The coronavirus pandemic has surely damaged key sectors of the US economy. Small businesses that serve communities in every nook and cranny of this country have been severely affected by COVID-19. It has not only gutted their financial viability, but has sent a historic number of Americans, many of whom work for small businesses, to the line of unemployment.
Governor Jay Inslee’s release of the face mask mandate last week signaled the end of the pandemic may finally be on our horizon. Over the past few months, many laid-off or on leave have returned to work and companies are doing what they can to recover from the devastating downturn.
The lingering effects of the catastrophic pandemic will continue for some businesses, however, including community newspapers and local broadcasters. Reeling from the monopoly business practices of digital giants Google and Facebook over the past decade, the newspaper industry as a whole has suffered a sharp decline in advertising revenue. Senator Maria Cantwell reported to her Senate Trade Committee that newspaper advertising revenues have declined 70% since 2000 and newsroom employment has fallen 60% since 2005.
The pandemic has rocked the already declining community newspaper industry. Some Sound Publishing newspapers, but not the Bainbridge Island Review, and hundreds more around the country have suspended publication and were forced to lay off employees and cut hours during the many dark months of 2020 and into the -of the. Fortunately, our Kitsap News Group posts weathered the viral storm and returned to local newsstands and delivered to our loyal subscribers.
While this is good news in the short term, the long term future of community journalism is uncertain.
The community newspaper industry will need additional help if it is to continue to provide citizens with the local news coverage they deserve. Cantwell sees the community journalism industry as essential to the country’s infrastructure – and to democracy itself. She promised to hold Senate committee hearings to address the unfair advantages of the big-tech marketplace that have put the journalism industry at risk.
While it will likely take years for Congress and the courts to rewire and rebalance the digital playground, Cantwell recognizes that help is needed – now – for local media to survive. On May 11, the senator told an audience of members of the newspaper industry that she would seek $ 2.3 billion in grants and tax credits to help local newspapers and broadcasters as part of the Biden administration’s $ 2.3 trillion infrastructure plan.
This should be good news for all Americans. Cantwell’s initiative follows the Local Journalism Sustainability Act. The law would also help news organizations, advertisers supporting newspapers and subscribers. It received support from both sides of the aisle in the House last year and is expected to be reintroduced in Congress.
The news market is changing at a rapid pace and lawmakers have a duty to ensure that Americans continue to have this vital resource at their fingertips – community newspapers and professional journalists who play a vital role as as government and societal watchdogs for our democratic way of life.
These efforts in Congress are more than economic stimulus. They are a way to keep our democracy healthy on Main Street – in our communities and local governments – led by knowledgeable and connected citizens.