Local Journalism Sustainability Act introduced to House of Representatives

By Preston Fore

The Local Journalism Sustainability Act, a bill that aims to help preserve local journalism through tax credits to readers, publications, and small businesses, was re-introduced to the House of Representatives this week with bipartisan support.

Also known as H.R. 3940, the bill is sponsored by Reps. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-AZ) and Dan Newhouse (R-WA). Their goal is to provide financial viability for digital and print publications that provide primary news content to regional or local communities through government tax credits.

“Unfortunately, many of our locally-owned newspapers have been struggling to make ends meet,” Newhouse said in a press release. “By providing tax credits for readers and small businesses and by empowering our local journalists, we can begin to help our small newspapers remain resilient and continue to provide in-depth perspectives that inform their readership regarding local current events.”

Newhouse and Kirkpatrick first introduced the bill in 2020. It gained 78 bipartisan co-sponsors and had prominent support from many outspoken politicians. Among them included former democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang as well as Rep. Elise Stefanik, now the House Republican Conference Chair.

However, it never received a hearing nor was voted on, after being referred to the House Ways and Means Committee.

Regardless, with the bill’s reintroduction, along with other Congressional proposals such as the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act and Future of Local News Committee, optimism is growing for the future of local news.

Steven Waldman, president of Report for America, said on Twitter that the Local Journalism Sustainability Act is an important, bipartisan step.

Waldman told UNC’s Andrea Lorenz Nenque that tax incentives are one area with broad support from legislators from both political parties as well as journalists, who may be hesitant about direct government support.

“I think it’s because this seems like a clean, straightforward way, and future-friendly way, like it doesn’t just benefit big legacy players,” he said. “It creates the possibility of helping in newsrooms covering journalists of color, rural newsrooms or future newsrooms that don’t exist yet, which is hard to do with government policy because it usually favors the people who are here already.”

The bill’s main aspects:

  • Local Newspaper Subscription Credit: the bill would provide a five-year credit of up to $250 annually to Americans subscribing to local newspapers.
    • In the first year, the credit would cover 80% of subscription costs and 50% in the subsequent four years. This means subscribers would need to pay at least $312.50 and then $500, respectively, to receive the full credit.
    • The credits can also be used towards donations to non-profit publications.
  • Local Newspaper Journalist Compensation Credit: a five-year payroll credit would be provided to local publications to hire and adequately pay journalists.
    • It would potentially provide a credit of $25,000 in the first year (covering 50% of compensation, up to $50,000) and $15,000 in the subsequent four years (30% of compensation, up to $50,000).
    • Eligible journalists must work a minimum of 100 hours per quarter to qualify.
  • Local Newspaper and Local Media Advertisement Credit: small businesses would be eligible for a five-year credit to advertise at local newspapers as well as local television and radio stations.
    • Up to $5,000 is available in the first year (covering 80% of costs) and up to $2,500 in the subsequent four years (covering 50% of the costs).
  • Local newspapers are defined as print or digital publications whose content primarily serves a community, with at least one employee who resides in the area. In total, the publisher cannot have more than 750 employees.

Waldman is also is the chair of Rebuild Local News, a coalition of over 3,000 local newsrooms and journalism organizations, which has also endorsed the Local Journalism Sustainability Act.

“Reps. Kirkpatrick and Newhouse’s bottom-up approach is terrific — bringing serious help to local news organizations without allowing political favoritism or harm to the First Amendment,” he said in a press release.