising, in turn, plays a vital role in sustaining the essential local journalism that sustains our democracy,” Beth Bennett, executive director of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association, said in a report on the association’s web site.
The bill’s sponsor, Wisconsin State Rep. Todd Novak, worked in a newspaper printing department before becoming a reporter and eventually associate editor of The Dodgeville Chronicle until 2015.
Washington state has responded to the local journalism crisis by reducing the business and occupation tax rate on newspaper publishers.
There is strong public support for extending or reducing this tax preference further, which is a topic for the 2022 Washington Legislature to consider. Let’s hope it follows the lead of President Biden and other assemblies working to ensure this bedrock of democracy survives.