A group of Democratic senators, including Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), are calling for funding from any future COVID-19 stimulus bill to support local journalism and media.
Addressed to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Minority Leader Charles Schumer, Chairman Richard Shelby and Vice Chairman Patrick Leahy, the Congressional letter begs for additional funds to be allocated to suffering media outlets so the American people do not “risk losing one of their key sources of accurate information” in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
“We write to ask that any future coronavirus stimulus package contain funding to support local journalism and media. Without this support, communities across the country risk losing one of their key sources of accurate information about what citizens need to know and do in response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” the letter reads.
While mainstream outlets such as The New York Times and The Washington Post can derive a certain percentage of income from subscriptions, local media outlets rely heavily on ad revenue as their main source of revenue. This is an area that has suffered as a result of mandatory shutdowns of “non-essential businesses.” For them, no income means no money to buy ad space. This concern, among others, was detailed in the Congressional letter which describes local media as “indispensable” and “watchdog for government and corporate accountability.”
For over a decade, there has been a steady succession of local outlets closing down, reporters being laid off, production schedules cut, and resources tightened as the growth of social media and technology platforms has concentrated critical advertising revenue in the hands of a few. But the current public health crisis has made this problem worse. As many communities have shut down local restaurants, entertainment venues, and other non essential businesses in an attempt to “flatten the curve,” local papers and local broadcasters have lost even more of the advertising revenue they rely on from these businesses.
Some advertisers who are still purchasing ad space in the local media are demanding their brand not appear on coronavirus articles, worried they will be associated with the negativity associated with the virus.
It is important to note is the local media outlets have been deemed essential services since they broadcast important messages to their regional audience. Decisions made by state and local authorities on Coronavirus related matters are provided to their viewers. In most cases, the local news outlets are already eligible to participate in the small business loan program.
“Local journalism has been providing communities answers to critical questions, including information on where to get locally tested, hospital capacity, road closures, essential business hours of operation, and shelter-in-place orders,” the letter continues. “During this unprecedented public health crisis, people need to have access to their trusted local news outlets for this reliable and sometimes life-saving information.”
On Thursday, Senate Majority Mitch McConnell implored the Senate to immediately pass $250 billion in additional funding for the small business loan program as part of the $2 trillion relief plan passed in late March. Senate Democrats blocked McConnell’s effort to unanimously pass the legislation. McConnell had urged Democrats not to “block emergency aid you do not even oppose just because you want something more.” Sen. Ben Cardin, (D-MD), in the end, blocked McConnell’s move to pass the funding, calling it a “political stunt.”
Senate Democrats are holding up funds critically needed for the small business loan program. The program has been instrumental in helping small businesses survive the current economic doom and gloom. Its popularity necessitates immediate additional funding to ensure its success.
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