Even before the global pandemic, the local news industry was put into distress by the internet’s destruction of its business model. One in four U.S. newspapers — 2,100 — closed in less than two decades, leaving 1,800 communities without a source for local news.
COVID-19 made matters much worse.
Although news media are considered essential and allowed to stay open and keep working, nearly all of their local businesses that advertise were closed by state orders intended to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. Many of their subscribers lost their jobs due to the lockdown. Tens of thousands of U.S. journalists have been laid off or put on unpaid furloughs, including many at all New Jersey newspapers including The Press of Atlantic City.
The loss of revenue to local media in the COVID crisis threatens to blind communities permanently to what is happening in their towns and local governments. People might also lose critical platforms for credible communication with each other and the community at large.
Already the closures of local media have weakened an important service for keeping American democracy functional.
A bipartisan group of policymakers in Congress has offered a proposal to help local news media survive the pressure of the pandemic while the industry adapts its business to online technology.
The Local Journalism Sustainability Act introduced July 16 would provide temporary tax credits to the three groups who are essential to local journalism — news consumers, news organizations and small businesses that advertise in local newspapers, TV and radio.
Subscribers to a local news publication such as The Press would get a tax credit of up to $250 annually, refunding through their tax returns up to 80% of the subscription cost the first year and 50% each of the next four years.
The act would give small businesses tax credits for advertising in local news media, up to $5,000 the first year and $2,000 for four more years. Local newspapers, radio and television stations would be eligible for tax credits of up to $25,000 for each of their qualified journalists, dropping to $15,000 for the following four years.
The act looks like a good approach to preventing more news outlets from disappearing, especially in small markets and rural areas across the country. It would get the job done by helping many who need it — readers, small businesses and news providers. It could also lead to other methods for restoring viability to local news and public communication.
Besides the Democratic and Republican cosponsors, the act already has 18 other bipartisan co-sponsors in the House of Representatives. We urge Rep. Jeff Van Drew and Rep. Andy Kim to join them. If one of them does so soon, they could be the first in New Jersey among supporters around the nation.