The Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison. Photo (cc) 2012 by Teemu008.

Democratic lawmakers in Wisconsin are considering three pieces of legislation to bolster local news that are borrowed from California, New Jersey and a federal proposal that hit a dead end several years ago. Erin McGroarty of The Cap Times breaks down the Local Journalism Package:

• One bill would fund 25 journalists to be placed in local newsrooms across the state. The reporting fellows would be chosen by University of Wisconsin journalism professors and outside experts, and would be paid a $40,000 salary for a year. This bears some resemblance to a program at UC Berkeley, where a $25 million appropriation is paying for reporting fellows to work at news organizations that cover underserved communities for five years.

• A proposed Wisconsin Civic Information Consortium would award grants aimed at “addressing communities’ information needs, bolstering media literacy and civic engagement, and supporting access to high-quality, consistent local journalism, especially among underserved communities.” The bill appears to be based on the New Jersey Civic Information Consortium, which has awarded some $5.5 million to support 81 news and information projects over the past several years.

• Wisconsin residents would be able to claim a tax credit for up to $250 in annual subscription fees to local news outlets. Several years ago such a provision was part of a federal bill that also included tax credits for local advertisers and for publishers who hired and retained journalists. That bill went nowhere, but Congress is currently considering a new version that includes the advertiser and publishers credits but not the subscriber credits.

All in all, the Wisconsin measures are modest steps that could help ease the local news crisis, although they are no substitute for the hard work of news entrepreneurs on the ground. With Congress seemingly unable to do much of anything constructive, it’s encouraging to see some leadership at the state level.

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