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MADISON, WI — At a Tuesday press event, a group of Wisconsin state lawmakers led by Rep. Jimmy Anderson introduced three bills designed to promote local news and civic information at a time when news outlets are laying off reporters and shuttering operations nationwide. 

The three bills include one that would create a “Civic Information Consortium Board” to oversee a $20-million grant program to support local journalism and media projects across the state. The legislation is modeled after New Jersey’s Civic Information Consortium, which Free Press Action helped establish in 2018.

A second bill would create a journalism-fellowship program affiliated with the University of Wisconsin, under which 25 local reporters would be matched with participating newsrooms for paid one-year fellowships. A third bill would offer nonrefundable income-tax credits to Wisconsin residents who subscribe to a qualifying local newspaper. The credit is equal to 50 percent of the amount paid to subscribe, and is limited to a maximum credit of $250 per taxable year.

Alex Frandsen, Free Press Action’s journalism program manager, spoke alongside Rep. Anderson during today’s press event. Frandsen said:

“Free Press Action is pleased to see state lawmakers tackle the crisis in journalism with innovative legislation that strikes at the root of the problem. While Representative Anderson’s bills would benefit communities across the state, they would also reverberate far beyond Wisconsin. By passing these bills, Wisconsin can become a leader in reimagining how public policies can address news deserts, combat misinformation and foster more informed local communities.

“With an average of two local newspapers across the country shutting down every single week, the destruction of local news is real and ongoing. But this decline impacts far more people than the thousands of journalists who have been laid off in recent months. The less access people have to state and local information, the less they know about civic affairs, and the more their communities become disconnected and disempowered. Local news and information are pillars of our democracy, and cornerstones of our ability to effect change.

“This crisis has made it clear that the commercial marketplace can no longer support local-news production on its own. We desperately need public policies that can chart a new path forward, including those that provide local, state and federal funding for news outlets.

“Free Press Action applauds Wisconsin lawmakers’ bold action, which seeks to holistically support the state’s media system — from legacy outlets to startups — with community needs at the forefront. We urge the state legislature to unite behind these measures as quickly as possible — for the sake of Wisconsin and for the sake of our democracy.”

Following its success in helping create New Jersey’s Civic Information Consortium, Free Press Action has proposed a number of policy options for other states. These include the creation of similar independent public-grantmaking bodies and a tax on online ad revenues that would underwrite local-accountability journalism and civic information. In February 2023, Free Press Action co-authored The Roadmap for Local News: An Emergent Approach to Meeting Civic Information Needs, which sets forth a visionary and actionable plan to ensure that every U.S. community has access to necessary civic news and information.

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