It is no secret that local journalism – particularly local newspapers – have been financially battered during the past several years, a fact that has only been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic. Advertising revenues from small- to mid-sized businesses fund local journalism, but with the steep decline in ad dollars during this crisis, many news operations, including this one, have struggled to keep their heads above water.
We’re not discussing the gilded national ‘news’ operations that have been tagged with the now-pejorative ‘Mainstream Media’ label. Most local news operations are relatively small affairs made up of a handful of hardworking journalists who only want to provide an accurate portrayal of the week’s events. But significant financial challenges have strained their ability – and our ability – to do so.
At Spotlight News, we’ve had to reduce our expenses dramatically to keep pace with the fact that so many of our traditional advertisers are no longer able to invest in advertising, or worse, have gone out of business. Those expense reductions have come in the form of not filling some staff vacancies, as well as reductions in page counts and the merging of some portions of our publications across multiple communities. These aren’t changes that we wanted to make. They were forced on us by necessity.
We’re proud of the way the members of our team have picked up the slack under difficult circumstances, but there’s no question we are in survival mode. Most small newspapers are.
Hopefully, however, there is help on the way.
On July 16, a bipartisan bill was introduced in Congress that, if enacted, will provide some financial stability for local journalism while providing incentives for small- to mid-sized businesses to advertise in local publications and reward readers for subscribing or contributing to local newspapers. We urge our readers to support it.
The Local Journalism Sustainability Act has three facets.
First, those who subscribe to a local newspaper would receive a tax credit of up to $250 to cover subscription fees and contributions. Over the past eight months, Spotlight News has solicited contributions from our readership, and as of this date, more than 4,600 subscribers have made a generous contribution to our efforts. This law would reward those people for supporting local news and encourage others to follow suit.
Second, the law provides tax credits for small- to mid-sized businesses to advertise with local newspapers and broadcasters. The tax credits are up to $5,000 in the first year, and up to $2,500 in the next four years. This will help not only newspapers but also small businesses who will be able to connect with more local residents and stimulate business growth through an effective local advertising medium.
Finally, the bill provides a tax credit for newspapers of up to $12,500 per quarter to be applied toward the wages of local journalists.
Whether you read news about your community in print or online, the great majority of local news is generated by newspaper companies. Without support, many more communities will join the nearly 2,000 cities, towns and villages across America that have lost their local newspaper. The Local Journalism Sustainability Act can help stem that tide.
This law is good for readers, it is good for small businesses, it is good for local newspapers and it is good for communities. We urge our readers to contact their representatives and express their support.