- Local media outlets could receive $1.7 billion as part of the Build Back Better Act.
- The provision would afford a payroll tax credit for local newspapers, websites, and radio stations.
- Backers of the proposal have emphasized the outsized role that local reporting plays in covering the nuts and bolts of government.
A payroll tax credit appropriated for local news organizations could become law in the coming weeks as part of the nearly $2 trillion Build Back Better Act being championed by President Joe Biden and congressional Democrats, according to The New York Times.
The provision was a part of the legislation that passed the House earlier this month.
With a decline in print advertising revenue that has led to shakiness within the journalism industry — coinciding with the decline in small family-owned outlets — the funding could prove to be critical for many publications.
The Storm Lake Times — a Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper in northwestern Iowa — could possibly receive $200,000 in federal subsidies and almost $500,000 over the course of four additional years, according to The Times.
Gannett — a publishing behemoth that has media outlets across the United States — could potentially get $37.5 million in its first year and millions of dollars in subsequent years.
Penelope Muse Abernathy, a visiting professor at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, told The Times that the funding would serve an important purpose for individual communities.
“It acknowledges democracy starts at home,” she said.
To unlock the funding, the Senate must approve the ambitious Democratic-led social-spending blueprint that includes funding for universal pre-K for six years, childcare subsidies, and an expansion of Medicare to cover hearing aids, among other items.
The bill would allow for $1.67 billion over five years to be allocated for newspapers, online news sites, radio and television stations, and additional organizations that focus on local news.
If the outlets are eligible, they could receive $25,000 for every hyperlocal journalist that is hired in the first year, with $15,000 set aside for the remaining four years.
Any news outlet that is funded by a political action committee, or PAC, would not be able to take advantage of the benefit, according to The Times.
Also, publishers who have over 1,500 employees at any one location would be ineligible for the tax credit.
However, larger companies that focus on local news — like Gannett — would be included.
Researchers at the University of North Carolina Hussman School of Journalism and Media found that there are 200 counties in the US that lack a local newspaper. And according to the Pew Research Center, newspaper journalism positions declined from 71,000 in 2008 to 31,000 in 2020 — a 57 percent drop.
Backers of the proposal have emphasized the vital role that local reporting plays in covering the nuts and bolts of government and the larger community fabric.
But conservatives have leaped at the news of the tax credit, with House Minority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana calling it a partisan proposal.
“This is Biden and Dems in Congress helping pay the reporters’ salaries who cover for them,” he said on Twitter earlier this month.
Local outlets — far from the confines of Washington, DC — would likely be receptive to the aid.
Art Cullen, the editor and a co-owner of The Storm Lake Times, expressed such a sentiment to The Times.
“I’ve been skeptical of things like local tax levies or direct federal subsidy,” he told the newspaper. “But on the other hand, we need help and take it everywhere I can get it.”