Rebuild Local News Launches Ambitious New Drive for Public Policies to Help Save Local News
With the collapse of local news accelerating, Steve Waldman, co-founder of Report for America, leads new independent nonprofit organization developing non-partisan public policies to strengthen community journalism
The Rebuild Local News Coalition, an alliance of local news organizations launched in 2020, has now become an independent nonprofit organization and plans a drive to advance a range of public policies to address the accelerating crisis in local news that threatens so many communities.
The Coalition will research, develop and champion public policies at the state, local and national levels – including payroll tax credits to hire and retain local reporters, proposals to target government advertising spending toward local news instead of social media, and reducing the influence of hedge funds on local newspapers.
The organization is funded by a combination of support from journalism organizations and leading philanthropic organizations. Philanthropic and private sector supporters include: the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Ford Foundation, Microsoft, the Yellow Chair Foundation, and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Charles H. Revson Foundation, the Argosy Foundation, and the Posner Foundation. Previous support has come from Democracy Fund.
- National Newspaper Publishers Association
- The National Newspaper Association
- Institute for Nonprofit News
- The News Guild-CWA
- Local Independent Online News Publishers
- National Association of Hispanic Publications
- Association of Alternative Newsmedia
- Report for America / The GroundTruth Project
- American Journalism Project
- Solutions Journalism Network
- Local Media Consortium
- PEN America
- Wisconsin Newspaper Association
- Mississippi Press Association
- West Virginia Press Association
- Kansas Press Association
- Maryland-Delaware-DC Press Association
- New York News Publishers Association
- Colorado Press Association
- Arizona Press Association
- Maine Press Association
- The Lenfest Institute for Journalism
Steven Waldman, who as president of Report for America created the Coalition, will become the full-time president of the organization. The Coalition was incubated at the GroundTruth Project, home of Report for America, and has already pulled together a broad-based coalition including publishers and labor unions, rural weeklies, nonprofits newsrooms, state press associations and civic organizations. Together, they represent more than 3,000 local newsrooms.
The Rebuild Local News Coalition first rose to prominence in 2021 on the strength of its drive to pass the Local Journalism Sustainability Act. One portion of that, a payroll tax credit for newsrooms to hire or retain local reporters, passed the U.S. House of Representatives and almost passed in the Senate. It would have been the largest government effort to support local news since the Post Office Act of 1792.
“The collapse of local news poses a massive crisis for American communities, and democracy,” said Waldman. “Part of the solution is smart, nonpartisan public policy that carefully preserves editorial independence. We have had this at other points in American history, and we must again.”
More than 1,800 communities have no local news, and thousands more have “ghost newspapers” that barely cover the communities. The number of newspaper newsroom employees has dropped 57% since 2004. Numerous studies have shown that the contraction of local reporting threatens democracy, leading to less civic involvement and lower voting rates, increased corruption and abuses of power, higher borrowing costs and more polarized communities.
The Rebuild Local News organization will be governed by a Board of Directors. The initial Board of Directors for the new 501c3 nonprofit will include Paulette Brown-Hinds, Publisher of Black Voice News in Riverside, California; Jim Friedlich, CEO of The Lenfest Institute for Journalism, Joaquin Alvarado, chair of the board of Consumer Reports, and Julie Sandorf, President of the Charles Revson Foundation.
Two other groups will shape the direction of the organization: a Coalition Steering Committee consisting of the heads of the key organizations in the group, and an Advisory Council that draws in a range of leaders from the civic sector, including both Republican and Democratic leaders. The Advisory Council includes Bruce Brown, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, Wisconsin State Representative Todd Novak, the Republican sponsor of legislation to help local news in Wisconsin, and Graciela Mochkofsky, Dean of the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY.
The Coalition has stressed the idea that policies need to be carefully crafted to be “content-neutral, nonpartisan and ensure editorial independence.” It will focus on policies – on the state, local and federal levels – that lead to the hiring of more local reporters. The group will especially explore policies that strengthen weekly papers, hyperlocal newsrooms, diverse media, nonprofits and other newsrooms truly grounded in the communities they serve.
The coalition has drawn support from both publishers and labor unions. “The National Newspaper Publishers Association forthrightly endorses and supports the Rebuild Local News Coalition,” said Dr. Ben Chavis, CEO of the National Newspaper Publishers Association. “It is important for policymakers at the federal and state levels to ensure the sustainability of local media. We need freedom of the press today more than ever before in our nation’s history.”
Jon Schleuss, president of the NewsGuild-CWA, agreed: “Rebuild Local News is the only place where all groups advocating for local news — nonprofits, family-owned newspapers, small-town publishers and working journalists through their union — come together to construct policies, legislation and advocacy to advance our industry, expand the number of working journalists and incubate ideas to make our industry sustainable.”
Financial support has come from stakeholders, foundations and the private sector. “The crisis facing local news is not just a problem for publishers and journalists, but a problem for democracy itself,” said Brad Smith, Vice Chair and President of Microsoft. “By developing and advocating for policies that support local news, the Rebuild Local News Coalition can help preserve a healthy, diverse, and free press that informs and engages citizens.”
In addition to the tax credit for hiring local reporters, the Coalition supports tax credits for small businesses that advertise with local news, tax credits for consumers to subscribe or donate to local news, having government target some of its advertising spending toward local news instead of social media, helping community groups or local businesses acquire newspapers from chains, changing banking rules to help small media businesses that serve low and moderate income communities, antitrust policies that discourage hedge fund ownership of newspapers, and fellowships for journalists to serve in local newsrooms.
The Coalition has also worked with other organizations that are not in the coalition including the National Association of Broadcasters, News Media Alliance and America’s Newspapers.
Rebuild Local News is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that advances public policies to counter the collapse of local news, strengthen democracy and revitalize community journalism.