By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Confusion reigns as regulations are drafted for that NY local news tax credit

State Capitol building in Albany, N.Y. Photo (cc) 2015 by Marcela.

A three-year, $90 million appropriation to boost local news in New York State is sparking a contentious battle over who is eligible and who isn’t, according to an article by Jon Campbell of Gothamist.

As originally touted by its supporters, the program was supposed to provide subsidies to offset the cost of hiring and retaining journalists at all manner of news organizations — print, digital and broadcast, for-profit and nonprofit. Now much of that is up in the air — so much so that Campbell says the only sure thing is that it would cover all or most for-profit print newspapers. Campbell writes:

As crafted, the law largely excludes many local news outlets it purports to support — aside from for-profit print newspapers — due to a crush of last-minute negotiations in the days before the budget passed. Those led to a final version that excluded most TV broadcasters and many commercial radio stations….

Also excluded were nonprofit news outlets, which were never included in the first place — to the surprise of some leading supporters who were convinced otherwise.

If nonprofits aren’t eligible, that represents a significant reversal of a principle everyone thought they understood. Indeed, Steven Waldman, president of Rebuild Local News and a prominent supporter of nonprofit journalism, praised the appropriation shortly after it was approved in late April. Now he tells Gothamist that leaving out nonprofits would be a major mistake.

“We missed something all along here, and it was never quite set up the way any of us thought it was,” Waldman is quoted as saying. He added: “Nonprofits — including both websites, news services and local public radio — are crucially important parts of the local news ecosystem. We will definitely work to get them included in future revisions.”

What about for-profit digital-only news projects? Unclear. What about newspapers owned by publicly traded corporations, such as Gannett? They are excluded under one provision but seemingly included in another — a contradiction first reported by Richard J. Tofel, writing in his newsletter, Second Rough Draft. As for broadcast, Gothamist reports that they may have been left out by mistake. Or not.

The rules governing how the money will be distributed are still being drafted by the state, so it’s possible that the final product will look something like what Waldman and others were celebrating just a few weeks ago. At a minimum, the system should not favor print over digital or for-profit over nonprofit. Excluding corporate chains that have deliberately hollowed out their papers, such as Gannett, makes sense, too.

Whether we’ll get there or not remains to be seen. And, frankly, what’s happening in New York ought to be regarded as a warning for what can happen when the government gets involved in helping to solve the local news crisis.

Earlier:

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3 Comments

  1. Raisin

    I know you have a bias against traditional print newspapers, but they are the least likely to be fraudulent. Anyone can start a news web site and in a state like New York, how do we know that won’t be someone connected’s cousin? And non-profits already get tax breaks. Print papers are easy to verify as being authentic, and they usually have long histories in a community.

    • Dan Kennedy

      I don’t know where you would get that idea. I want print and digital to be treated equally. That’s biased?

  2. Any entity with more than 3 outlets should be disqualified at least at the start. Any entity without a permanent in-state headquarters should be capped based upon percentage of local ownership. On-line only should be subordinate to print and radio – someday it will be understood that most of the nation does not have Fios and other high speed access – those are the areas that need the most support for local news.

    Et cetera.

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