WA leaders ‘absolutely’ committed to saving local journalism

President Joe Biden leads a group of elected officials in Seward Park in Seattle, including Mayor Bruce Harrell, center; Gov. Jay Inslee, far right; and some members of Washington’s congressional delegation: Sen. Maria Cantwell, left, Sen. Patty Murray, Rep. Suzan DelBene, Rep. Kim Schrier, Rep. Adam Smith and Rep. Derek Kilmer. (Daniel Kim / The Seattle Times, 2022)
President Joe Biden leads a group of elected officials in Seward Park in Seattle, including Mayor Bruce Harrell, center; Gov. Jay Inslee, far right; and some members of Washington’s congressional delegation: Sen. Maria Cantwell, left, Sen. Patty Murray, Rep. Suzan DelBene, Rep. Kim Schrier, Rep. Adam Smith and Rep. Derek Kilmer. (Daniel Kim / The Seattle Times, 2022)

Great stuff is sometimes left in the notebook after stories are filed.

That was the case after Sunday’s column, on the urgent need for Congress to help save local journalism.

I asked members of Washington’s delegation where they stood on this issue. All but two, U.S. Reps. Dan Newhouse and Cathy McMorris Rodgers, responded with thoughtful comments and pledges to help.

Brier Dudley's SAVE THE FREE PRESS columns are made available for free to the public and to other newspapers for their use — to build awareness of the local journalism crisis and potential solutions. The entire body of work is viewable here: st.news/SavetheFreePress

There wasn’t room Sunday to quote them all so I’m sharing more here.

I encourage voters to let representatives know this is appreciated. I also wish more news outlets would ask their delegations why they do or don’t support proposals to save newsroom jobs via tax credits (the Community News and Small Business Support Act) and stabilize the industry by helping outlets get fairly paid by tech giants (the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act).

Here are excerpts of additional replies I received via email, showing the delegation’s extraordinary support and understanding of the issue:

U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell: “Local news sources play a vital role supporting community businesses, shining a light on crime and corruption, and providing the trusted information needed to protect our democracy.  That’s why I led the charge in 2020 and passed legislation that gave support to newspapers and broadcasters so they could keep journalists on the job. Now I’m fighting to secure tax credits that will help defray the costs of local journalism and keep these journalists working. I also support passing major privacy legislation and have been working in a bipartisan fashion to stop major tech platforms from their abusive practices.”

U.S. Rep. Marie Gluesenkamp Perez: “Local news organizations are vital sources of information for our communities, and they underpin a healthy, functioning democracy.

Over the past couple of decades, we’ve been seeing the hollowing out of local journalism across our country. It’s not only hit rural communities the hardest and resulted in major job loss, but it’s affected our sense of place and exacerbated growing political divisions.

We’re lucky to have several trusted community newspapers across Southwest Washington, but their work is no doubt being made more difficult by increasing media consolidation and homogenization.

I co-sponsored the bipartisan Community News (act) because it would help prevent the loss of newsroom jobs and establish a symbiotic relationship between Southwest Washington news organizations and the small businesses that advertise with them.

At a time when high-quality journalism is needed more than ever, I hope Congress will take bipartisan action to reinforce these mainstays of our communities, the local jobs that come with them, and our public discourse as a whole.”

U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene: “Congress has a unique role in addressing this nationwide issue and it must do more to support these cornerstones of our communities. Local journalists and newspapers play a critical role in increasing involvement in civic institutions, identifying government corruption, and decreasing polarization.”

Asked what she’s hearing from constituents about the loss of local news, DelBene replied: “Across our region, we’ve seen the slow erosion of local news outlets. Closures, layoffs, not backfilling reporters, and the proliferation of ghost outlets have all continued to empty newsrooms throughout the Pacific Northwest. Washingtonians value the role local news plays in contributing to a functioning democracy and holding elected officials accountable but see their options are growing more limited year after year.”

U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen: “Local news is essential for people in Northwest Washington to share ideas and stay informed about what is happening in their communities. As a member of Congress, I rely on local news to stay informed about news in the communities I represent, address my support for legislation, celebrate federal funding for local projects, and share information about my town halls and community coffees.

I am aware of challenges that face local newsrooms. How people consume news has evolved, with local news outlets experiencing challenges with dwindling circulation and advertising revenue. In the past few years, newspapers like the North County Outlook, Marysville Globe and the Arlington Times suspended printing of their newspapers or ceased to exist. In addition, local newspapers that rely on postal delivery, including the Everett Herald, have told me about frustrated subscribers dealing with delays in receiving their newspaper.

Congress should support initiatives that help sustain local newsrooms and save newsroom jobs. During the COVID-19 pandemic, I supported the Paycheck Protection Program, which helped more than 8,500 small businesses in my district, including local news outlets, save jobs. Last Congress, I supported the Local Journalism Sustainability Act, a bipartisan bill that provided targeted tax credits to help local newspapers, digital publications, television and radio.”

U.S. Rep. Marilyn Strickland: “Local news coverage is critical to informing the public, and I am supportive of helping the local news industry. The American people need and deserve access to reliable, and informative local news coverage, no matter where they live.”

U.S. Rep Adam Smith: “Local news outlets bring important stories to light, act as a watchdog to hold elected officials, corporations, and special interests accountable, and keep the public informed. The important work of informing the public encourages civic engagement and increases participation in our democracy. That’s why Congress must step in to support the local news industry and combat the local journalism crisis that’s leaving ‘news deserts’ throughout the country. We must continue to shed light on the local journalism crisis to build support for the issue and pass legislation in Congress that will provide local news outlets with the support they need to make an impact in our communities. I am a strong supporter of local journalism, and I am committed to finding and advancing solutions that will keep local journalism alive in my district and across the country.”

U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer: “Absolutely. The local news industry plays a vital role in keeping communities informed and engaged. Its survival is crucial for maintaining a robust democracy.”

How can these bills get passed this year?

“Two things,” Kilmer said. “First: I’m a big believer in Lincoln’s statement that ‘Public sentiment is everything.’ Every American who is concerned about the loss of trusted local news sources should be letting their elected officials know that they want action. Second: Building bipartisan support is essential, especially given the current political landscape with a Democratic Senate and a Republican House. The Community News (act) has already garnered support from Democrats and Republicans in both chambers, and I’m hopeful it will continue to gain traction in the months ahead.”

Brier Dudley on Twitter: @BrierDudley is editor of The Seattle Times Save the Free Press Initiative. Its weekly newsletter: https://st.news/FreePressNewsletter. Reach him at bdudley@seattletimes.com.