This column is reprinted from the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, with one minor edit to update the number of cosponsors since this column was originally published. This column is available for reprint, with proper attribution.
It’s not a highly guarded trade secret that newspapers, from the large metros to the small market publications that cover rural America, are experiencing declines in readership and revenue.
But even in these troublesome times — now further compounded by the financial hardships all businesses face due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic — we as journalists and publishers continue to strive to do what we do best ... deliver the news.
While some within our line of work choose to interject their personal political flavor into general news stories, I promise that will never happen here on the pages you are now holding in your hands ... not as long as the title of Editor is listed beside my name.
What appears on the news pages of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald and the Gates County Index will be reported in a non-bias way. We use page 4A to publish personal opinions (staff columns) and positions taken by this newspaper (editorials). That page also welcomes the opinions of others (Letters to the Editor). We don’t call it the Opinion Page for nothing.
But back to the main focus of this column ... the financial stability of the newspaper industry.
Over the course of the past few decades, other businesses across America have been the recipients of government bailouts ... the auto industry, banks and transit companies just to name a few.
Meanwhile, others — to include the print media — have been left to fend for themselves. In our case, we’ve made significant adjustments, to include downsizing staff, trimming production costs (i.e. switching to a smaller web size), and reducing the frequency of our publications, all in an effort to keep our bottom line in the black.
We’ve also increased our online presence, to include an effort to produce extra revenue there through digital advertising.
In other words ... we’re doing all we can to remain as your #1 source of local news and advertising.
There is a bright light at the end of this long, dark tunnel. It’s a piece of legislation known as the Local Journalism Sustainability Act (LJSA).
LJSA is currently making the rounds within the U.S. House of Representatives. There, it’s referenced as H.R. 7640. The bill provides a number of provisions that will help the three stakeholders of local news providers: people who subscribe; businesses that advertise; and newspapers that staff their newsrooms.
Here’s how LJSA will work if passed by the House and the Senate and signed into law by the President:
For those who subscribe, the bill proposes a five-year, non-refundable tax credit for subscription costs to local newspapers of up to $250 per year. It would cover 80% of the first year of subscription costs and 50% during the next four years. It can also be used for subscriptions to nonprofit news organizations.
For the advertiser, businesses with fewer than 1,000 employees would receive a tax credit, up to $5,000 the first year and $2,500 in the subsequent four years, to advertise in local news organizations, including local radio and TV news. The bill would cover 80% of advertising costs in year one and 50% the next four.
Lastly, the proposed legislation would provide a five-year refundable tax credit for local publications to pay reporters, providing up to 50% of compensation costs in the first year and 30% each year for the four years, up to $50,000 each year. The average pay for a reporter in 2018 was $43,000, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, although smaller publications often pay less ... ours included!!!
We are part of the America’s Newspapers group, an organization that has taken a leadership role in advocating for this legislation on behalf of its membership. That advocacy has now led to 58 cosponsors for the bill in a bipartisan show of support for the importance of local newspapers.
This newspaper has previously published editorials from Dean Ridings, CEO of the America’s Newspapers group, where he solicited more members of Congress to sign on as cosponsors of this bill. As of Sept. 4, none of North Carolina’s Congressional delegation had joined with their 58 colleagues from both sides of the aisle to support H.R. 7640.
We at Roanoke-Chowan Publications encourage them to please consider doing so. Your support will help to maintain the future of local news.
And if you — our readers and advertisers — feel the need to lobby on our behalf, please do so. After all, you are the main reason of why we put in our labor of love to keep you informed on the news and events of the Roanoke-Chowan area.
Cal Bryant is the editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications, Ahoskie, North Carolina. Contact him at email@example.com or (252) 332-7207.