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Dems push for stimulus funds for the press

A group of Senate Democrats led by U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-CT, addressed a letter to Senate leadership last week pushing for journalists and local media outlets to be included in stimulus funding being considered for the fourth coronavirus relief package.

The letter, signed by 19 Democratic senators, including former presidential candidates U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-MN, U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, D-NJ, and U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-OH, said that local news is in a “state of crisis” made worse by the raging COVID-19 pandemic.

“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 stated.

The letter rightly notes that, for the last decade, news outlets have been forced to close, scores of journalists have been laid off, production schedules have been cut and resources tightened as social media and other tech platforms have siphoned up advertising dollars and readers.

However, the letter notes, the current public health crisis has only served to exacerbate the problem.

“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,” the letter stated. “Communities across the country have seen the further decimation of this important industry as local publications have stopped printing and laid off staff in the last few weeks.”

The letter states that local news plays “an indispensable role in American civic life as a trusted source for critical information, a watchdog for government and corporate accountability and a building block of social cohesion.”

“Thousands of communities across the country turn to local news for information on governance, elections, education, health and numerous issues specific to their cities, towns and neighborhoods,” the letter said. “Local news sources tailored to a particular ethnic or language group, or a particular neighborhood, also play a critical role in covering a wide range of issues that impact underrepresented communities.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has made the “already vital role of local news” even more important – the World Health Organizations (WHO) has identified a “massive infodemic” surrounding COVID-19, meaning there is an overabundance of information, some accurate and some not, making it difficult for people to find “trustworthy sources and reliable guidance.”

“Some of the most important guidance for families and businesses during this crisis has been highly localized,” the letter noted. “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. 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.”

The letter added that any upcoming stimulus package must contain funding to support local journalism, tailored to benefit aid recipients making long-term commitments to “high quality local news.”

Among the four Senate leaders to receive the letter was U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-AL, who said only that “Congress continues to consider proposals for additional aid, however, the elements of a future package are still unclear at this point.”