Years of declining revenues and expanding news deserts — made more acute by the COVID-19 pandemic — has sparked new interest in ways the federal government could support local news organizations. Here, you can read about the bills and track their progress through Congress.
Why do we need Congressional support for local news?
The short answer: no news is bad news. In communities without robust and independent local news, there is a demonstrated loss of democracy: less civic engagement, lower voter turnout, fewer people running for office, and a less accountable society, on the whole. That’s become even more true as the pandemic increased the rate of financial decline of newspapers and news organizations across the United States.
In response, a growing number of news advocates support working with Congress to find ways for government to help local news in ways that maintain its independence, such as tax credits for people who subscribe or donate to a local news outlet.
To keep track of these efforts, CISLM’s Preston Fore has compiled a database of Congressional bills that would support local news and the Congress members who support them.
What’s happening now?
Three different initiatives have been introduced to Congress’s 117th session (2021-2023).
- Future of Local News Act (House & Senate) would establish the Future of Local News Committee to survey the state of local news and make recommendations on how it can be supported.
- Journalism Competition & Preservation Act (House & Senate) would create a four-year safe harbor from antitrust laws for print, broadcast, or digital news companies.
- Local Journalism Sustainability Act (House & Senate) would allow individuals and businesses certain tax credits for the support of local newspapers and media.
Dozens of Democratic and Republican Congresspeople — from a wide variety of states — have signed on to co-sponsor legislation supporting local news. See below if your House or Senate member made the list:
What’s happening in news desert districts?
Over 200 counties in the United States do not have a local newspaper, as defined by UNC’s News Deserts research methodology. See how these regions’ representatives are advocating for local news in Congress:
Research and more in the news
These bills and this movement for support didn’t appear overnight. There’s a strong force of folks who are building this effort from the ground floor. Read more on research, trends, and more sustaining this work — we’ll be sure to update this as new work is published:
- A federal subsidy for local journalists continues to advance … but slowly (Rick Edmonds / Nieman Lab)
- Some questions (and answers) about the Local Journalism Sustainability Act (Sarah Scire/Nieman Lab)
- Policy-palooza: How Congress, state and local governments can stabilize local news (Mark Glaser/Knight Foundation)
- A Q&A with UNC doctoral student Andrea Lorenz Nenque on support for local news (Preston Fore/CISLM)
- Local Journalism Sustainability Act introduced to House of Representatives (Preston Fore/CISLM)
- The pandemic devastated newsrooms. Now they’re seeking help from Congress. (Angela Fu/Poynter)
- ‘The floor is collapsing’ on local news, but Congress may be poised to help (Mark Jacob/Local News Initiative)
- Why local journalism must be considered infrastructure (Victor Pickard/The Hill)
- Could Congress act to support local news? A flurry of activity creates optimism (Andrea Lorenz Nenque/CISLM)
- Will Congress intervene in the local news crisis? (Lauren Harris/Columbia Journalism Review)
Reeling in a federal boost for local journalism remains elusive (Rick Edmonds/Poynter)
This bill-tracking database expands on advocacy work by the Rebuild Local News coalition, a driving force in garnering public and Congressional support. Additionally, this database uses the News Deserts research from the Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media. The research, which was led by Knight Chair Emerita Penelope Muse Abernathy, defines a news desert as a community without a newspaper or a community where residents are facing significantly diminished access to the sort of important local news and information that feeds grassroots democracy.
Note: The mission of the Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media is to support local news organizations and the industry in the difficult work of transformation through research, education and outreach, as well as to sound the alarm about the decline of local news. It’s within our mission to track, study and provide information about these bills, as well as help people participate in government.
How Can I Get Involved?
If you’d like to show your support for local news organizations, here are three steps you can take:
- Support your local news organization by subscribing or donating
The New York Times has compiled a list of local news organizations — search through their database to find local news organizations near you. Your support is vital in sustaining the local news you use on a daily basis.
- Tweet your support tagging @Rebuild_News or retweet the following, tagging your congressional representatives
.@Rebuild_News, representing 3K+ newsrooms, backs bipartisan effort to save local news through reintroduction of Local Journalism Sustainability Act by @RepKirkpatrick and @RepNewhouse. Bill maintains editorial independence by offering tax credits. https://t.co/he7OQBiEPv
— Rebuild Local News (@Rebuild_News) June 17, 2021
- Contact your Senator or Congressperson
While he understands the plight of local news organizations, U.S. Rep. David Price, D-N.C., rarely hears about it from concerned constituents, he told Andrea Lorenz Nenque in the article “Could Congress act to support local news?” So if federal support for local news matters to you, you might consider letting your representatives know. Find and contact your representatives using Democracy.io (At CISLM, we’re not affiliated with Democracy.io. We’re just fans.) For more ways to get involved, visit the Rebuild Local News page.
Heading image: “UNITED STATES CAPITOL” BY PHIL ROEDER IS LICENSED UNDER CC BY 2.0