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New bill aims to support newspapers, advertisers, subscribers

by Peter Weinberger | pweinberger@claremont-courier.com

Earlier this month, Reps. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-AZ) and Dan Newhouse (R-WA) introduced the Local Journalism Sustainability Act, a bipartisan bill that helps preserve community journalistic coverage throughout the United States.

Local news publications already faced financial difficulties before the onset of COVID-19. Now, in the wake of the severe economic consequences of the pandemic, the industry is facing further challenges to remaining sustainable. There have been more journalism jobs lost so far in 2020 than any other year.

“Local journalism is a bedrock pillar of communities across the United States,” said Rep. Kirkpatrick. “Unfortunately, journalistic endeavors throughout the country are facing major economic struggles that put the future of many publications in serious jeopardy. These struggles existed before COVID, but the pandemic has only made them more severe. We need to make sure these publications can sustain themselves through this crisis and beyond, and I believe the credits in this bill make significant progress in providing a pathway to that sustainability.”

The Local Journalism Sustainability Act offers a series of three tax credits aimed at sustaining and providing a pathway to viability for the local journalism industry in the years to come.

The first credit works to reduce annual subscriptions by up to 80 percent for community papers that produce local news content. The second is a five-year refundable credit for local newspapers to employ and adequately compensate journalists. The last of the three credits is a five-year non-refundable tax credit that reduces advertising costs up to 80 percent for small-to-medium sized businesses to advertise in local newspapers, as well as on local radio and television stations.

This means your subscription to the COURIER could cost as little as $13 a year. The need for local journalism has never been more timely given all the misinformation in politics, social media and more. And this isn’t to help large media companies where coverage of national politics becomes a huge ongoing quagmire. The focus is to help small newspaper and website businesses, half of which are still family owned.

Is there any chance that this bill could actually pass? The good news is that it’s a bipartisan effort in both the House and Senate. The bad news is that President Trump is unlikely to support this bill after trying to put us out of business for the past three plus years. But January is not that far away. Only time will tell.

How does the COURIER help our community?

The easy answer—and one commonly used—is local news outlets act as watchdogs holding city government accountable. But in-depth investigative journalism is difficult and very costly to produce, while other aspects of our jobs contribute to day-to-day local news coverage. Here’s my list of how the COURIER contributes to the greater good in Claremont.

• Creating a safe environment for feedback—letters to the editor—helps readers feel more comfortable to express public opinions. Social media can do a lot of good, but also can trigger an angry mob that hijacks a conversation with false information. And it’s happening more and more.

• Profile stories of citizens who contribute to the overall good are the bedrock for reporting at the COURIER. Sometimes these stories may not be sensational, but readers tell us all the time they appreciate this type of storytelling. And it’s the main reason why our obituaries are so popular.

• COURIER profiles also include businesses, new and old. It not only informs readers about what’s happening around town, it brings customers to those businesses.

• The police blotter serves an important need by publishing crime information closest to home. The COURIER takes the time to include more details in a reader friendly format. There is no other source for this information.

• Obituaries are another example in which the COURIER uses storytelling techniques to honor the loss of loved ones. There are no format or length restrictions. Readers often tell us that the obituaries are a key reason why they subscribe.

• Our focus on photos and video literally shows readers why Claremont is such a wonderful place to live. The COURIER helps document city history for generations to come. And when we go to nonprofit status, our visuals archive will be open to all subscribers.

An informed citizen becomes part of the big picture, while connecting with the rest of the world.

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