Why the Local Journalism Sustainability Act is So Bipartisan

The Local Journalism Sustainability Act has strong bipartisan support — because the crisis in local news affects all Americans, regardless of party. The collapse of community journalism leads to more corruption, waste, polarization and misinformation.

A bipartisan problem

Of the 90 most recent publications to shutter as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, 60 percent were in counties that voted for Trump in 2020. More broadly, when comparing University of North Carolina’s news desert data to the 2020 electoral map, 85 percent of news deserts are in counties that went for Trump in the last election. (Doesn’t include Alaska.)

What’s more, some of the problems that arise when community journalism withers are often of the sort that conservatives care about — especially wasteful and ineffective government. Analysis and reporting have shown that local corruption increases as local news declines, as do local taxes.

Josh Holmes, the former chief of staff to Sen. Mitch McConnell, put it well:

“You won’t hear a conservative say this often enough but [please] support your local media … Locals are underfunded and overextended and forced to fall into the clickbait competition with national outlets that only exacerbate the problem. The result is national media misunderstanding/misinterpreting local politics.
If you don’t want someone on the coasts to tell the world what your life is like, what your business does, what you believe or what national policy means for your family, then subscribe to a local outlet …”

A Republican author

The Local Journalism Sustainability Act was coauthored by Rep. Dan Newhouse, a Republican congressman from Washington. He explained:

“Local journalism, no matter what form it’s in, truly does contribute to the fabric of a community — keeps people informed about what’s going on … I don’t always like to read what reporters write about me or say about me. But I think having that kind of transparency is just part of our system — it’s really an important part of keeping our communities vibrant and strong.”

Wisconsin Version

In addition to the national LJSA, Republicans in Wisconsin have introduced a bill based on one plank of the LJSA — a tax credit for small businesses to advertise with local news outlets. Rep. Todd Novak, a Republican from southwest Wisconsin, explained that “this advertising incentive creates a win-win scenario for small businesses that want to advertise, customers and workers, and for local media.”

Republican Principles

The federal bill has drawn strong support from House Republicans because of its bottom up, free market approach. Rather than relying on a federal agency to parcel out grants, the Local Journalism Sustainability Act gives consumers and small businesses the freedom to patronize preferred local newsrooms. One provision would provide tax credits to small businesses to advertise with local news. Another would help consumers to subscribe to news publishers of their own choosing. And the third, would provide a payroll tax credit to publications or broadcasters of all stripes.

Republican Rep. Rodney Davis explained: “Our local journalism actually matters. Because the national media doesn’t care about events, doesn’t care about what’s happening locally in our communities. And they’ve become hyperpartisan, and we need to do what we can to incentivize local media outlets to be able to survive in our local communities and our many urban communities.”

Republican Supporters

Congressional Republican supporters of this bill in the last few years have included:

Rep. Vern Buchanan (FL-16) – Two-time cosponsor Rep. Buchanan represents Sarasota, Manatee and Hillsborough counties in Florida. Buchanan sits on the House Ways and Means Committee and is the ranking member of the subcommittee on Trade.

Rep. Randy K. Weber (TX-14) – A member of the House Freedom Caucus, Rep. Weber has sponsored the LJSA both times it’s been introduced.

Rep. Tom Cole (OK-04) – Cole is the ranking member of the Rules Committee and the Vice Ranking Member of the Appropriations Committee. He cosponsored the LJSA in the 116th Congress.

Rep. John Katko (NY-24) – Katko serves as the ranking member of the House Committee on Homeland Security.

Rep. Dan Newhouse (WA-04) – As a co-author and original cosponsor of the bill, Newhouse has been a steadfast advocate for the Local Journalism Sustainability Act. His comments on the bill address the universal benefits to constituents and representatives alike — decreased polarization and a more educated citizenry at the most local levels of our democracy.

Elise Stefanik (NY-21) – The third highest ranking member of the Republican leadership cosponsored the bill when it was introduced in the 116th Congress. In announcing her support, she wrote in August 2020, “Our local news outlets are so important to the North Country, especially in our more rural or isolated areas.”

“Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, our news outlets, newspapers, and TV and radio stations have gone above and beyond to deliver up-to-date information to our North Country residents in a timely fashion. I am proud to be cosponsoring this bill to support readers, advertisers, and publishers and keep local news media sustained. I look forward to advancing this legislation along with my House colleagues and supporting initiatives like this to keep local journalism thriving.”

Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (PA-01) – The two-time cosponsor and ranking member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs was among the original cosponsors of the LJSA in the 116th Congress. When he announced his cosponsorship in 2020 he said “I am proud to stand in support of local news organizations in Bucks & Montgomery Counties.” Fitzpatrick also co-chairs the Problem Solvers Caucus, which is “committed to finding common ground on many of the key issues facing the nation.”

John M. Formella – In addition to Congressional cosponsors, a group of New Hampshire Republican Attorney General John Formella joined 14 other attorneys general calling on Congressional leaders to pass the Local Journalism Sustainability Act.

Rep. Charles J. Fleischmann (TN-03)

Rep. David McKinley (WV-01) – Also a two-time cosponsor, McKinley pointed out the value that local news adds to local economies in a statement announcing his cosponsorship. “Local newspapers and journalists are vital to the public, especially within our rural communities in West Virginia,” McKinley said. “These publications are the lifeblood of small towns, providing readers with coverage they can’t get anywhere else. They also play an important role in the local economy.”

Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (WA-03)

Rep. Pete Stauber (MN-08)

Rep. Claudia Tenney (NY-22)

Rep. Lee Zeldin (NY-01)

Rep. John Carter (TX-31)

Rep. Scott DesJarlais (TN-04) – DesJarlais is a member of the House Freedom Caucus.

Rep. Bill Flores (TX-17)

Rep. Louie Gohmert (TX-01) – Rep. Gohmert sponsored the LJSA in the 116th Congress and is a member of the House Freedom Caucus.

Rep. David Roe (TN-01)

Rep. Thomas Tiffany (WI-07)

Rep. Don Young (AK- At Large)

Rodney Davis (IL-13) – ranking member of the House Committee on Administration cosponsored the LJSA after it was introduced in the 117th Congress. In explaining his support for the bill he said, “Local newspapers and media outlets are a vital source of information for the public, and they’ve been hit hard by changing economic conditions, which the pandemic has only made worse.”

Rep. Peter King (retired NY-02)

Rep. Trent Kelly (MS-01)

Rep. David Rouzer (NC-07) – A recent cosponsor of the Local Journalism Sustainability Act, Rep. Rouzer received the Award for Conservative Excellence by the American Conservative Union in April 2021.

A Wide Range of Beneficiaries

Because the bill is available to all news organizations that are based in and cover communities, it will benefit a range of news organizations, including both those that serve constituents of Republican lawmakers and many often identified as conservative.

Just among the 31 representatives that make up Republican House leaders and ranking committee members, we counted 642 newspapers in 349 counties that stand to benefit from the Local Journalism Sustainability Act. Additionally, we counted eight news deserts, counties without a newspaper, in districts held by Republican House leadership.

Although not included in the House package, the Senate version of the LJSA provision is likely to include broadcasters, which would qualify scores of local Fox and Sinclair affiliate stations to benefit.