The Model Bill: Statute

The text below should be taken as a “floor” that reflects the “must-haves” detailed in Part One of this report. Many statutes will also include non-binding findings that reflect the intent of the legislature in enacting the law; we offer some possible findings below.


Section 1.  Short Title.

This Act may be cited as the “Strengthening Community Media Act”


Section 2.  Findings.

The [LEGISLATURE] makes the following findings:

(1) [STATE/LOCALITY] benefits from robust local news services that provide trusted and essential information to the community that limits corruption, encourages citizen participation, helps combat misinformation, and mitigates community and individual alienation.

(2) Local news in [STATE/LOCALITY] and throughout the country is struggling with newspaper advertising dropping 82 percent nationally since 2000, contributing to a 57 percent drop in the number of reporters at newspapers and thousands of closures.

(3) Local news outlets are trusted sources of information for communities throughout [STATE/LOCALITY] and advertising spending with these outlets carries a substantial benefit for the effective dissemination of important government information to the communities it serves.

(4) Government initiatives to increase spending on local news advertising has been manifestly successful in both supporting local news outlets and improving the information diet of communities in several major cities, 

(5) [STATE/LOCALITY] can and will implement such an initiative while preserving the editorial independence of local news outlets selling advertising space under this law, and recognizes that any diversion of advertising spending that has the effect or appearance of an attempt to influence the editorial content of a Local News Organization violates the federal and state guarantees of freedom of the press and freedom of speech.

(6) [STATE/LOCALITY] can work with [THIRD PARTY ORGANIZATION] to ensure that the purposes and requirements of this Order are implemented faithfully and in accordance with clause (5) above. 


Section 3.  Definition.

(1) Local News Organization. – The term “Local News Organization” means an entity that:

(A) engages professionals to create, edit, produce, and distribute original content concerning matters of public interest, through reporting activities, including conducting interviews, observing current events, or analyzing documents or other information;

(B) has at least one employee employed full-time for 30 hours a week or more dedicated to providing coverage of [STATE/LOCALITY] and living within 50 miles of the coverage area, who gathers, prepares, collects, photographs, writes, edits, reports, or publishes original local or state community news for dissemination to the local or state community;

(C) in the case of print publications, has published at least one print publication per month over the previous 12 months; and either holds a valid United States Postal Service periodical permit or has at least 25 percent of its content dedicated to local news; 

(D) in the case of digital-only entities, has published one piece about the community per week over the previous 12 months; and has at least 33 percent of its digital audience in [STATE/LOCALITY], averaged over a 12 month period;

(E) in the case of hybrid entities (those that have both print and digital outlets), meets the requirements in either C or D

(F) has disclosed in its print publication or on its website its beneficial ownership or, in the case of a not-for-profit entity, its board of directors;  

(G) in the case of an entity that maintains tax status under § 501(c)(3) of the federal Internal Revenue Code, has declared the coverage of local or state news as the stated mission in their filings with the Internal Revenue Service; and

(H) has not received more than 50 percent of its gross receipts for the previous year from political action committees or other entities described in § 527 of the federal Internal Revenue Code, or from an organization that maintains § 501(c)(4), (c)(5), or (c)(6) status under the federal Internal Revenue Code. [SEE GUIDE FOR ALTERNATIVE DEFINITIONS OF LOCAL COMMUNITY]


Section 4.  Advertising with Local News Organizations.

(a) For the fiscal year following the effective date of the Act, and each fiscal year thereafter, [STATE/LOCALITY] shall direct at least XX percent of its total spending on advertising in Local News Organization publications, provided that [ELEMENT OF STATE/LOCALITY] may seek an exemption from this requirement upon a showing to the [DECISION-MAKING BODY] that the purposes of the advertising are inconsistent with placement in a Local News Organization.  If [ELEMENT OF STATE/LOCALITY] seeks an exemption, [DECISION-MAKING BODY] should nonetheless direct the advertising spending to a Local News Organization if it determines that the objectives of the advertising can be served as effectively or better through placement in the Local News Organization. [SEE GUIDE FOR ALTERNATIVES TO ‘TOTAL SPENDING ON ADVERTISING’]

(b) [STATE/LOCALITY] shall maintain a list of eligible Local News Organizations;

(c) [STATE/LOCALITY] may only consider the factors in § (3)(1) in determining whether an entity qualifies as a Local News Organization.  

(d) [STATE/LOCALITY] is prohibited from discriminating among Local News Organizations based on editorial content, unless that content is objectively relevant to the target audience and articulated purposes of the advertising.

(e) If an entity is denied eligibility as a Local News Organization, [STATE/LOCALITY] shall provide, in writing and upon request, an explanation to the entity of the reasons for the denial as well as the statement of purpose and target audience maintained pursuant to § (4)(c).

(f) [STATE/LOCALITY] shall create an [INDEPENDENT OFFICE] to hear appeals from denials of eligibility as a Local News Organization and receive complaints from the public.


Section 5.  Reporting.

(a) No later than three months after the effective date of the Act, [STATE/LOCALITY] shall publish on [WEBSITES OF RELEVANT ELEMENTS] a report on the implementation of this law, including information on the criteria used to make determinations under § 4(a).

(b) For the first full fiscal year following the effective date of the Act, and each fiscal year thereafter, [STATE/LOCALITY] shall publish an annual report that includes, but is not limited to:

(i) The operative list of Local News Organizations at the date of publication;

(ii) The advertising spending by each [ELEMENT OF STATE/LOCALITY]; and

(iii) The recipients of the spending, including which entity received which individual advertising contract and the amount of the contract.



“Community” – Some localities have chosen to target the funds to community media and ethnic media.  In that case, one might substitute this definition:1) serves particular communities of people based on native language, race, color, gender, national origin, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, disability or immigrant status.  (2) targets a discrete neighborhood, geographic region or population  

“The percentage” – The percentage of the government advertising set aside. In general, at least 50 percent of overall spending should go to local news. But there are nuances beyond that. In some places, more than 50 percent goes to “local” but most goes to a handful of players, leaving out smaller players. One solution is to just make the overall percentage bigger. Another would be to say 50 percent should be for community media (defined as outlets under a certain size).  Another factor to consider is whether this should be a certain percent of all marketing spending (including TV, radio and billboards) or 50 percent of “print and digital” spending.  As a rule, 50 percent is a good benchmark at which to start but the specific percentage should be guided by current government spending patterns. Each state will need to look at how marketing budgets are currently set up to determine the best approach. In some cases, it may be better to have a lower percentage but a bigger pool.

“Decision Making Body” –   In New York, the position overseeing the program is lodged in the Mayor’s office. That has so far worked well but there are risks to having the program management too close to the political center of gravity. We recommend a two-tiered system: a person in the Governor’s office charged with making sure the policy is implemented while the actual decisions about advertising spending vested in either the economic development department or the individual agencies. And all of this should be overseen by a third party watchdog.

“Audience” – Digital audiences can be tricky to measure. It should include website traffic, email newsletter readership and, ideally, republication of content on other sites.

NEXT: The Model Bill – Executive Order