SUN This Week

The Future of Local News Act, legislation that aims to support the local news industry, was reintroduced in the U.S. Senate this week.

Local news organizations play a vital role in American democracy, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota said in a press release, but an industry-wide transition to digital media and the pandemic’s impacts on the economy has led to tough times.

The act would create a committee to study the state of local journalism and offer recommendations to Congress on the actions it can take to support local news organizations.

“As thousands of media outlets have been forced out of business, too many small towns and rural communities have become ‘news deserts’ without access to local news,” said Klobuchar, who reintroduced the legislation along with two other Democratic senators and U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Texas.

In Dakota County, newspapers in Rosemount, Farmington and Hastings have been closed in recent years, but those areas are still covered by newspapers geared to those communities.

“As the daughter of a newspaperman, I understand that a free press is vital to our system of government,” Klobuchar said. “The Future of Local News Act would help ensure that we preserve the newspapers, radio stations, and broadcasters that keep their communities informed.”

As more news consumption moves online, the advertising-based business model that sustained local print journalism has suffered.

According to a report by PEN America, more than 2,100 local newspapers have shuttered in the last 15 years.

Klobuchar’s release cites that many of those that haven’t closed have been bought by hedge funds, subjected to relentless cost-cutting measures, and seen their newsrooms shrunk by nearly half. The current pandemic and resulting recession has accelerated these trends.

“Families rely on local journalists to report on the stories that matter most to their communities. From the pandemic response to school boards to how tax dollars are spent, local news outlets provide essential information and perform an irreplaceable public service,” said Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii. “Our bill will help strengthen local news and keep the industry afloat during this tough time.”

“Across America, local newsrooms have been pushed to the brink by a confluence of forces – from industry consolidation to the migration to digital, to the rise of social media and the COVID-19 crisis,” said Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colorado. “Local reporting that engages citizens, shapes communities, and holds local governments accountable is foundational to our democracy, and I’m concerned that if we do not take action soon, we could be headed for an America without local news. I hope this legislation will help us find common-sense, nonpartisan solutions to support local journalism while preserving the independence vital to the free press.”

In March, Klobuchar and Sen. John Kennedy, R-Louisiana, reintroduced the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act to allow news publishers to collectively negotiate with digital platforms such as Google and Facebook. This legislation would empower news publishers to compete more fairly by granting them immunity from federal and state antitrust laws for 48 months while they negotiate together with digital platforms.