As the reconciliation bill continues its procedural slog through Congress, we want to highlight again what we believe would be a lifeline for the institutions of community journalism that inform the public and hold the powerful accountable.
In a massive spending package incorporating various social, climate and tax reform measures, we acknowledge that we are using this space to focus on an aspect that would affect us directly. This is not just about The Eagle, however, but all the small and regional news organizations across America that uniquely serve their readership but have struggled to stay afloat in a rapidly evolving media market. A critical piece of the bipartisan-supported Local Journalism Sustainability Act now wrapped into the reconciliation bill would recognize the importance of high-quality, locally focused reporting by providing a payroll tax credit for the compensation of local journalists.
This would constitute an elegant and badly needed salve for the issues plaguing the print and digital publications that inform Americans about the issues directly affecting them: municipal meetings, local politics, cultural happenings, community events. The tax credit would acknowledge the importance of the work that goes into tracking these critical matters. It would only go to outlets whose coverage is primarily local, meaning it would target the entities that need it without being a giveaway to legacy media. It would not amount to the state picking winners and losers in news media; it simply would be recognizing the great public value of this informative watchdog work at whichever qualifying local publications are performing it.
The viability of local newspapers means more than just preserving this vital connective tissue in their respective communities. The struggles of small and regional newspapers far and wide have direct consequences for the neighborhoods they serve. A 2018 City Labs analysis showed that municipalities whose local papers have disappeared face higher long-term borrowing costs. Meanwhile, voter turnout research suggests that citizens whose local papers are still intact are more likely to hit the polls and participate in the democratic process on Election Day.
We agree with the architects of the Constitution’s First Amendment that a free and vital press is essential. Community newsrooms across the country fighting to survive in a shifting, pandemic-pressurized market deserve the support needed to continue serving the millions of Americans who depend on them. As the House hopefully readies to move on the reconciliation bill, we appreciate the efforts of the Berkshires’ representative in Congress, House Ways and Means Chairman Rep. Richard Neal, to include a crucial piece of the LJSA in this landmark spending legislation. We call on the rest of the Massachusetts delegation to support this measure so their constituents can continue to be reliably informed and served with quality local news. If and when it makes it to the Senate floor, we urge Sen. Edward Markey and Sen. Elizabeth Warren to support it, too.
— The Berkshire Eagle