Maui News

US Sen. Schatz Reintroduces Legislation to Bolster Struggling Local News Industry

May 13, 2021, 9:56 AM HST
* Updated May 13, 11:06 AM
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PC: courtesy office of US Sen. Brian Schatz.

US Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaiʻi, joined colleges Senator Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Rep. Marc Veasey (D-TX) in reintroducing the Future of Local News Act that aims to rescue the struggling local news industry.

Local news organizations play a vital role in American democracy, but an industry-wide transition to digital media and the pandemic’s impacts on the economy has led to a rapid decline of the local news industry. The Future of Local News Act would create a committee to study the state of local journalism and offer recommendations to Congress on the actions it can take to support local news organizations, stated the legislators’ news release.

“Families rely on local journalists to report on the stories that matter most to their communities,” Sen. Schatz said. “From the pandemic response to school boards to how tax dollars are spent, local news outlets provide essential information and perform an irreplaceable public service. Our bill will help strengthen local news and keep the industry afloat during this tough time.”

As more news consumption moves online, the advertising-based business model that sustained local print journalism has collapsed. According to a report by PEN America, more than 2,100 local newspapers have shuttered in the last 15 years. Many other local newspapers have been bought by hedge funds, subjected to relentless cost-cutting measures, and had their newsrooms staff shrunk by nearly half. The current pandemic and resulting recession has only accelerated these trends.

In many places across the country, local news outlets are the only organizations reporting on local stories; holding local leaders accountable; keeping track of how tax dollars are spent; and informing communities about the stories that matter most to them. Also, as the country grapples with serious distrust of institutions, the spread of misinformation, and the threat of foreign interference in elections, local journalists remain as a trusted news source who help citizens make informed voting decisions.

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This new committee, made up of 13 experts from diverse regions of the country, would be tasked with identifying specific actions Congress can take to respond to this local news crisis.

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“For our democracy to work, Americans need two things – the ability to exercise their right to vote and the ability to receive real, localized information about what’s happening in their community,” Rep. Veasey said. “With the rise of misinformation and disinformation across all media platforms, developing sustainable pathways for local journalists and outlets to continue being a trusted voice in the community is more important than ever.”

Sen. Bennet said: “Across America, local newsrooms have been pushed to the brink by a confluence of forces – from industry consolidation to the migration to digital, to the rise of social media and the COVID-19 crisis. Local reporting that engages citizens, shapes communities, and holds local governments accountable is foundational to our democracy, and I’m concerned that if we do not take action soon, we could be headed for an America without local news. I hope this legislation will help us find common-sense, nonpartisan solutions to support local journalism while preserving the independence vital to the free press.”

Sen. Klobuchar said: “As thousands of media outlets have been forced out of business, too many small towns and rural communities have become ‘news deserts’ without access to local news. As the daughter of a newspaperman, I understand that a free press is vital to our system of government. The Future of Local News Act would help ensure that we preserve the newspapers, radio stations, and broadcasters that keep their communities informed.”

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The full text of the bill is available here.

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