By helping local news through a market-oriented approach, the Local News Sustainability Act has gained bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate. As it happens, Pennsylvania’s members of Congress are in a position to have an outsize impact. Sens. Bob Casey and Pat Toomey both serve on the Senate Finance Committee, which helps govern the proposed legislation. Reps. Brendan Boyle and Dwight Evans sit on the House Ways and Means Committee, which would help advance the bill in that chamber.
Lately, there’s even been talk about resurrecting one of the dreamier New Deal programs, the Federal Writers’ Project, which put unemployed teachers, reporters, novelists, librarians, poets, and folklorists to work on a big, communal publishing venture that held a mirror up to America. Not surprisingly, a lot of that talk has been from writers—but not all of it. In May, Representatives Ted Lieu, of California, and Teresa Leger Fernandez, of New Mexico, introduced the 21st Century Federal Writers’ Project Act, legislation that would create a grants program, administered by the Department of Labor, to hire journalists and other writers struggling with pandemic layoffs or the vicissitudes of the gig economy. (Lieu took inspiration from an op-ed written by David Kipen, an L.A.-based writer and arts administrator with a self-professed “evangelical belief in the lasting lessons of the FWP.”) It would be a jobs program, Lieu told the Los Angeles Times—and, like its nineteen-thirties predecessor, it would be animated by a documentary impulse, gathering American stories, starting with those of the pandemic, that “might otherwise go untold.”
The Bowie Blade-News, a 41-year-old weekly newspaper in Bowie, Md., published its final print edition on Thursday, two months after its parent company, Tribune Publishing, was sold to the New York hedge fund Alden Global Capital for $633 million. A brief, unsigned note to readers at the bottom of Thursday’s front page announced the closing.
“It’s definitely safe to say that there is a trend of some newspapers returning to local ownership,” April said. “… It made sense for these large newspaper companies to build when they did, but now it’s making sense for them to peel off these papers and put them in the hands of people who can really operate them in this day and age.”
The NewsGuild-CWA is enthusiastically supporting a bill that would provide a path to financial stability for struggling local newspapers, digital-only publications and local television and radio stations through a series of tax credits. “The Local Journalism Sustainability Act would provide a much-needed boost to save local news jobs,” said NewsGuild President Jon Schleuss. “Half of America’s journalism jobs have been wiped out in the past decade and the losses have accelerated during the pandemic.
Since 2008, newsroom employment has plummeted at U.S. newspapers while increasing in the digital publishing sector. Newspaper newsroom employment fell 57% between 2008 and 2020, from roughly 71,000 jobs to about 31,000. At the same time, the number of digital-native newsroom employees rose 144%, from 7,400 workers in 2008 to about 18,000 in 2020. Despite this sharp increase, the number of newsroom employees in the digital-native sector remained about 13,000 below the number in the newspaper sector in 2020.
The local news crisis is complicated, and a single citation can’t tell the whole story... We do not have a robust ecosystem. We have this poverty compared to what we had even a decade ago, regardless of whether you measure the loss of news organizations, or whether you measure the loss of reporters, or the loss of news stories.
The ink wasn’t dry, but the hushed deal to finance Alden Global Capital’s takeover of Tribune Publishing fell quickly into place in May. So quickly that the terms for saddling Tribune with hundreds of millions in debt must have been worked out well in advance by Alden and its attorneys. Now that the purchase appears complete, the actions of Tribune’s former board come across as self-serving, while the facts suggest violations of both securities and corporate law.