To add to the many struggles of life during a pandemic, the collapse, or absence, of local news means that too many communities do not have access to the information they need to combat COVID-19. According to the Brookings Institution, more than half of U.S. counties with COVID cases – 57 percent — had no daily newspaper as of April 2020. This situation is especially prevalent in rural areas and for communities of color.
Across the country, some 1,800 communities exist in these “news deserts,” with zero local news sources. And resources are dwindling in areas where local news sources do exist. Scores of publications have shut down; hundreds more are on the edge. Some 36,000 journalists have been laid off, furloughed, or had their pay cut since the pandemic began.
It’s never been more clear that trustworthy and fact-based journalism is a life-saving public service.
That’s why the Institute for Nonprofit News has taken the rare step of joining a coalition of local news organizations, journalism funders, reporters and advocacy groups (the Rebuild Local News Coalition) in signing an open letter to Congress in support of an important, bipartisan piece of legislation that would help local news organizations. The Local Journalism Sustainability Act, introduced by Representatives Anne Kirkpatrick (D-AZ) and Dan Newhouse (R-WA), would provide tax credits for small businesses to advertise with local media and for consumers to subscribe to local news sources or donate to local nonprofit news organizations. It also includes a provision that provides tax assistance to local news organizations tied to the number of journalists they employ.
If this legislation passes, citizens would get better information while newsrooms would retain reporters. This is not about the government deciding who to fund: consumers and businesses decide which newsrooms to support.
INN is joined in this coalition by the National Newspaper Association, Local Independent Online News, National Association of Hispanic Publishers, National Newspaper Publishers Association and National Federation of Community Broadcasters. We invite you to read the letter to Congress and let us know what you think about this means of rebuilding local news.