News media jockey to be treated as 'infrastructure,' qualify for tax dollars in legislation

Proposal to give local media outlets $2.3 billion in federal tax money would have been anathema in earlier generations when news industry leaders demanded independence from government.

Updated: June 5, 2021 - 11:11pm

From Democratic lawmakers to journalists, a campaign is being waged to treat local news outlets as "civic infrastructure" that would be eligible for $2.3 billion in taxpayer aid in the American Jobs Plan infrastructure bill.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., is leading the charge to secure the money in the legislation being negotiated between President Biden and bipartisan members of Congress. 

"Broadcast journalism and news journalism are part of [our] critical infrastructure," Cantwell told the National Association of Broadcasters last month, according to Radio World.

The campaign is gaining attention and support in journalism circles too.

The Hill newspaper's opinion contributor Victor Pickard argues that, like broadband and "other key components of our information systems," local journalism should be included in infrastructure.

Noting that local journalism is "no longer commercially viable," Pickard said that "Local news serves our critical information needs, particularly regarding vital issues such as vaccines, elections and public safety. The newspaper industry, still our primary source of original reporting, has lost well over 50 percent of its workforce since the early 2000s, leading to hundreds of closures and news deserts across the country."

"Infrastructures must be maintained regardless of their profitability and such glaring market failure should necessitate government intervention," and classifies local journalism as a public good and "democratic infrastructure," he added.

Both Steve Waldman, writing for Poynter, and Pickard argue that tax credits, subsidies, and/or vouchers should be provided for Americans to use towards local news of their choice. They also suggest using the U.S. Postal Service (USPS), which already provides subsidized delivery of newspapers. 

Pickard said USPS offices "could serve as multimedia hubs and informational feeders for our entire news media ecosystem."

While pointing out that the U.S. spends significantly less money on public media than most other developed democracies, both Pickard and Osita Nwanevu for The New Republic suggest transitioning to more public media and nonprofit models, and away from commercialization.

Nwanevu also said, "Dedicating $30 to $40 billion over the next 10 years ... to a federal fund offering grants for state and local outlets and reporting projects in all mediums, digital and traditional, ⁠would amount to a historic and legacy-defining investment in America's civic infrastructure."

However, in both The New Republic and CNN's Brian Stelter's Reliable Sources newsletter on "New views of the local news crisis," they specifically denounce Sinclair Broadcast Group for its ownership of local news outlets because it leans right.