I was disheartened to read in last week's opinion page that Matt Walsh, CEO of Observer Media Group, opposes the Local Journalism Sustainability Act (LJSA).
Before I explain why the LJSA is a critical piece of legislation, allow me to provide some background on the LJSA and to make some factual corrections to Walsh's column.
The LJSA is a stand-alone piece of legislation with tremendous bipartisan support — from Rep. Ro Khanna and Rep. Val Demings on the left to Rep. Lee Zeldin and Rep. Vern Buchanan on the right. As Walsh noted, the LJSA proposes three tax credits: one for local journalism organizations, one for citizens and one for small businesses.
The draft of Congress’ reconciliation bill, however, only includes one of these three tax credits: the credit for local journalism organizations. This tax credit provides a 50% credit in year one and a 30% credit in years two through five against the first $50,000 of a local journalist's salary. It is not an automatic $25,000 credit per journalist.
Walsh also asks: "Why not credits for small retailers? Restaurateurs? Small grocers? Construction companies?" What a great idea, Matt! To provide some support to the small businesses that are the engine of our local economies during an unprecedented global pandemic! Luckily, that's exactly what the LJSA's tax credit for small businesses does. It provides a tax credit to small businesses to market themselves and spur local commerce.
Importantly, as Walsh correctly implies, the national media and local media are very different beasts. The former seems to be as much about entertainment as anything else, whereas the latter provides communities with the objective reporting and information needed to function. In other words, local news organizations provide truth. That's why a recent Poynter poll found that Americans trust local news more than any other media channel by far.
And for good reason. There is now empirical data showing that communities without a source of local news experience increased political polarization, increased public corruption, increased cost of municipal borrowing and increased toxic environmental emissions. These communities also experience decreased voter turnout, decreased civic engagement, and decreased transparency and accountability of elected officials and business leaders.
I was also disappointed to see Walsh call local news organizations a "special interest." Nothing could be further from reality. In fact, it is the role of local news organizations to keep special interests in check, and local news organizations do a damn good job of it. Just last month, for instance, the Observer broke a story about illegal land development, leading to the director of the building department's resignation. There are countless more examples like this. Local news is all about getting as close to the truth as possible on the issues that affect the daily lives of you and your neighbors.
Yet, sadly, one-quarter of all newsrooms have shuttered since 2004, and 60% of U.S. counties now have zero or only one source of local news. If this trend continues, the consequences to our local communities and to our democracy writ large will be devastating.
The LJSA would provide the temporary support to local news organizations that is needed to reverse this trend. The LJSA's clear-cut eligibility standards mean there is no ability for government officials to weaponize this legislation, and perceived "right-leaning" and "left-leaning" local media outlets will benefit equally. The biggest beneficiaries, however, will be our great nation's citizens through the preservation of our democracy.
Matt Walsh believes that Milton Friedman is the answer for everything. News flash: Profit might respond to free-market libertarianism, but truth does not.
Enact the Local Journalism Sustainability Act today.
Zachary Richner, American tax payer and concerned citizen. This guest column was first published Oct. 29 by the Observe Media Group.