Support the Local Journalism Sustainability Act
Please Contact Your Congressman Today!
The Local Journalism Sustainability Act (H.R. 3940) has now been reintroduced into Congress. I am asking you to take a moment and reach out to your US Congressional Representative to ask them to cosponsor H.R. 3940. This is a bipartisan bill that both Democrats and Republicans are working on.
Time is of the essence, so please contact them today. A phone call is best, but emails can also be effective. If you aren’t sure who is your representative, click here.
Why This is Needed…
The newspaper I publish is more fortunate than a lot of others, who are really struggling financially. We have the benefit of loyal subscribers whose choice to advertise and subscribe is an expression of caring about our community.
Still, it’s impossible to ignore the “elephant in the room” as people frequently ask me what it is like to be the publisher of a community newspaper during a time of tremendous disruption for our business model.
The internet has had a devastating impact on the print advertising industry. In about the last decade, America has seen more than 1,800 newspapers vanish. Even in the newspapers that have survived, about half of newsroom staff journalists have been let go, leaving publications as shells of their former selves.
‘Why Should I Care?’
A shortage of professional journalism manifests itself in invisible ways: stories not written, scandals not exposed, government waste not discovered, health dangers not identified in time, local elections involving candidates about whom we know little.
Journalists are the guardrails that contain unhinged anarchy.
People know this, even if they don’t think about it a lot or they join in chants of how the media is the enemy of the state. Yes, we can become adversaries of those running the state if they commit fraud and don’t do the jobs they’re entrusted to do. I’ve had friends tell me they’ll never pay for the news, then turn around and come to me wanting the newspaper to do a story about their boss screwing them over. Journalists are a bit like police officers and lawyers – you might taunt and despise them, but man, you sure are glad they’re around when you need them!
It seems counter-intuitive to suggest that the media landscape is threatened because we are bombarded with more information than ever before. It’s easy to mistake that abundance as a sign that everything we could ever need to know is out there and available to grab for free.
But the truth is that there’s a great deal of deliberate misinformation being distributed – foreign adversaries are using our open system against us with the goal of dividing us along racial and ideological lines and causing us to distrust fact-checking itself until we don’t know WHAT to believe — and there’s a whole lot of “clickbait” that hypes the sensational and ignores much of the information that people need to know despite it not being necessarily “sexy” in nature.
Yes, information is increasingly being sourced from these digital devices in our hands, but local newspapers still offer an incredibly important public service. Newspapers not only sort through, verify and report information that we, as citizens, need to make good choices, but imagine what happens when our schools, city hall and the courts face no public scrutiny and, thus, no accountability.
In communities where newspapers have closed, we see increased political polarization. These are typically rural areas where people are older, poorer, and less educated. If your only source of information is a 24-hour TV channel like Fox News or MSNBC where the line between straight news and commentary/entertainment aren’t well distinguished, you end up wanting to murder your neighbor because you’ve become persuaded he’s a threat because of whose campaign sign he had in his yard during the last election. That’s insane.
Why this is happening…
Newspapers and magazines are competing against Google and Facebook, which control about 80% of the digital advertising market between the two of them.
I dealt with both in my previous job working with a digital marketing agency in Chattanooga. Their tools and strategies can be highly effective, but at a cost to privacy. Their two-pronged business model involves stalking you across the Internet, compiling bits of information about you until they know you better than you know yourself. Facebook also artificially limits the “organic” (or unpaid) reach of information posted on social media so you have to pay them for your message to have any significant reach, which is really no different than buying an advertisement in the newspaper – except your money is going to Mark Zuckerberg instead of circulating within your own community in the form of wages page to journalists, ad salespeople, etc.
News organizations have struggled to make up for that loss of revenue through their own digital applications. Tech giants have brought unfair muscle to the game, leveraging their reach to deliver our content without compensation.
It’s a real dilemma: If we don’t put our stories online, we become lost to obscurity. If we do, Google and Facebook essentially pirate content that news organizations have paid professional journalists to create and present it online as if it’s all right there for the taking.
This past week, regulators in France fined Google $500 million for not acting in good faith with publishers in that country in finding a way to fairly compensate journalists for their hard work in newsgathering. That’s pocket change to a titan like Google, but it is an encouraging sign that this looting may be recognized and prohibited.
Things are about to get worse…
U.S. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy plans to raise mailing rates so the price increase for periodicals will increase by more than 8% on August 29. This will have a damaging impact on small rural daily and weekly community newspapers that rely on the Postal Service to deliver their products.
Mr. DeJoy made a lot of changes last year that would supposedly improve efficiency, but what actually happened were widespread delivery delays that caused a steep decline in on-time deliveries around the holiday season last year. News doesn’t have much value if it’s three weeks late getting in your mailbox. The changes did serve to cause widespread delivery delays as millions of people prepared to vote by mail.
How will the Local Journalism Sustainability Act help?
The bill has three important components:
Payroll Credit for Compensation of Journalists
A five-year refundable credit for local newspapers to employ and adequately compensate journalists. The credit can be up to $25,000 in the first year and $15,000 in the subsequent four years.
Credit for Local Newspaper Subscriptions
A five-year non-refundable credit of up to $250 annually to incentivize individual subscriptions to local newspapers. The credit can cover 80% of subscription costs in the first year and 50% of subscription costs in the subsequent four years.
Credit for Advertising in Local Newspapers and Local Media
A five-year non-refundable tax credit that would incentivize small businesses (less than 50 employees) to advertise with local newspapers as well as local radio and television stations. The credit can cover up to $5,000 of advertising costs in the first year and $2,500 in the subsequent four years.
Our newspaper has been sharing the news since the 1880s. But we can’t rely on tradition and habits to remain viable.
As much as the internet has hurt newspapers, it’s an incredible resource we take for granted. I am able to research statistical databases to find morsels of fascinating information. Our readers can give us feedback and even offer citizen submissions of reporting. I’m excited about making better use of digital platforms and incorporating photo galleries, video, interactive maps, and aggregating information from around the web, from Twitter feeds, live video streaming, etc.
As you are talking with your representative, let them know that the support provided by the bill is deliberately not permanent, but it will go a long way to helping your newspaper as it transitions to the changing needs of the readers over the next five years. The Local Journalism Sustainability Act will give news organizations more time to make this transition to what news media is evolving into.