Friday, October 15, 2021

Provision in Democrats' big spending bill has up to $1 billion over five years to subsidize local journalists' salaries

"As the $3.5 trillion federal spending bill slowly makes its way through the House and Senate budget reconciliation process, tucked inside is as much as $1 billion to help local journalism," Rick Edmonds reports for The Poynter Institute. "Specifically, lawmakers have picked up on one of three provisions of the proposed Local Journalism Sustainability Act — a payroll tax credit for journalists employed by local newspapers, digital-only sites or broadcast outlets. The government would subsidize half of salaries up to $50,000 the first year and 30% for four subsequent years."

It's unclear whether the provision will stay in the package, but if passed, it could provide a "life-saving infusing of cash" for struggling newsrooms. It's still unclear who will be eligible for the funding, but "right now, things look good," says Dean Ridings, CEO of America's Newspapers, which has been lobbying for the bill for more than a year. He told Edmonds that the bill has bipartisan House support, but no formal support among Senate Republicans. However, moderate Senate Democrats Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona signed on as co-sponsors earlier this month.

"A tough two years make a powerful case that now is the time to break with the long tradition that journalism should be financially independent of the government. Newspaper advertising has been in steep decline for years. Then came the Covid-19 recession of 2020 and some fresh hits to the remaining ad base as the delta strain emerged in the U.S. this summer," Edmonds writes. "The financial pressure is not as intense on other parts of the local news ecosystem, but all could get a huge boost if their news payroll gets a subsidy. The act provides a strong incentive to keep news staff intact — and even to expand it, since new hires would also qualify for the payroll tax credit."

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