U.S. Rep DeSaulnier on the value of local news
Given the family history of US Representative Mark DeSaulnier, it is remarkable that he advocates for ways to save the local press.
Growing up in Massachusetts, the Boston Globe’s Spotlight team aggressively investigated his father, a lawmaker and judge struck off the bar after being charged with bribery.
Despite this, DeSaulnier said having local news agencies to invest in such journalism “helps make democracy work.”
“People, if they can’t trust their institutions, I’m not sure what’s going to happen to this country,” he told me this week.
DeSaulnier, a Democrat from the San Francisco Bay Area, introduced a bill this week to help news agencies wishing to become nonprofit entities.
Converting newspapers to operate as a nonprofit organization is an option that a few communities and publishers have explored to preserve local news coverage. DeSaulnier said legal fees make it prohibitive for small outlets, so his bill would simplify the process by amending the tax law.
Its Saving Local News Act (HR 6068) is co-sponsored by US representatives Ed Perlmutter of Colorado, Jamie Raskin of Maryland and David Cicilline of Rhode Island. The co-sponsors are all from states where the biggest dailies have been sold and their budgets severely cut by distant investors.
“This crisis in American journalism has led to the crises we see today in our democracy and civic life,” Cicillin said in a statement. “We cannot allow this trend to continue, because if it does, we risk permanently compromising media outlets essential to our communities, holding government and big business to account and maintaining our democracy.” . “
At the same time, DeSaulnier supports other measures essential to the stabilization and maintenance of all local news organizations, whether non-profit or for-profit.
One would provide tax credits to retain and hire journalists. This is now part of the Build It Better spending program in the Senate.
The other is the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act, which would help the media get fair compensation from platforms like Google and Facebook that profit from news content.
The logic of this bill resonates with DeSaulnier, who appreciates how licensed content – to make sure creators get paid – has helped the film and music industries.
DeSaulnier ran restaurants in the Bay Area, giving him direct experience in music licensing.
A bar should make commercial arrangements to play recorded music, which adds value to the establishment. Likewise, Google and Facebook must pay for news content that adds value to their platforms.
This would rebalance the unfair competition that contributes to the decline of local journalism. Reasonable remuneration for news content used online would provide a permanent source of income and help secure the future of commercial news organizations.
There is no single solution to the journalism crisis, nor one business model that works for every medium or every community.
Multiple responses are needed to save what remains of the newspapers that cover most of the local news, even after their newsrooms have shrunk by 60% since 2008. More than 100 local newsrooms have closed during the pandemic, according to the latest count from the Poynter Institute.
It also requires lawmakers who understand the urgency of the situation and the stakes if local journalism is allowed to wither away. DeSaulnier’s support for a range of solutions and appreciation of business needs are particularly welcome.
“I think it’s just a matter of throwing out a thousand seeds and hoping it starts to grow,” DeSaulnier said.
Lee pushes back: Iowa-based newspaper publisher Lee Enterprises is seeking to block a takeover bid for Alden Global Capital, the hedge fund known to relentlessly cut newsroom budgets. Lee’s board of directors has approved a “poison pill” plan to prevent Alden from acquiring more than 10% of the stake, giving Lee a year to review options, reports the Wall Street Journal.
This is from the free weekly newsletter Voices for a Free Press. Visit the new Save the Free Press website here.