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Thu, Aug. 13

Is help on the way for small-town journalism? Kirkpatrick introduces bill

Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick [D-AZ] (Photo/Ann Kirkpatrick, Twitter)

Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick [D-AZ] (Photo/Ann Kirkpatrick, Twitter)

WILLIAMS, Ariz. — Over the past 20 years, the rise of digital platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have taken a toll on local news outlets.

The United States has lost almost 1,800 newspapers since 2004, including more than 60 dailies and 1,700 weeklies, according to a study by the University of North Carolina.

Now with the coronavirus pandemic, small newsrooms around the country, often more than 100 years old and typically the only news source in those places, are closing as advertising revenue plummets as a result of closures and nearly 22 million Americans are facing unemployment.

More than 145 newspapers and have shut their doors or undergone significant pay cuts, furloughs or layoffs as a result of the pandemic, according to the Poynter Institute. This includes Arizona papers such as the Arizona Republic, owned by Gannett, which reduced staff by 25 percent in March, and the Arizona Daily Sun, owned by Lee Enterprises, which implemented a combination of pay reductions and furloughs.

Many local media outlets are facing their potential ends.

These losses mean the end of news dedicated to those communities.

Accurate journalism is more important than ever and close-to-home reporting is a life-giving resource to communities. Some say social media gives them all the news they need, but there is little accountability. Professional journalists are paid to report the facts and counter the spread of false information.

There are hundreds — if not thousands — of communities at risk of becoming isolated news deserts. Almost 200 of the 3,143 counties in the United States are without any paper, the UNC study revealed. The residents of America’s emerging news deserts are often its most vulnerable citizens. They are generally poorer, older and less educated.

Is help on the way?

A recent bill has been introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives by U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick [D-AZ] and others in an effort to give newspapers a helping hand.

The bill aims to preserve community journalism and help them become sustainable through the coronavirus pandemic and in the future.

“Local journalism is a bedrock pillar of communities across the United States,” Kirkpatrick said. “Unfortunately, journalist endeavors throughout the country are facing major economic struggles that put the future of many publications in serious jeopardy.”

The Local Journalism Sustainability Act, HR 7640, offers tax credits to the three target participants in local news: Readers, journalists and advertisers.

Subscriptions

The first credit would add incentive for readers to subscribe to newspapers that primarily produce local news content and current events. This credit would allow taxpayers to deduct up to $250 for the cost of annual subscriptions to local news.

Sustaining journalists

The second credit is a five-year refundable credit for local newspapers to employ and adequately compensate journalists. This credit gives local newspapers credits for wages paid to journalists up to a limit.

Advertising

The third credit is a five-year non-refundable tax credit that provide incentives for small to medium sized businesses to advertise with local newspapers, as well as local radio and television. This will give tax credits to small businesses for the costs of buying ads in local media, up to $5,000.

“Keeping journalists active in our communities has become the hardest task for community newspapers in this challenging era. If there is anything worse than losing journalists during a pandemic, it is losing journalists during a pandemic in an election year. A lot is at stake in our democracy right now. The National Newspaper Association applauds the creativity of Representatives Kirkpatrick and Newhouse and their colleagues in helping us find new ways to support journalism.” said Matt Adelman, President of the National Newspaper Association.

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