Rebuild Local News Wants to End ‘News Deserts’ and Revitalize Industry

According to The Guardian, the Rebuild Local News coalition is pushing for a comprehensive list of tax credits to keep local newsrooms afloat.



By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Senior National Correspondent

A leading advocate for non-profit journalism says that to save US democracy, local news organizations all over the country need a lot of government money, especially tax breaks.
A recent attendee at the National Newspaper Publishers Association’s Midwinter Training Conference in Puerto Rico, Steven Waldman, a co-founder of Report for America, said a new initiative called Rebuild Local News aimed at revitalizing hundreds of local news outlets across America had been affected by changes in the industry, changes in advertising revenue structure, and, most recently, the pandemic.

According to The Guardian, the Rebuild Local News coalition is pushing for a comprehensive list of tax credits to keep local newsrooms afloat.
This list includes a tax credit for small businesses that advertise in local news outlets, a tax refund for digital subscribers to local news, and payroll tax credits for hiring and keeping local reporters.

Waldman and his coalition estimate that “philanthropy, businesses, consumers, and the government” will contribute $3.5 billion to the local news economy.
The original goal of Rebuild Local News was to get broad legislation to protect local journalism passed at the national level.
Still, Waldman says it is unlikely that the new Republican-majority Congress will agree to such a law.

Instead, the organization is refocusing its efforts on passing legislation in as many states as possible.

According to Waldman, the Covid-19 pandemic showed the need for more help for America’s local news media. Unfortunately, many news media in the United States have closed down, leaving people without local news.
“I just assumed this was going to be the apocalyptic event that wiped out local news,” Waldman said.

According to a 2022 report from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, the United States continues to lose newspapers “at a rate of two per week,” and the number of people reading newspapers is rising.

According to research, “news deserts” result in a less informed and engaged voter base.
According to a 2018 study from the University of North Carolina, 1,800 local newspapers have closed in the United States since 2004.
Financial firms and hedge funds, such as Alden Global Capital, have been criticized for not covering the news because they make a lot of money. This has led to news deserts.
Waldman also expressed his disappointment that COVID’s relief packages did not specifically address local media assistance, instead focusing on their corporate holding companies.

“I thought to myself, ‘OK, that’s probably a good thing.’ We should probably do that. But I also wondered, ‘Really, is that all we’ve got?
“Shouldn’t we be thinking more creatively about the future of local news?” he wondered.
Many US news outlets rely heavily on revenue from print and digital advertising, but that market is getting smaller as Google and Facebook swallow up the advertising market.
Local news outlets in states like New York, California, Colorado, and Wisconsin are now working to protect their respective journalism businesses through legislation.

“Wisconsin is an interesting one because it has a very Republican legislature. A conservative Republican legislator introduced a bill that received support from many business groups and the majority of the conservative leadership in the legislature,” Waldman said.

“It’s a tax credit for small businesses that advertise in local newspapers. So, it’s indirect – It’s actually a tax credit for small businesses, not for the media.”
The language for such legislation was crafted before Waldman’s public policy project. And while the words of the bill, called the Local Journalism Sustainability Act, weren’t his, like any good editor, he and his team swiftly adopted it.
“[A bill] existed already, that a local newspaper chain guy in Arizona came up with. He called his local congresswoman, Anne Kirkpatrick, and they put together a bill. And it didn’t really go anywhere,” he stated.

“But when we were looking around back on the record, and we scoured the landscape for all the different public policy ideas, we saw this bill at the bottom of the pile that seemed much better than all the other approaches. So, we swarmed it, lifted it up, proofed it, and then the whole coalition got behind this idea.”
According to the Guardian, it has been a success on the state level in terms of getting support.

“Now there are 20 different bills in at least a dozen states, taking little bits and pieces of this [bill],” Waldman stated.
“At the end of the day, community journalism won’t survive unless the community supports it in some way.

“And we used to think of that as meaning the car dealer would have ties [through advertising], and now if we can’t rely on that, it must be community-supported in the sense of subscribing, donating, or getting the government to subsidize it.
“This is so important to the health of communities and democracy.”