Democratic senators call for funding for local media in coronavirus stimulus

Democratic senators call for funding for local media in coronavirus stimulus
© Greg Nash

More than a dozen senators are calling for any future stimulus package addressing the economic fallout from the novel coronavirus to include funding for local journalism, saying that communities across the U.S. are at risk of losing their source of news because of the pandemic. 

"Local news is in a state of crisis that has only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic," the senators wrote in a letter sent to the upper chamber's leadership on Wednesday.

The letter was signed by 18 Democratic senators, including Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharBattle lines drawn on precedent in Supreme Court fight Sunday shows - Ruth Bader Ginsburg's death dominates Klobuchar: GOP can't use 'raw political power right in middle of an election' MORE (Minn.), Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownBipartisan praise pours in after Ginsburg's death Emboldened Democrats haggle over 2021 agenda Hillicon Valley: Russia 'amplifying' concerns around mail-in voting to undermine election | Facebook and Twitter take steps to limit Trump remarks on voting | Facebook to block political ads ahead of election MORE (Ohio) and Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinTrump meets with potential Supreme Court pick Amy Coney Barrett at White House Names to watch as Trump picks Ginsburg replacement on Supreme Court Momentum growing among Republicans for Supreme Court vote before Election Day MORE (W.Va.), as well as Independent Sen. Angus KingAngus KingShakespeare Theatre Company goes virtual for 'Will on the Hill...or Won't They?' On The Trail: How Nancy Pelosi could improbably become president Angus King: Ending election security briefings 'looks like a pre-cover-up' MORE (Maine). 

ADVERTISEMENT

The letter notes many of the struggles the news industry has felt over the last two decades as big tech platforms swallow up a majority of the ad revenue that was a key source of profit during the print age. Newsroom employment has significantly decreased and about 1,800 local newspapers have ceased their operations since 2004, according to a University of North Carolina report.

The COVID-19 outbreak has made those problems worse, as many local restaurants, entertainment venues and other nonessential businesses shut down to help slow the spread of the disease. The closures caused a rapid scaling back of ad spending, which has already led dozens of newspapers and alternative weeklies to announce pay cuts and furloughs. 

Gannett, one of the nation's largest newspaper chains, announced furloughs and pay cuts across the company due to the financial hit it is experiencing. The move will force staffers to take one week of unpaid leave for the next three months. 

The senators wrote that these layoffs and pay cuts are taking place even as the news outlets provide answers to "critical questions" about the pandemic. 

"The current public health crisis has made the already vital role of local news even more critical," the senators wrote, noting that local news sources have provided answers to critical questions about business and school closures, as well as details about where testing is available. 

ADVERTISEMENT

They also highlight the prevalence of misinformation at this time and the need for credible news sources. 

The senators call for any new stimulus package to include a provision that is "tailored to benefit aid recipients who make a long-term commitment to high quality local news."

The letter is addressed to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGraham: GOP will confirm Trump's Supreme Court nominee before the election Trump puts Supreme Court fight at center of Ohio rally The Memo: Dems face balancing act on SCOTUS fight MORE (R-Ky.), Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerJacobin editor: Primarying Schumer would force him to fight Trump's SCOTUS nominee CNN's Toobin: Democrats are 'wimps' who won't 'have the guts' to add Supreme Court seats Republican senator says plans to confirm justice before election 'completely consistent with the precedent' MORE (D-N.Y.), Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbySenate GOP eyes early exit Dems discussing government funding bill into February GOP short of votes on Trump's controversial Fed pick MORE (R-Ala.) and Appropriations Vice Chairman Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyBattle over timing complicates Democratic shutdown strategy Hillicon Valley: Russia 'amplifying' concerns around mail-in voting to undermine election | Facebook and Twitter take steps to limit Trump remarks on voting | Facebook to block political ads ahead of election Top Democrats press Trump to sanction Russian individuals over 2020 election interference efforts MORE (D-Vt.).

President TrumpDonald John TrumpBubba Wallace to be driver of Michael Jordan, Denny Hamlin NASCAR team Graham: GOP will confirm Trump's Supreme Court nominee before the election Southwest Airlines, unions call for six-month extension of government aid MORE last month signed a $2 trillion economic relief package aimed at helping American workers and small businesses impacted by the pandemic.

David Chavern, CEO of the News Media Alliance, an industry group that includes about 2,000 media organizations in the U.S. and elsewhere, told The Hill that small business provisions could prove to be useful for many publishers and help them retain staff.

“We certainly appreciate the Senators' full throated support for local journalism,” Chavern said after the letter’s release. “Quality local journalism is what we are all depending on right now. “

The alliance is in talks with lawmakers and media outlets about ways to support local news. One idea being discussed is a government advertising program that promotes health information on local news sites, Chavern added.

Updated 3:07 p.m.