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Biden Social Spending Bill Would Give Much-Needed Funds to Local News Outlets

Biden Social Spending Bill Would Give Much-Needed Funds to Local News Outlets

President Joe Biden’s $1.85 trillion social spending bill includes a provision that, if it becomes law, would mark the first time the federal government has offered targeted support in response to the decline of local news. The help would come in the form of a payroll tax credit for companies that employ eligible local journalists.

The measure would allow newspapers, digital news outlets, and radio and television stations to claim a tax credit of $25,000 the first year and $15,000 the next four years for up to 1,500 journalists. It’s a response to a growing alarm that the elimination of newsroom jobs is leaving communities without access to critical information.

 

The concern has grown since a hedge fund with a reputation of ruthless cost-cutting acquired Tribune, one of the nation’s largest newspaper chains, in May. Already, about one-fourth of the country’s newspapers have closed and half of the local journalism jobs have evaporated in the past 15 years, according to research from the University of North Carolina. That leaves about 1,800 communities with no local newspaper.

But the credit, which would cost $1.67 billion over the next five years, does create some tension for the industry. Some top Republicans in Congress have derided it as a handout. Leading journalists also acknowledge that it’s awkward to receive financial assistance from a government they cover independently. Still, given the sense of crisis the industry is facing, many journalists say the risk is worth it.

Government support for media, in ways direct and indirect, is not new. It goes back to the earliest days of the country when Congress subsidized periodicals’ postal rates. More recently, a pandemic-era small business loan program provided millions to news organizations. Though the proposal’s main objective was to rescue small papers that were hit hard as ad dollars evaporated at the start of the pandemic, it will help some larger companies. Should the tax break become law, Gannett, one of the nation’s largest remaining newspaper chains, could gain as much as $127.5 million over five years, according to an analysis by the Associated Press.

 

The provision is supported by more than a dozen House Republicans, though the second-ranking GOP leader, Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, called it a “scam” in a recent tweet. “Make no mistake — this is Biden and Dems in Congress helping pay the reporters’ salaries who cover for them,” he tweeted.

The proposal’s fate ultimately hinges on how Congress proceeds with the broader legislation, which has only attracted Democratic support and has become bogged down by divisions in the House and Senate. Notably, it is one of the few provisions to which House and Senate Democrats have already agreed.

Lawmakers will resume debate on the bill when they return to Washington this coming week. Read the Associated Press analysis here.

 

 

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