Editorial: Why Journalism needs us

How do we keep local journalism in our communities?

How do we keep local journalism in our communities?

It’s a question the House of Representatives is asking, and attempting to take further action on.

Enter the Local Journalism Sustainability Act, otherwise known as H.R. 3940.

Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson has chimed in as well, writing a letter to the House Ways & Means Committee in support of the bill, along with attorney generals from Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia, the District of Columbia and Guam.

What the Local Journalism Sustainability Act strives to do is three things:

1) Provide Americans with a five-year tax credit of up to $250 annually for local news subscriptions or donations to nonprofit local news publishers.

2) Provide local newsrooms a five-year credit of up to $25,000 to hire and retain journalists.

3) Provide small businesses a five-year tax credit of up to $5,000 to spend on advertising in local news publications.

Why now, though? Why is it important to invest in local journalism? Consider everything that has occurred over the pandemic. From the start of the pandemic to the rollout of vaccines to where we are currently, local outlets have been there to cover it all.

However, some have not been able to weather the storm. According to the Poynter Institute, more than 90 local newsrooms closed during the pandemic. Many of these now-shuttered newsrooms were more than 100 years old, and sometimes the only news source in the area.

The Beachcomber itself remembers a not too distant past where furloughs occurred at the dawn of the pandemic and the newspaper was produced thanks to the hard work of one lone full-time reporter, Paul Rowley, and one part-time one, Elizabeth Shepherd.

In a 2020 article published by Vox Media, it was reported that local newspapers are responsible for half of the country’s original reporting, while only accounting for 25% of total media outlets.

Even prior to the pandemic, newspapers were in trouble. In a report titled “News Deserts and Ghost Newspapers: Will Local News Survive?” by Penelope Muse Abernathy, the concept of a “news desert” is introduced.

Since 2004, the number of communities that had their own newspaper and now have no original reporting whatsoever (print or digital) has grown from 1,300 to 1,800. This is what Abernathy would define as a “news desert.”

Within these news deserts exist no coverage of issues such as local governance, schools and fire districts and other public agencies, and pressing health and environmental issues that are intensely local. Corruption flourishes in these setting, and mismanagement goes unchecked.

According to Abernathy’s research, many news deserts are often located in economically challenged, rural areas but there are now news deserts in traditionally well-off suburbs as well.

We can consider ourselves lucky to be where we are right now on Vashon: not in a “news desert,” and with a staff that is working diligently to bring you the news every week. However, like many local papers, we are still stretched to capacity, and our newsroom still has a two-person staff, though happily now, both positions are full-time for editor Elizabeth Shepherd and reporter Jenna Dennison.

Many places have it much worse.

In our own state, in Asotin County, located in southeastern Washington, there are no newspapers. We are certainly not immune.

A sign of a healthy, functioning democracy is a robust, working press. The Local Journalism Sustainability Act takes steps in the right direction to encourage readership, bring great journalists into newsrooms and encourage small businesses to advertise.

It’s the great trifecta when we need it most.


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