WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) joined a group of nineteen senators calling for funding to support local journalism and media in any future COVID-19 relief package. In a letter to Senate leadership, the senators warn that the widespread impact of the COVID-19 pandemic – including plummeting advertising revenue – could decimate local and regional news outlets even as communities have become increasingly reliant on their reporting amidst the public health crisis. Already news outlets have laid off or furloughed staff, and some newspapers have reduced or eliminated print editions.
“In the midst of a public health crisis that requires us to stay home in order to stay safe, we need local newspapers now more than ever,” said Brown. “Ohioans need access to the most up-to-date information on what resources are available in their communities as well as how to stay safe and protect their neighbors.”
The letter was also signed by U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Mark Warner (D-VA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Jack Reed (D-RI), Patty Murray (D-WA), Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI), Bob Casey (D-PA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Angus King (I-ME), Tom Udall (D-NM), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Joe Manchin (D-WV).
“The current public health crisis has made the already vital role of local news even more critical,” the senators wrote. “Some of the most important guidance for families and businesses during this crisis has been highly localized. Local journalism has been providing communities answers to critical questions, including information on where to get locally tested, hospital capacity, road closures, essential business hours of operation, and shelter-in-place orders. During this unprecedented public health crisis, people need to have access to their trusted local news outlets for this reliable and sometimes life-saving information.”
“Local journalists have proven themselves to be valiant first responders during this pandemic, exposing themselves to a dangerous virus in order to get the story to the people,” said PEN America's Washington director, Thomas O. Melia. “They are 'essential workers' as many executive orders on staying at home at the state and local level have explicitly noted. The sector as a whole is suffering gravely as the nationwide shutdown has accelerated their loss of revenue. This is why we at PEN America support Senator Blumenthal's initiative to urge Senate leaders to include specific targeted stimulus relief for local journalism at this critical time.”
“The COVID-19 pandemic has only increased the extraordinary value of local news outlets, which have seen huge jumps in traffic since the beginning of March. Local news stories are now among the most viewed stories in the country – even as local media fight to survive the pandemic. Without funding from the next stimulus package, we may lose one of the most important sources of information we have to navigate through this crisis,” said Lisa Macpherson, Senior Policy Fellow at Public Knowledge.
The full text of the letter can be found HERE and below:
Dear Majority Leader McConnell, Minority Leader Schumer, Chairman Shelby and Vice Chairman Leahy,
We write to ask that any future coronavirus stimulus package contain funding to support local journalism and media. Without this support, communities across the country risk losing one of their key sources of accurate information about what citizens need to know and do in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Local news is in a state of crisis that has only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. For over a decade, there has been a steady succession of local outlets closing down, reporters being laid off, production schedules cut, and resources tightened as the growth of social media and technology platforms has concentrated critical advertising revenue in the hands of a few. But the current public health crisis has made this problem worse. As many communities have shut down local restaurants, entertainment venues, and other non-essential businesses in an attempt to “flatten the curve,” local papers and local broadcasters have lost even more of the advertising revenue they rely on from these businesses. Communities across the country have seen the further decimation of this important industry as local publications have stopped printing and laid off staff in the last few weeks.
Local news plays an indispensable role in American civic life as a trusted source for critical information, a watchdog for government and corporate accountability, and a building block of social cohesion. Thousands of communities across the country turn to local news for information on governance, elections, education, health, and numerous issues specific to their cities, towns, and neighborhoods. Local news sources tailored to a particular ethnic or language group, or a particular neighborhood, also play a critical role in covering a wide range of issues that impact underrepresented communities.
The current public health crisis has made the already vital role of local news even more critical. The World Health Organization has identified the existence of a “massive infodemic” about COVID-19, that is, “an overabundance of information—some accurate and some not—that makes it hard for people to find trustworthy sources and reliable guidance when they need it.” Some of the most important guidance for families and businesses during this crisis has been highly localized. Local journalism has been providing communities answers to critical questions, including information on where to get locally tested, hospital capacity, road closures, essential business hours of operation, and shelter-in-place orders. During this unprecedented public health crisis, people need to have access to their trusted local news outlets for this reliable and sometimes life-saving information.
Reliable local news and information has been critically important during the COVID-19 pandemic, yet it has become more scarce. Any future stimulus package must contain funding to support this important industry at such a critical time. Such a provision should be tailored to benefit aid recipients who make a long-term commitment to high quality local news.
 While there is no universally accepted definition of what constitutes “local journalism” or “local media,” a PEN America report on the challenges facing this market defines “local news” as “media outlets (TV, radio, newspapers, and digital sites) dedicated to covering newsworthy information that is relevant to communities within a specific geographic region/connected by a particular place (rural, town, city, and state-level).” The report also adds that “[w]ithin a local news ecosystem, different outlets may tailor their coverage to different constituencies in the community—such as a particular ethnic or language group or a particular neighborhood.”
Losing the News: the Decimation of Local News and the Search for Solutions, PEN America, available at https://pen.org/local-news/.