In what’s been compared to putting a dead man on a ventilator, Democrat senators led by Sen. Maria Cantwell of Edmonds, Washington, are planning to use $2.3 billion in public funds to underwrite local newspapers and broadcasters as part of President Joe Biden’s $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan.
The money would come in the form of grants and tax credits, and newspapers across the country are welcoming the help.
The Seattle Times editorial board encouraged its readers to contact their lawmakers to support the plan, which will be introduced by Cantwell this week. The request to readers from the family-owned company came in an editorial titled, “Support U.S. Sen. Cantwell’s outstanding proposal for news.” The Friday editorial documented the demise of newspapers across the country and the need for government financial backing; the newspaper even removed the paywall on the editorial so more people would be able to read it without a paid digital subscription.
The Times has an estimated annual revenue of $25 million and is thought to have 650 employees. It will qualify for the grant program.
The new bill is in addition to the Local Journalism Sustainability Act, which was introduced last year and would give tax credits to subscribers of newspapers, as well as to those that hire newspaper journalists, and small businesses that buy local advertising in newspapers.
Democrat Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick of Arizona, along with 57 Democrats and 20 Republicans, have cosponsored the “sustainability” bill that would, if passed, give up to:
- $250 per year per person/subscriber, covering 80 percent of a subscription fees to local newspapers for the first tax year and 50 percent for subsequent years.
- $50,000 per year for each local newspaper to reduce employment taxes and to hire and pay journalists.
- $5,000 per year for each small businesses to cover 80 percent of advertising with local media, which includes newspapers and broadcast stations, and up to $2,500 per year for subsequent four years to help small businesses pay for their advertising.
Local newspaper is defined as print or digital publication with news and current events as its primary content, and at least 51 percent of its readers (including both print and digital versions) as residents of a single state, or in cases where a newspaper serves a border community, (think August Chronicle) within a 200-mile radius. Newspapers such as the Anchorage Daily News, Juneau Empire, and Fairbanks News-Miner would qualify. Broadcasters would also qualify, but alternative digital news sites such as Must Read Alaska, which has local readership but no traditional employees, would not likely qualify.
According to a report produced by Cantwell’s office, “Local Journalism: America’s Most Trusted News Sources Threatened,” the decline in local news revenues has led to the newspaper industry to release about 60 percent of its journalistic workforce since 2005. In Alaska, newspaper newsroom employment dropped from 179 in 2005 to 120, according to Cantwell’s research, a 67 percent drop in employment in the sector.