WASHINGTON — On Monday, Free Press Action released a comprehensive series of policy recommendations that Congress should adopt to save local journalism and put tens of thousands of reporters back to work during and after the coronavirus pandemic.
The proposal, What a Journalism-Recovery Package Should Look Like During the COVID-19 Crisis, includes billions in direct and indirect subsidies to journalists, as well as increases in federal support for public-media institutions that would protect a significant number of local reporting jobs. Among the immediate recommendations are direct emergency payments to newsroom workers, news-outlet tax credits to retain and boost the number of newsroom jobs, increased public-media funding, and accelerated federal-ad spending.
The proposal also analyzes policies that would indirectly benefit journalists, including increased funding for libraries to purchase digital subscriptions, tax credits for individual paid subscriptions to news outlets, and a national moratorium on media mergers.
Free Press Action also recommends a series of medium- and long-term actions that would “create a bridge from this emergency period to a future of sustainable journalism that serves and represents local communities.”
These include creating a First Amendment Fund, which could be sustained by levying a small tax on targeted online-advertising revenues in the United States. Based on 2019 figures, such a tax would yield nearly $2 billion a year to support local independent journalism. Lawmakers in both Asia and Europe are already pursuing similar strategies.
Dozens of members of Congress have called on their colleagues to include new funding for journalism in upcoming COVID-19 relief legislation. They’ve been joined by leading press-freedom and social-justice organizations that recently sent a letter urging lawmakers to consider local press an “essential service” that’s vital to the nation’s health, prosperity, and recovery.
“Congress must act now to save jobs and ensure crucial economic and health information reaches the people harmed most by this pandemic,” says co-author Craig Aaron, Free Press president and Co-CEO. “To get through this emergency, we need trustworthy news and reporters on the beat. Wishful thinking about new business models or philanthropy won’t be enough. Our proposed policies focus on directing relief efforts into the hands of local outlets and working journalists — so they can keep people informed during this crisis and its aftermath — and lay the foundation for sustaining community-centered news in the future.”
“The local-news industry will continue to face massive business headwinds,” says co-author S. Derek Turner, Free Press Action research director. “Given the dire nature of the crisis, our proposal prioritizes getting important news and information in front of more people while targeting funds toward news that serves the local audiences that have been hardest hit. But if we, as a country, value high-quality local news, then bringing lasting relief to news deserts and meeting community-information needs everywhere will require a substantial public investment over a long period of time.”