Policy Bulletin: How local news outlets can benefit from the American Rescue Plan
Local news organizations may be able to get significant revenue through the American Rescue Plan, which was signed into law in March 2021. The legislation provided massive grants to state and local governments. Some of those local governments decided to offer marketing assistance to local businesses. The structure of the program will differ from town to town.
The RJ Media Group in Meriden, Connecticut received $300,000 in advertising grants from local businesses subsidized by this program. Here is how they did it.
Liz White, Publisher of the RJ Media Group noticed that Meriden, Connecticut had $36 million American Rescue Funds. In July 2021, she submitted an application for a creative advertising matching program to help local businesses in the area. At a public hearing in January 2022, her $300,000 project was approved — an advertising matching program to be funded via American Rescue Plan funds. As of March 2023, White said RJ Media Group had netted $235,000 from the program.
< Executive summary of RJ Media’s ARPA application to the City of Meriden>
How it works:
In the first phase, 150 Meriden small businesses will be able to apply for grants worth $4,000 in advertising in the The Record-Journal. The City of Meriden pays $2,000 to the The Record-Journal and the The Record-Journal matches that grant with $2,000 worth of advertising inventory. The benefit to The Record-Journal is $300,000 in revenues and the benefit to local small businesses is $600,000 in free marketing provided.
After implementing the program, RJ Media Group polled recipients of the grant – 54 of the 58 grantees that answered the survey said they would be interested in the same or a similar program if it were to be offered again. Those that said no said they needed more advertising in order to reach their goals.
< RJ Media’s explanatory deck for the Meriden Business Boost Marketing Grant Program>
Why it matters:
Liz White couldn’t think of a downside to the project. The Register-Journal netted $235,000 from the project once the costs of implementing the project were accounted for.
How to get it approved in your town:
The deadline for American Rescue Plan Funds to be allocated is Dec. 31, 2024, meaning newsrooms have time to apply for funds. Many cities are still taking applications. Two other towns — Dillon, South Carolina and Duluth, Minnesota — are poised to approve similar projects in June, which shows this project can be scaled to other municipalities across the country. White also thinks it can be scaled to different mediums and business models. Although The Record-Journal is a commercial newspaper, she said the project could be adapted to digital publishers and nonprofits as well.
The most important thing for publications or groups of publications to do is to reach out to the city’s economic development director. Not only will the economic development director have relationships with the business community, but they will know the process for applying for American Rescue Plan Act funds in your city. ARPA funds are allocated on a city-by-city basis, meaning the process may vary. Applicants should also emphasize the benefits to local businesses as they recover from the pandemic — which is one of the stated purposes of the American Rescue Plan — and have the advertising infrastructure to implement the project.
Still have questions? Liz White of The Record-Journal can be contacted at email@example.com and is happy to answer questions. As you pursue and implement projects using American Rescue Plan funds, tell Anna Brugmann, firstname.lastname@example.org. She’s keeping track of projects across the country.