State Watch

California senators propose public fund for journalism

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Three California state senators have proposed a new measure aimed at propping up media organizations that cover local news after decades of consolidation and closings in the journalism industry.

Sens. Steve Glazer (D), Benn Allen (D) and Josh Newman (D) introduced legislation Wednesday to create a $50 million fund that would deliver grants to news organizations that pledge to cover public affairs in their local communities.

“A vibrant local press that informs the public and acts as a government watchdog has been vital to the survival of American democracy,” Glazer said in a statement announcing the bill. “But over the past couple decades, the closure of many local newspapers and the decline of most others has created vast ‘news deserts’ where virtually no local coverage remains.”

The bill is modeled on the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and a California council that delivers grant funding to arts organizations.

It would create an 11-member board, appointed by the legislature and California’s governor, to oversee grant applications and awards. The board would include representatives from minority-owned media outlets, small and medium-sized news outlets and nonprofit organizations, along with at least one journalism professor.

The board itself would have no authority to exercise editorial judgement or oversight, though it would be allowed to ensure grant recipients were spending money as promised.

Under the new bill, grants would be awarded to news outlets that agree to share their content in the public domain so that other outlets could pick up their stories.

More than 1,800 news outlets have closed or merged with other companies since 2004, and 100 closed in the first year and a half of the coronavirus pandemic, according to the Poynter Institute. The number of Americans working in newsrooms dropped to about 85,000, according to a July report by the Pew Research Center using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

California’s own state Capitol stands as a sad reminder of the declining journalism industry. Seats in the press room, where generations of governors have rolled out budget proposals and policy plans, are marked with plaques from news outlets that either no longer send reporters to Sacramento or no longer exist altogether.

“America ignores the erosion of public journalism at its own peril,” Allen said in a statement.

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