I’ve written quite a bit here about the possibility of government assistance for local news. Though it’s not an idea I’m enthusiastic about, I think the indirect assistance laid out in the Local Journalism Sustainability Act is worth trying. The LJSA, which would provide tax credits for subscribers (or donors), advertisers and publishers, died at the end of the last congressional session despite having some bipartisan support.
Now a new, similar measure has surfaced. The Community News and Small Business Support Act would create five years’ worth of tax credits for advertisers and publishers, but not for subscribers. The bill is being sponsored by Rep. Claudia Tenney, R-N.Y., and co-sponsored by Suzan DelBene, D-Wash. The trade publication Editor & Publisher has gone all out in covering the story, and I emailed a few of my thoughts to E&P’s Gretchen Peck.
As I told Peck, the new bill, like the LJSA, is worth supporting for two reasons: the tax credits are indirect enough not to interfere with the independence that news organizations need to hold government to account; and the publishers’ tax credit for hiring and retaining journalists gives even the giant chain owners like Gannett and Alden Global Capital some incentive to do the right thing.
That said, it’s hard to imagine the bill emerging intact from a House that just this week featured Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene waving around revenge porn starring Hunter Biden and Robert F. Kennedy Jr., indulged by the Republican leadership, denying that he made the antisemitic and racist comments we had all heard him make.
Steven Waldman, president of the Rebuild Local News coalition, has written an op-ed for E&P endorsing the Tenney-DelBene bill and hailing its emphasis on local news outlets and advertisers. “This will directly help the small businesses, many of which had to cut back on their marketing spending because of COVID and then inflation, to get customers in the doors,” Waldman writes. “It makes sense because saving local news should not be about saving journalism jobs per se. It should be about strengthening communities.”
The bill is also far better than the misguided Journalism Competition and Preservation Act, which would extract revenues from Google and Facebook as compensation for the news content they repurpose.
There is no substitute for news entrepreneurs on the ground, for-profit and nonprofit, doing the hard work of building sustainable local news organizations. But a little bit of indirect assistance from the government wouldn’t hurt.