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A New York bill would offer tax credits to offset the cost of salaries for journalists at local outlets, as well as a subsidy for their subscribers.
Local news organizations in New York—and their readers—would be eligible for tax credits under legislation introduced in the state legislature.
The bill, titled the Local Journalism Sustainability Act, seeks to increase and support coverage of municipal institutions by helping to sustain small, local publications and broadcast stations that have dwindled in number over the past decade. More than a quarter of newsroom employees have lost their jobs since 2008, according to federal data. The bulk of those losses have been at newspapers, which lost 57% of their workers in that same time period.
“It is a terrible irony that as the ability to communicate information increases, our ability to know and trust the sources of communication has precipitously decreased,” New York Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner, a Democrat and the bill’s co-sponsor, said in a statement. “Whether small towns or big cities, New Yorkers need local journalism to reliably monitor and report on uniquely local concerns from school board policy and the actions of municipal boards to the volunteer organizations and activities that enrich our lives.”
The legislation would shore up local news outlets in two ways. The first would grant a personal income tax credit of up to $250 per year for taxpayers who subscribe to a “qualifying local news publication,” defined as any digital or print outlet that covers “community news” within a small geographical area and does not employ more than 1,500 people. The credit would subsidize 80% of the subscription cost in the first year, and 50% every year after.
The bill would also provide a business tax credit directly to qualifying publications and broadcast stations to help offset the cost of paying journalists. The credit would be based on a percentage of each reporter’s wages, up to $12,500 per quarter. The tax credit would equal half of a journalist’s salary in the first year, and 30% in subsequent years, for no more than five years total.
Publications would be capped at $1 million in tax credits each calendar year, and reporters must live within 50 miles of the area they cover to qualify to receive them. Multiple news organizations owned by a single entity—an increasingly common situation for newspapers—would be treated as a single employer.
The bill does not yet have a fiscal analysis and it’s unclear how many eligible publications are based in New York. As of May 2020, 5,790 New Yorkers were employed as “news analysts, reporters or journalists”—more than any other state, according to federal data.
Woerner and her co-sponsor, state Sen. Brad Hoylman, worked with the New York Publishers Association on the legislation. Diane Kennedy, the organization’s president, said in a statement that the legislation could act as a bandage to stanch the industry’s bleeding while news administrators formulate new funding methods.
“The business model of local news has been destroyed by the loss of advertising revenue to tech giants, resulting in a catastrophic decline in journalism jobs,” she said. “This legislation...serves as a temporary bridge to a new business model for local news that will support local jobs for community-based journalists, while also rewarding taxpayers who purchase subscriptions to local news organizations. This legislation will help New York State residents to remain informed about and engaged in their communities.”
The bill is awaiting a hearing before the Senate Rules Committee. If enacted, it would take effect immediately.
Kate Elizabeth Queram is a senior reporter for Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.