Steven Waldman, chair of the Rebuild Local News Coalition and founder of Report for America, speaks to convention
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Journalists attending the recent WV Press Association Convention in Charleston heard an update on the “local news crisis” in America: “It’s not just a threat to your jobs, it’s a threat to Democracy.”
Steven Waldman, chair of the Rebuild Local News Coalition and co-founder of Report for America, provided an overview of the “crisis” and an update on the proposed “Community News and Small Business Support Act.”
“The Rebuild Local News Coalition was formed about three years ago to pull together almost 30 different national and state groups that work on local news,” Waldman began. “Our view is that the struggles of local news are a national crisis.”
“You have thousands of communities that have no local news, thousands that have what are called ‘Ghost Newspaper,’” Waldman continued. “We have to invent a whole new term for something that I just heard about the other day – a daily newspaper with no reporters. There are quite a number of daily newspapers with no reporters.”
Waldman referred to the reporting of local news as a “public service profession,” adding that journalists and newspaper people have “not always been particularly good at explaining ourselves to the public, and the value of local news. It was a relatively robust industry until recently.”
Waldman said that the solution to the crisis comes in three parts: continuing to evolve the business models, philanthropic programs, and public policy.
“That honestly can be kind of a scary thought to anyone in the news business,” Waldman added. “The thought of going to the government to get help makes us all uncomfortable.”
Regardless of the discomfort, Waldman believes that governmental-involvement is necessary due to the severity of the crisis, saying, “It’s not just a threat to your jobs, it’s a threat to democracy.”
Under the Community News and Small Business Support Act – introduced by New York Congresswoman Claudia Teney – local businesses would receive a federal tax credit for money spent advertising in local newspapers.
“It’s got some real political appeal to it because it’s basically a tax credit for small businesses,” Waldman said.
After urging attendees to contact Congresswoman Carol Miller, R-W.Va., to express their support for the bill, Waldman noted, “We’re really focused on state legislatures.”
Waldman added that the Rebuild Local News Coalition’s “policy menu” includes five different points:
- Small business tax credit.
- Payroll tax credit.
- A tax credit (or other benefit) for subscribers.
- Ensure that a “reasonable” amount of government advertising dollars go toward local news.
“The two that seem to have the most political interest are the government ad (spending) set-aside, and this idea of the small business tax credit,” Waldman said.
The 2023 WV Press Association convention was made possible through the sponsorship of the W.Va. School of Osteopathic Medicine, GameChanger, AARP of West Virginia, WVU University Relations, the WVPA Foundation, New River Gorge Regional Development Authority, W.Va. Hive, Highmark, BHE Renewables, City National Bank, W.Va. Department of Tourism, CAMC/Vandalia Health, ONE – Our Next Energy, WV Nursery and Landscaping Association, Asher Agency, the Associated Press, and Affiliated Construction Trades of West Virginia.