Local News Provides a Vital Public Service by Covering Stories That Matter to Communities, Holding Local Governments Accountable
Washington, D.C. — Today, Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet and U.S. Senators Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) introduced legislation to support the struggling local news industry. Local news organizations play a vital role in American democracy, reporting on stories that matter to communities and serving as a watchdog for municipal governments. However, an industry-wide transition to digital media and the pandemic-induced recession have led to a rapid decline of the local news industry. The Future of Local News Commission Act would create a commission to study the state of local journalism and offer recommendations to Congress on the actions it can take to support local news organizations.
“Local news is foundational to our democracy, but a convergence of forces – from consolidation to social media to COVID-19 – has pushed newsrooms across America to the brink,” said Bennet. “I worry deeply about an America without local reporters on the beat to hold officials accountable and engage citizens in the events shaping their communities. My hope is that this commission will – in a nonpartisan, sober, and thoughtful manner – come forward with recommendations to help reinvigorate local journalism across the country while preserving the independence vital to a free and robust press.”
"Families rely on local journalists to report on the stories that matter most to their communities. From the pandemic response to school boards to how tax dollars are spent, local news outlets provide essential information and perform an irreplaceable public service,” said Schatz. “Our bill will help strengthen local news and keep the industry afloat during this tough time."
“As the daughter of a newspaperman, I understand how important local news is to communities across the country. As Americans look to their local and regional news sources for information during this pandemic, it’s more important than ever that we keep local news strong,” said Klobuchar. “A free press is vital to our system of government and the Future of Local News Commission Act would help ensure that we preserve the newspapers, radio stations, and broadcasters that keep their communities informed.”
As more news consumption moves online, the advertising-based business model that sustained local print journalism has collapsed. According to a report by PEN America, more than 1,800 local newspapers have shuttered in the last 15 years. Many of those that haven’t closed have been bought by hedge funds, subjected to relentless cost-cutting measures, and seen their newsrooms shrunk by nearly half. The Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic and subsequent recession have only accelerated these trends.
Across the country, local news outlets are the only organizations reporting on local stories, holding local leaders accountable, keeping track of how tax dollars are spent, and informing communities about the stories that matter most to them. As the country grapples with serious distrust of institutions, the spread misinformation, and the threat of foreign interference in elections, local journalists remain a trusted news source that help citizens make informed voting decisions.
This legislation would task the new commission, made up of 13 experts from diverse regions of the country, with identifying specific actions Congress can take to respond to the crisis facing local news while preserving the independence critical to the free press.
This legislation is supported by PEN America, Colorado Media Project, Local Independent Online News (LION) Publishers, Alliance for Community Media, National Writers Union; Society of Professional Journalists; Ethnic Media Services; Online News Association, Free Press Action, National Society of Newspaper Columnists (NSNC), National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ), National Press Photographers Association (NPPA), Native American Journalists Association (NAJA), Society for News Design, Association of Alternative Newsmedia, American Journalism Project, Pulitzer Center, Writers Guild of America East, Department for Professional Employees – AFL-CIO, The NewsGuild – Communications Workers of America (TNG-CWA), Society of Environmental Journalists, and National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ).
The bill text is available HERE.