04.08.20

U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin Calls for Support for Local Journalism Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

“Reliable local news and information has been critically important during the COVID-19 pandemic, yet it has become more scarce”

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin joined her colleagues in 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 regional and local news outlets even as communities have become increasingly reliant on their reporting amidst the public health crisis. Already some newspapers have reduced or eliminated print editions, while other news outlets have furloughed staff.

“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.” 

The letter was sent to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), and Appropriations Committee Chair Richard Shelby (R-AL) and Ranking Member Patrick Leahy (D-VT). The letter was led by Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and also signed by Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Bob Casey (D-PA), Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Angus King (I-ME), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Patty Murray (D-WA), Jack Reed (D-RI), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Tom Udall (D-NM), Mark Warner (D-VA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Ron Wyden (D-OR).

“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."

“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 letter is available below and here.

 

Dear Majority Leader McConnell, Minority Leader Schumer, Chairman Shelby and Vice Chairman Leahy, 

We write to ask that any future coronavirus relief 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.