Pandemic-related financial strains are testing businesses up and down the Yakima Valley and across the nation, and local news media entities such as the Yakima Herald-Republic are not immune.
We are sustained largely by advertising revenue that has subsidized the cost of reporting, printing and delivering news. When money is short in the business world, revenue from advertising shrinks disproportionately. In fact, advertising dollars have been disappearing at papers across the U.S. since the dawn of the internet age. More recently at the Herald-Republic, revenue from outside printing customers that has also subsidized the costs for readers has plunged.
A free press offers information free from outside control or influences — and at the local level, the depth and breadth of that information isn’t available anywhere else. At the Herald-Republic, our mission statement is written on a wall just outside the newsroom: “To provide the most relevant news and information essential to promoting civic engagement, public accountability and ‘quality of life’ for our Yakima Valley community.”
Delivering on that mission is becoming increasingly difficult as our resources shrink.
Those struggles, however, are not unnoticed within the halls of Congress, which has seen various proposals floated that would provide financial support for local journalism. A variety of businesses have received federal help. Newspapers, in that regard, should be no different. And the best proposal we’ve seen so far has a distinct local flavor. Our own U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Sunnyside, joined with Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick of Arizona on Thursday to introduce the Local Journalism Sustainability Act, a three-part plan that uses tax credits — not cash, loans or grants — to support local journalism and the communities those journalists serve. The bill boasts a bipartisan list of 15 co-sponsors.
“Local news is crucial — particularly within our rural communities in Central Washington — and our local journalists provide in-depth perspectives that inform their readership regarding local current events,” Newhouse said Thursday in a news release announcing the bill’s introduction. “Unfortunately, due to transforming business models and changes to advertising mediums, many of our locally owned newspapers have been struggling to make ends meet, and the pandemic has only exacerbated their situation. By providing tax credits for readers and local businesses and by empowering our local journalists, we can begin to help our newspapers remain resilient and continue to provide important information and updates to our rural communities.”
We cannot agree more, and we hope that you, our readers, along with members of Congress from both sides of the aisle join us in supporting this bill.
Here’s how it would work: First, it would provide print and/or digital subscribers with a five-year, non-refundable tax credit of up to $250 per year that would pay up to 80% of a subscription cost in the first year and 50% for the next four years. Next, it would offer a tax credit to businesses that advertise in local newspapers or on local TV or radio. Finally, it would offer tax credits to newspapers to cover part of their journalists’ salaries over a five-year period.
These credits have the potential to boost the community as well as the bottom line while giving newspapers time to develop a more sustainable revenue model to ensure the survival of the free press. The subscriber tax credit would encourage residents to read their local news and thus be better informed about their community. The advertising credit could help struggling businesses reach more potential customers. Everybody wins — including our readers, who will continue to experience the Herald-Republic’s unique and in-depth coverage of stories such as:
- Yakima County’s continuing struggle with high COVID-19 infection rates, including strained staff and resources at Virginia Mason Memorial hospital — as well as many compelling stories of how members of the community have stepped up in creative ways to support those in need.
- The ongoing crisis of missing and murdered indigenous women in Indian country, largely invisible for too many years.
- The triumphs and tests of leadership at Yakima City Hall, including hirings, firings and controversies among council members — and, several years ago, a complete overhaul of the City Council election process that gave Yakima’s Latino population more of a voice in city government.
- The coverage of Wapato city government that exposed unethical behavior by the city administrator, leading to his removal from office.
- Not to be forgotten is our outstanding coverage of local high school sports (at a time when many newspapers have abandoned that), and features and lifestyles content in the daily newspaper as well as Yakima Magazine.
You read in the Yakima Herald-Republic what you will never read in The Washington Post or watch on CNN or other nationwide news outlets. We endeavor to make sure our officials are making decisions for the benefit of their constituents — and doing so in a transparent manner. We try to make sure our tax dollars are spent in responsible ways. We do our best to reflect our community.
The Newhouse-Kirkpatrick bill recognizes that. In a recent letter to colleagues seeking support, they wrote: “Taken together, implementing these credits would help sustain local journalism throughout the United States, and we certainly believe that local journalism — a bedrock pillar of American life — deserves sustaining.”
The Local Journalism Sustainability Act deserves deep bipartisan support in Washington, D.C., and from anyone who cherishes local news. Hopefully, that includes you.