Cantwell, Kelly, Wyden introduce legislation to revive, sustain trusted local news


On Thursday, July 22, U.S. Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Mark Kelly (D-AZ) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) introduced the Local Journalism Sustainability Act of 2021. This legislation would help financially support local news organizations through tax credits to incentivize hiring more journalists, subscriptions and advertising from local small businesses.

“The COVID-19 pandemic made it crystal clear that local reporters and newsrooms are essential to keeping the public informed and safe, but their importance spans well beyond health emergencies,” said Sen. Cantwell. “At its core, local news is about holding the powerful accountable. The strength of our democracy is based in truth and transparency, and local newsrooms are on the ground in our communities asking the critical questions, countering misinformation, and telling our stories. We have to protect these vital parts of our communities, because once they’re gone, they’re gone.”

“Local newspapers, radio stations and TV stations are pillars of our community, bringing Arizonans trusted local news, information about community events and the latest on public health updates in their area,” said Sen. Kelly. “The pandemic made an already difficult financial situation for these news providers even harder, which is why I support the Local Journalism Sustainability Act. By providing tax credits for individuals to support local news outlets, they can continue to provide important coverage for Arizona readers, listeners and viewers.”

“The decline of local news has had devastating effects on our communities. Local news has often been the only window into the city council or mayor’s office. Without these outlets, these important institutions in our communities go uncovered. Further, the decline of local news has only fueled the growth of misinformation, as Americans lose their most trusted sources of information. As the son of a journalist, these developments trouble my greatly. Our bill would provide financial support to local news at this critical time for our democracy,” said Sen. Wyden.

Since 2004, over 1,800 communities have lost their local newspapers. Since the COVID pandemic began, 37,000 journalists have lost their jobs, been furloughed or had their pay cut.

In October 2020, Cantwell released an extensive report examining the transformation of local news in the information age and impacts to local journalism. The report found that over the past two decades, the local newspaper industry has lost around 70 percent of its total revenue, and newspapers have been forced to let go of more than 40,000 newsroom employees, a full 60 percent of their journalistic workforce. Actor Chris Evans interviewed Cantwell about this issue for his nonpartisan organization, A Starting Point.

The Local Journalism Sustainability Act would help support local news organizations through tax credits for local newspapers, digital publications, television and radio.

Cantwell has long championed legislation to support local journalism. Last year, Cantwell authored the provision of the COVID-19 Economic Relief Bill that made local news outlets eligible for the Paycheck Protection Program. The provision made over 100 newspapers and broadcasting stations throughout Washington newly eligible for PPP funding, and more than 2,000 newspapers and 3,384 TV and radio stations newly eligible nationwide. Since the early days of the pandemic, Cantwell repeatedly raised the issue of expanding PPP eligibility to local media outlets with hearing witnesses and spoke on the Senate floor about the issue as well.

Representatives Ann Kirkpatrick (D-AZ) and Dan Newhouse (R-WA) introduced a similar bipartisan House version of the bill (H.R.3940) in June 2021.

Support for the Local Journalism Sustainability Act:

Alan Fisco, president of America’s Newspapers , said: “At this critical time for many newspapers, I am very appreciative of the leadership and support of Senators Cantwell, Kelly and Wyden for introducing the Senate Local Journalism Sustainability Act of 2021. At a time where many of us are struggling to maintain newsroom employment levels, passage of this bill is urgently needed. Senator Cantwell is an expert on the role of local journalism and the vital role it plays in sustaining our democracy.”

Dean Ridings, CEO of America’s Newspapers , said: “America’s Newspapers and its members from Alaska to Florida are grateful to Senators Cantwell, Kelly and Wyden for introducing this legislation that will provide critical support for local news. We know that Senator Cantwell is committed to helping local news and her recent work on facilitating newspapers participation in the PPP program was vital to its success. We encourage Congress to pass this legislation that will provide a bridge of support for local news as it continues its transition to a more digital ecosystem.”

