Biden Bill Would Boost Local News Outlets

Tax credit would help with the cost of journalists in a struggling industry
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 28, 2021 10:10 AM CST
Biden Bill Has $1.67B for Local News Outlets
A pedestrian walks past a St. Louis Post-Dispatch newspaper box near the Gateway Arch in 2009. A hedge fund made an offer for the newspaper last week.   (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson, file)

News organizations don't often receive financial help from government. But many of them are beyond struggling now; more than 2,100 newspapers have closed since 2004, Pew Research found. They soon could gain a bit of a safety net of their own. Among the provisions in President Biden's $2.2 trillion social spending and climate legislation is a payroll tax credit for local news organizations, the New York Times reports. "It acknowledges democracy starts at home," said Penelope Muse Abernathy, who teaches and studies local journalism. Details of the five-year, $1.67 billion measure, which is part of the Build Back Better act, include:

Tax credit: To encourage hiring, employers of eligible local journalists could claim a $25,000 credit the first year and $15,000 the next four years for as many as 1,500 journalists.
Eligibility: Newspapers, websites, radio and TV stations, websites and other outlets that mostly cover local news are included. Organizations funded by political action committees are not.
Ownership: Outlets owned by large hedge funds apparently could claim the credit. That includes Tribune Publishing, MediaNews Group, and McClatchy. So could Gannett, which operates 250 local papers. "Scale allows us to solve for some things," an executive said, "but at the end of the day they're local newsrooms with local reporters and photographers and editors, up against the same headwinds."
Shut out: Companies with more than 1,500 employees at any one location could not take part. That exclusion doesn't affect many outlets, but it does leave the New York Times out.

Opponents include the Wall Street Journal, which ran an editorial asking, "Why do journalists deserve subsidies more than, say, nurses?" Republicans have made similar objections. "This is Biden and Dems in Congress helping pay the reporters' salaries who cover for them," Rep. Steve Scalise tweeted. The head of an industry organization agreed that it's a difficult idea to embrace at first, per the AP. "Most journalists start off with a healthy skepticism about the government getting involved and helping journalism, said Steven Waldman of Report for America, adding, "But the reason why this is happening now is just the severity of the crisis." The bill has cleared the House, but the Senate has not yet voted on it. (Read more Build Back Better Act stories.)

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