Gabrielle Carteris, president of SAG-AFTRA , said: "Local news is the backbone of our communities; this has never been more apparent than during the COVID-19 pandemic, when millions of Americans turned to local news to stay informed about fast-changing developments where they live and work. The Local Journalism Sustainability Act will help journalists, including those that SAG-AFTRA represents, to continue working in their communities. I want to thank Senators Cantwell, Kelly and Wyden for introducing this important legislation and recognizing just how essential these workers are to all of us.”

David Chavern, president and CEO of News Media Alliance , said: “The Local Journalism Sustainability Act, through targeted tax incentives for consumers and businesses, would help ensure local news publishers continue to report on information that’s necessary to an informed democracy. Access to fact-based, verifiable information is essential to a functioning democracy and is the fabric of our communities. We applaud Senators Cantwell, Kelly and Wyden for their leadership in helping to sustain local journalism and preventing further closings of local news publishing businesses and the growth of news deserts across the country.”

Jennifer Dorning, Department for Professional Employees, AFL-CIO (DPE) president , said: “The Local Journalism Sustainability Act is critical legislation for journalists and other media professionals, including members of DPE’s unions, working across the news industry at print, digital and broadcast outlets. The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the essential work that these professionals do to keep our communities reliably informed. This legislation will help ensure media professionals can stay on the job and continue delivering news to their communities. DPE commends Senators Cantwell, Kelly and Wyden for introducing the Local Journalism Sustainability Act and working to preserve the power of a free and independent media."

Lowell Peterson, executive director of the Writers Guild of America, East , said: “The Writers Guild of America, East applauds Senators Cantwell, Kelly and Wyden for introducing the Local Journalism Sustainability Act. This vital legislation will protect journalists’ jobs at a time when local coverage is essential to public safety and holding elected officials accountable. The Local Journalism Sustainability Act is an investment in a free press, and crucial to preserving the integrity of print, digital and broadcast news outlets.”

Jon Schleuss, president of The NewsGuild-CWA , said: “This legislation provides a much-needed boost to save local news jobs, half of which we have lost in the past decade and the losses have accelerated during the pandemic. The erosion of local news puts our democracy at threat of extinction. We enthusiastically support this plan to save local news.”

Gordon Smith, National Association of Broadcasters president and CEO , said: “The National Association of Broadcasters applauds today’s introduction of the Local Journalism Sustainability Act, which would support and enable hiring additional local journalists for broadcast newsrooms. At a time when misinformation and disinformation plague online platforms, broadcast radio and television continue to serve as reliable beacons of news that keep local communities informed and connected. We appreciate Sens. Cantwell, Wyden and Kelly’s leadership in ensuring a vibrant future for local journalism and we urge congressional passage of this legislation.”

Steven Waldman, president of Report for America and chair of the Rebuild Local News Coalition , which represents 3,000 local newsrooms, said: "This is a hugely important step to help strengthen communities, by addressing the collapse of local news. When local news goes down, it leads to more waste, corruption, pollution and polarization. Stronger local news leads to greater civic engagement and ability to solve local problems. This nonpartisan bill — which empowers consumers, small businesses and local publishers — will help create a better local news, without endangering the editorial independence of journalists."

Brett Wesner, chair of the National Newspaper Association and president of Wesner Publications , said: “Community newspapers deeply need a boost to rejoin a healthy economy. National Newspaper Association wholeheartedly supports the concepts in the Local Journalism Sustainability Act and thanks Senator Cantwell and her colleagues for keeping the momentum alive for this legislation. Without trusted journalism in local communities, our path back to a thriving, robust democracy would be bleak.”

Learn more:

Video of Cantwell speaking about local news as infrastructure at the Commerce Committee hearing in April can be found HERE , audio is HERE and a transcript is HERE .

Video of Cantwell speaking on the Senate Floor about expanding Paycheck Protection Program eligibility to local media outlets can be found HERE .

The full video of Cantwell’s conversation with Chris Evans can be found HERE .

A one-pager of the legislation tax credits can be found HERE.